Inspired by the recent release of Last Night, Massy Tadjedin’s mature and cerebral film about marriage and temptation, we’ve been thinking a lot about other films that have infidelity as the driving plotline. We did a little bit of research on other lists that have been created on the same theme. What we found was a whole lot of repetition—Unfaithful and Fatal Attraction were on every single list!—and not so much indie recognition.
Taking a cue from the glamorous young couple we saw recently in Last Night, we step off the beaten path to reflect on some great films in which people are tempted to sneak around. Surprisingly, there’s not a ton of redemption to be found—but we can promise a list of films that are worth viewing despite some characters’ questionable moral choices.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Director: Noah Baumbach
This director is no stranger to intense familial narratives, and his dark drama about a Brooklyn-based broken family certainly keeps right in line with his much-traveled territory. When Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and his wife Joan (Laura Linney) announce to their two teenaged boys that they will be separating, their sons are hardly prepared for the brutal course of action their two parents choose to take. We watch in heartbreaking horror as the hardships and struggles of the two boys take a back seat to their parents’ aggressive acts of mutual betrayal, causing a split of compassion and solidarity between the two brothers. If The Squid and the Whale’s story tells us nothing else, it’s how marital infidelity can tear a family right in two.
Director: Mike Nichols
In a discussion of films thematically similar to Last Night, most critics have drawn comparisons from Nichols’ unflinching romantic drama Closer. Much like the Keira Knightley-Sam Worthington romantic drama, Closer finds a couple pulled toward other potential love interests as their lives progress. Our empathy for the four main characters (pictured above) is pulled one way and then another, as victims become offenders and transgressors are surprised by the actions of their supposedly trustworthy partners. In a representation of modern relationships that is anything but one-dimensional, we walk away from Closer with one overriding feeling: no one can be trusted.
The Ice Storm (1997)
Director: Ang Lee
Set in a time of political and social strife during the onset of the American sexual revolution, The Ice Storm coldly peeks into the lives of two suburban, upper-middle class families who are struggling within their uncomfortable environmental surroundings. Disconnected from one another and their community, the main adults in the two households can only pull themselves out of their slump by looking outside of their cold, sterile home environments for sexual fulfillment. The titular ice in this film works as both a tangible villain and the perfect metaphor for these two families, whose sexual encounters offer them their only escape from suburban monotony.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Director: Woody Allen
What would a list of films about infidelity be without a few Woody Allen selections? His films tend to take extramarital affairs as par for the course in American adult life, portraying these kinds of relationships in matter-of-fact and natural ways. Even though this film does have an oddly cheery ending, most of Hannah and Her Sisters follows the lives of an extended family who all seem to be sleeping with each other’s current or former partners.
The driving plot focuses on Elliot (a charming but somewhat bumbling Michael Caine), husband of the titular Hannah, who has fallen madly in love with his wife’s sister Lee (played by a pre-Black Swan Barbara Hershey). The affair fires up with Hannah (Mia Farrow) ending up none the wiser to the entire situation. A tense but charming film, with much-needed comic relief by way of Allen's Mickey and his neuroses, Hannah and Her Sisters makes the point that straying outside our marriages might end up being, well, not as bad as we’d imagine.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)Director: Woody Allen
Unlike the lighthearted ending of Hannah and Her Sisters, our next pick is filled to the edges of the screen with consequences. Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors takes a dramatic and thoughtful look at the way we deal with the aftermath of our decisions through the choices of two married men. Our central characters Judah Rosenthal and Clifford Stern (played by Martin Landau and Woody Allen) are both pursuing romantic relationships outside of their seemingly steady marriages. But when Judah’s mistress learns that he does not intend to leave his wife, her outrage causes Judah to resort to drastic measures that will alter the course of his personal and spiritual life forever. This heavy and beautiful film, with several plot references to the incomparable Ingmar Bergman, illustrates for audiences just how serious an affair can be.
sex, lies, and videotape (1989)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
This Palme d’Or-winning indie opens with Ann (Andie MacDowell), a sexually and emotionally repressed housewife of John (Peter Gallagher), worrying about the world’s garbage problems to her therapist. Manifesting her troubled relationships with her husband and her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) as irrational fears and anxieties, Ann is too caught up worrying to notice that her husband is frequently having secret sexual encounters with someone very close to her. Ann’s clouded reality gets pulled into focus when John’s transient college friend Graham (played by a pitch-perfect James Spader) comes through town. Graham sparks a friendship with the reserved homemaker, and as Graham lets Ann into his life, his own ways of coping with his issues help her realize she’s capable of much more. Deemed a “culturally significant” film by the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, sex, lies, and videotape presents a way out for those who feel trapped by their horrible circumstances.
Last Night is now available nationwide on VOD. Search your zip code and cable provider to see where Tribeca Film titles are available in your area.