Rachel Poels, Second Year, Sociology and Philosophy
For some of us, Autumn means wet weather and moody skies; for others, the colours of the leaves, cosy evenings indoors and, of course, Halloween. Here are five films that capture the colours and moods of autumn.
A Halloween classic, Coraline is not always cosy, but it is full of detailed scenery you can get lost in. The medium of stop-motion is endearing, and therefore somewhat deceptive; Coraline, at first, looks like a children’s film. But the film is uncanny from start to finish, with scenes that are genuinely unsettling, making it a perfect Halloween watch.
Based on the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, Coraline follows its eponymous heroine (voiced by Dakota Fanning) as she finds her way into an alternate world which seems to be made especially for her - even her parents are nicer. But she begins to realise that her ‘other’ parents have concealed their sinister intentions: given their way, they’d keep her there forever. With the help of a black cat (voiced by Keith David), she manages to escape their twisted world, and save the other children trapped there.
While Coraline is unsettling, and somewhat cynical (to begin with) its happy ending is well-deserved. The film isn’t purely focused on scaring the audience; we are encouraged to fully enjoy all the intriguing (and often comedic) characters, as well as the skilfully crafted sets and animation. Coraline fits the autumnal theme with its scenery and mood, as well as its inventively artistic take on Halloween.
The Love Witch (2016)
Continuing the Halloween theme, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is another film with a penchant for uncanny, yet beautifully designed visuals. In this case, the 60s-style visuals act as a vehicle for the dissection of gender roles, both past and present, in a way that is at once comedic and unsettling.
The plot focuses on Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a witch, who charms and often manipulates multiple men – both through her magic and her character – until it becomes clear that her intentions are much worse than they first appear. Throughout the film, we witness all kinds of strange rituals that absorb the viewer in a psychedelic realm, it intrigues as much as it confuses.
While The Love Witch is often heavy-handed in its symbolism, and its message is sometimes unclear, it is an intriguing film whose lurid Halloween aesthetic is one of its strongest features.
Far From Heaven (2002)
For the other, cosier side of Autumn, I have chosen Todd Haynes’ beautifully lush rendition of autumn: Far From Heaven. Showcasing Edward Lachlan’s stunning cinematography, the numerous outdoor scenes are full of rich, warm colours, reflected in the season-appropriate costume design. It is a visual and cultural homage to films of the 1950s, especially those of Douglas Sirk, to which Haynes brings his talent for social commentary via detailed character study.
Far From Heaven explores issues of the time, such as race and gender roles, in the ways that they affected individual people, allowing for sensitivity, empathy and even romance. After discovering her husband’s infidelity, Cathy (Julianne Moore) finds herself pursuing a relationship with her gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert).
This sparks a local scandal, due to the fact that their relationship is interracial, meaning that they are not only shunned, but threatened with violence (in the case of Raymond). Far From Heaven, despite its romantic slant, does not shy away from showing the prejudice and violence faced by Raymond and his daughter, and is sharply critical of this treatment.
I have included Far From Heaven on this list for its cosiness and romance, but these qualities can and should co-exist with complex social critique, as they do here.
Indie classic Juno takes the audience through all four seasons, beginning in autumn. It possesses a cosy quality which makes it an ideal watch as the weather gets colder. The small-town setting and nostalgic feel lend themselves to this cosiness, despite the fact that the story is not restricted to the season of autumn. Juno (Elliott Page) maintains her optimism despite the difficulties she experiences as a result of her teen pregnancy, and this is comforting in a season that, for many of us, brings feelings of pessimism.
Juno follows Juno, a sixteen year old girl who becomes pregnant by her friend Paulie (Michael Cera) and, after deciding to keep the baby, begins the difficult task of finding the right couple to adopt. Throughout this journey, she re-examines her relationship with Paulie, and forms another, unconventional one with the potential parents of her child. The whole film maintains a sweet awkwardness, especially due to the naturalistic acting of Page and Cera.
Juno’s genuine optimism is welcome at this time of year, and it is the perfect film to watch as it gets colder and darker outside.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
In a similar vein of (relatively) feel-good films is Gus Van Sant’s classic Good Will Hunting: his best-known film, and a shining example of 1990s indie filmmaking that, from the start, connects emotionally with its audience.
It follows a character who eventually manages to be happy and content after intense hardship. Its setting and mood are perfectly autumnal, and the character arc of Will (Matt Damon) is endlessly emotionally engaging; his happy ending is rewarding both for him and the audience.
Good Will Hunting follows Will, who spends much of his time working as a cleaner at MIT, and spends the rest of it teaching himself numerous subjects, namely maths, at a university level. When he anonymously solves a complex maths problem, posed to students on a course at the university, he is sought out by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), who is desperate to know who had solved the problem. Lambeau is disappointed that Will refuses to make use of his knowledge, and, with the help of therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) takes on the task of helping Will see his potential.
Good Will Hunting is the ideal film to watch curled up on the sofa this autumn as it balances hardship with optimism, and concludes with a beautifully realised happy ending that clearly shows how Will has grown through the help of his mentors.
These films are perfect for a cold autumn night, whether you are after something cosy and feel-good, or something a little spookier. Autumn is the time to rediscover old favourites, as well as finding new ones.
Featured Image: Unsplash, Erik Witsoe
What are you favourite autumnal films?