This article is not for the squeamish. The end of 2018 was not kind to me. I was bedridden for a week in September and then spent the final week of December suffering from a number of painful maladies. I don’t resent enduring hard times and excruciating experiences. They teach me to appreciate what I have when things are going well and to not take my health and happiness for granted.
Some pains are worse than others. Plenty of films portray characters going through heartache and physical pain because that’s the way to create drama and tension. But few beat their characters down with more pain than one could possibly imagine a single person enduring. I invite you to join me as I visit eight examples of ultimate suffering in film, though I’ll be surprised if anyone can stomach it all.
Moses Is Banished – The Ten Commandments (1956)
We start off gently, as far as these things go. Moses is psychologically and physically tortured as he crosses a vast desert with little food and water. He has lost everything, and this is the trek he must take to come to know the will of God. He’s beaten into the dust in order to rise to the challenge that awaits him of delivering a whole nation from bondage.
Paul Atreides Puts His Hand in the Box – Dune (1984)
One of Dune’s best scenes comes early on when a young Paul Atreides is put to the ultimate test. He must put his hand into a box and endure a pain that he could easily escape, but if he does pull his hand out he will be pricked and die of poison. The pain increases until he is unable to hold his tongue any longer, but by that time it is clear that he has done something no one else has come close to accomplishing. He has suffered a greater pain than any other person who has faced the trial of the box.
The Final Transformation of Brundlefly – The Fly (1986)
I have a hard time watching the 1986 remake of The Fly because there are so many gruesome parts in it. Nothing beats the ending. All three of the main characters wind up in exteme pain. Stathis had one of his hands and feet corroded off by Brundlefly’s acid saliva, so he is practically in shock. Brundlefly gets fused to part of a telepod and prefers to die rather than go one living in his final state. And Veronica is scared out of her mind and horrified at the prospect of having to murder what’s left of her lover. Everything about this ending is devastating, especially the moment when Brundlefly puts the barrel of Veronica’s shotgun to his head.
Wesley’s Supreme Suffering – The Princess Bride
Wesley endures so much for the sake of true love in The Princess Bride. He trains for years under the threat of death to become a great swordsman and pirate. And after all that, he ends up in the Pit of Despair, suffering the worst possible punishment at the hands of his enemy. Thank goodness this movie is a comedy or else it would be hard to watch all of the heartbreaking things that happen in it.
Murphy Gets Shot to Pieces – RoboCop (1987)
No list of this nature would be complete without this memorable scene from the original RoboCop. I’ll bet even people who have never seen this film know about Alex Murphy’s death. It’s so cruel, graphic, and disturbing that it’s impossible to forget. It’s forever etched in my brain, and it completely justifies all of Murphy’s actions for the rest of the film as he seeks his revenge.
Mr. Incredible Loses His Family – The Incredibles
Ultimate suffering doesn’t have to be physical at all. Mr. Incredible believes his entire family has been murdered. The image of him sobbing at the end of this scene is deeply affecting for a number of reasons. For one thing, it wasn’t (and still isn’t) typical to see a superhero crying in costume. For another, every scene after this until Mr. Incredible gets freed, the audience has in the back of their mind that he is still suffering. And finally, Mr. Incredible’s main asset through the film has been his physical strength, but this puts him to the test emotionally and he can’t handle it. He realizes what he can’t stand to lose, and it affects his decisions for the rest of the film.
William Wallace Suffers in Silence – Braveheart
Every man dies, but few men die like William Wallace. Before facing public execution, he doesn’t pray to God to deliver him; he asks for the ability to die well. This is what I imagine a man like Daniel saying before being cast into the lions’ den. Wallace silently suffers as his final act of courage in defiance of tyranny. When he is given one last chance to call out for mercy, he instead cries out the word “freedom” and is rewarded with a glimpse of the freedom that awaits him in heaven.
Jesus Suffers in Gethsemane – The Passion of the Christ
Of course, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of enduring suffering. Everyone knows the parts where He is scourged and nailed to a cross. But the part where His suffering was the greatest was in the Garden of Gethsemane when He endured punishment for everyone’s sins and felt their pains, sicknesses, and sorrows. It’s hard to portray such a thing in film, but The Passion of the Christ did a good job showing the struggle to carry such a load and overcome His own doubt and fear in the process. This is the kind of scene that helps me put my own pains in perspective.
To the Pain
In many of these scenes, the man who experiences ultimate suffering does so for a good reason, and he emerges a better man for it. That doesn’t mean that it’s pleasant or that what happens to him is just, but it shows that there’s usually a way to turn bad situations into something good. I just hope this article wasn’t too painful to get through.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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