7 Brutally Honest Movies About Abusive Relationships

7 Brutally Honest Movies About Abusive Relationships
Image credit: Legion-Media

In today's world, abusive behaviour remains a somewhat fuzzy concept.

It's often difficult to understand where personal boundaries begin. Yet, most psychologists agree that emotional, psychological or physical violence qualifies as abusive behaviour, especially when it's used to suppress another person's will through intimidation, gaslighting or blackmail.

Abuse is slowly but surely becoming a mainstream topic in cinema today, allowing many filmmakers to reassess their own experiences and reach out to other potential victims.

Sleeping with the Enemy

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While it may not be the best film on this list, Sleeping with the Enemy, starring Julia Roberts, quite vividly demonstrates all the possible forms of physical and emotional abuse that can hide behind the facade of a perfect marriage.

The film tells the story of a woman trying to free herself from an abusive relationship. She begins a new life: she changes her appearance and meets an attractive man, but almost immediately realises that the shadow of her past relationship continues to haunt her. Sleeping with the Enemy spends a bit too much time trying to shock the viewer and a tad too little time focusing on the elephant in the room. Nevertheless, it certainly belongs on this list as an essential film about domestic violence.

Dolores Claiborne

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Perhaps one of the best Stephen King adaptations, the meditative drama Dolores Claiborne, starring Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh, explores the relationship between an elderly mother and her grown-up daughter, who returns to her hometown for an indefinite period.

As events unfold, the young woman recalls various episodes from her childhood that she now sees very differently than she did as a kid. Suddenly, it dawns on her that her once much-loved father was an absolute domestic tyrant who physically abused her mother for years. Dolores Claiborne touches on a wide range of important social issues, such as internal misogyny and feminism.

When a Man Loves a Woman

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When a Man Loves a Woman is one of the most unusual romantic dramas of the early 1990s as it speaks very openly and, more importantly, sincerely about the problems of domestic abuse. The film's protagonist is a woman addicted to alcohol. She does her best to cope with her inner demons and restart her life, but she's struggling.

Meg Ryan plays the lead, the only time in her career that she has appeared in a movie that is not a romantic comedy. The male lead was Andy Garcia, an actor who went from a promising young kid to a washed-up has-been with practically nothing to show for it in between. He plays the guy who tries to help Meg Ryan's character cope with her depression.

The Invisible Man

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The Invisible Man is a film about psychological and physical abuse that masquerades as a sci-fi flick based on the eponymous Herbert G. Wells book. Its director Leigh Whannell completely reimagined the classic story, making it more relevant.

The film's protagonist is a young woman named Cecilia, who is trying to escape from her filthy rich and mentally unstable husband, Adrian.

The situation is made worse by the fact that Adrian is a brilliant scientist who has developed a unique technology that makes him invisible. By and large, the new Invisible Man is a cross between horror and psychological thriller, offering viewers several highly creative action sequences as well as some solid acting, primarily from Elisabeth Moss, of the Handmaid's Tale fame.

The Shining

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One of the most famous horror movies in the world is also essentially a story about domestic violence.

See for yourself: The Shining's protagonist, Jack Torrance, along with his wife and young son, moves to the Overlook Hotel for the winter. It turns out the hotel is haunted. As the story progresses, Jack, who has a drinking problem and has quit drinking because of it, turns to the bottle again, goes insane and terrorises his loved ones in a compulsive attempt to kill them.

Kubrick's adaptation has been heavily panned by critics because of the overly comical portrayal of the abuser. Nevertheless, Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, fits perfectly into the director's style, who loves to mix elements of horror, graphic violence and good old satire. Recall A Clockwork Orange.

Berlin Syndrome

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This European arthouse drama tells the story of Clare, a young Australian woman who is "doing Europe".

During her visit to Germany, she meets a cute guy named Andy, spends the night with him, and then...becomes his prisoner.

Unlike most of the films on this list, Berlin Syndrome doesn't focus on the emotional or physical aspects of abuse, instead choosing to dissect the main character's psychological state. The creators subtly show how Clare eventually gets used to being a victim and even tries to adapt to her oppressor, anticipating his actions and desires.

Gone Girl

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This near-perfect tale of abuse draws on some high-impact source material, Gillian Flynn's bestseller of the same name, and David Fincher's solid directing to offer an ultimate guide to identifying red flags in a relationship.

The film follows Nick Dunne and his wife, Amy Elliott Dunne, as their marriage hits a rough patch. Amy's sudden disappearance and some cryptic clues lead the police to believe that Nick killed his wife and hid her body somewhere. In reality, a perfectly alive and healthy Amy is trying to start a new life away from her washed-up partner and frame him for her murder in the process.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Gone Girl is that you can't really tell who is the abuser in the relationship. Both Nick and Amy seem to have done everything in their power to destroy their marriage by turning it into a never-ending power struggle for dominance.