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A Look Back at 6 Movies That Tackled Grief This Year

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Editor's Note

This article includes spoilers for several movies in 2021. Please proceed with caution (because we don’t want to be the ones who spoil you!)

Plato said that art is an imitation of life.

Many people believe art exists to help us understand the world better and to see the world with clarity. As such, it only makes sense movies should be a reflection of our lives and the trials and tribulations we face. Considering all the loss we have endured as a society in the last year in great part due to the pandemic, it only makes sense grief and loss should be a recurring, underlining theme for many movies throughout 2021.

(Spoiler alert for the following movies.)

1. “Reminiscence”

In the 2021 dystopian movie “Reminiscence,” the character Nick Bannister, played by Hugh Jackman, is a private eye who can delve directly into other people’s minds and memories. He is devastated by the suspicious disappearance of one of his clients with whom he was romantically involved and becomes obsessed with finding the truth behind her disappearance. The anger and denial stages of grief make it impossible for him to let go or move on, to the point where he is willing to chase clues even if they lead to his untimely death.

2. “Finch”

In the 2021 post-apocalyptic movie “Finch,” the titular character, played by Tom Hanks, is one of a small handful of people left alive following a cataclysmic global event. Accompanied only by his dog and various machines he has built, Finch remains largely alone because the vast majority of what remains of the human race has proven themselves to be both unpredictable and dangerous. Clear in the knowledge he is dying, Finch constructs a robot to serve as his dog’s caretaker and protector so his dog will not be alone. Not only does Finch grieve the world that used to exist, but he also struggles to face his own mortality. There is so much anger in his grief that he struggles to cope under the weight of it all.

3. “Injustice”

In the animated DC movie “Injustice,” Superman (voiced by Justin Hartley) falls apart following the loss of his beloved Lois who was pregnant at the time. Though the movie is animated, do not confuse this for a children’s movie because there were very violent and mature themes throughout. After Lois is killed, Superman is saddled by a great deal of guilt. He believes he is ultimately responsible for her death by his frequent inaction and softer stances on conflict resolution. Due to his overwhelming guilt, he believes the only way to fix the planet and to assure that nobody ever dies needlessly again is to rule over everyone with an iron fist.  Blinded by his grief, he lashes out again and again, destroying anyone in his path.

Many of the movies of 2021 are thoroughly relatable in their representations of the excruciating pain that comes with loss, existing as cautionary tales of the dangers of letting grief consume you.

Even many of the children’s movies of 2021 have not escaped the vast thematic net cast by society’s overwhelming sense of loss and grief; however, they also exude a more positive theme, that of hope.

4. “Mitchells vs. The Machines”

In the 2021 animated movie “Mitchells vs. The Machines,” the sense of loss that is represented is that of a child growing up and growing out of the family. There is a disconnect and vast sense of divisiveness that separates the generations, making it feel almost impossible to come together. It is through reflection and selfless acts they finally learn how to communicate and work together as a family again.

5. “Raya and the Last Dragon”

In the 2021 animated movie “Raya and The Last Dragon,” both Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) and her once-friend, now-nemesis Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan) are grieving great, albeit vastly different, losses. Raya had to learn how to exist without her father at her side to guide her, and Namaari faced a loss of a kinship she once embraced in the name of belonging to her community. Between the two exists Sisu, a dragon believed to be the last of her kind (voiced by Awkwafina). Each is so consumed by their own loss they struggle to see the pain others are experiencing. It is only through learning to trust one another and seeing the world through each other’s eyes that they can begin to heal.

6. “Luca”

In the 2021 animated movie “Luca,” two sea monsters named Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) find themselves disguised and struggling to fit into the human world. While Luca has run from a family that does not seem to understand or accept him, Alberto has clearly been abandoned by his own family, left to fend for himself.  The grief of that abandonment causes distrust and jealousy for Alberto when Luca begins to integrate into the human world. In order for Alberto to find his own place in the world, he must learn to trust again and to heal.

While many of the children’s movies of the last year have had an underlying theme of loss and grief, they also all possess an undercurrent of hope through unity. It is often said children are our future. Likewise, perhaps children’s movies are directing us toward our future. Whereas grief and loss are an inevitable part of life because you cannot have life without death, hope also exists on the horizon, brought forth in each sunrise, each new day. As much as art represents life, it has also been said life imitates art. Perhaps the way to move forward and heal from grief and loss is to take our cue from children’s movies about grief and loss and learn to embrace hope and trust again.

In so many ways, 2021 has been a roller coaster ride for us all. This past year has been the very embodiment of grief and loss, reflected back upon us in so many of the new movies we have watched. The pandemic and life itself has taken so much from so many of us, but what still remains is hope. As long as we are still here, still going, there is hope for tomorrow, hope for better days, hope for new movies, new experiences, new friends, new loves, new beginnings. Grief and loss may feel agonizingly painful, and its reflection in movies may feel devastatingly relatable, but our stories are not over.

As long as we are still here, hope remains.

Lead image via Warner Bros. Pictures’ Official Youtube Channel

Originally published: December 29, 2021
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