The subject of isolation has been featured in many successful movies over the years, and the topic certainly seems timely and on point with so much of the world still sheltering in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, May is Mental Health Awareness month in the U.S., and fostering mental health is more important than ever as so many people struggle with feelings of isolation and the loss of everything they consider “normal.”
Maybe it’s possible to put some of the movie magic of Hollywood to good use to create a sense of mental camaraderie that goes beyond just entertaining. Some poignant films include characters who are dealing with tough situations in total isolation. As expected, their journeys are often filled with dread and feelings of hopelessness, but they also manage to overcome their dilemmas in the end. The final result is a sense that even the worst times are temporary and leave us stronger. Let’s take a look!
The African Queen (1951)
In The African Queen, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) and Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) escape from Kungdu. With World War I starting, they try to dodge the German troops in the area, and that means traversing some dangerous rivers to make it out of the area and back to safety.
Much like Allnut and Sayer discovered, the way out of a sticky situation isn’t always safe. You could end up in a worse scenario if you make the wrong choices. Through patience, the proper solution could be at your fingertips. When you find yourself moving away from the trouble, you will never want to go back.
Rear Window (1954)
In Rear Window, photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (James Stewart) is stuck at home with a broken leg. While he’s home alone, he gets the occasional visit from his girlfriend and his nurse. His movement is limited, but it doesn’t stop him from doing his job, and he spots an unbelievable crime through his lens.
Many times, people feel they can’t do anything while they’re stuck in a limited space for a lengthy time. As expected, this isn’t the case at all. Many individuals have discovered different ways to get the job done. Isolation doesn’t have to be a hindrance to getting things done.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Swiss Family Robinson depicts a family of five embarking on a journey to relocate to New Guinea. Unfortunately, a horrendous storm causes them to crash onto an unknown island. After discovering wildlife in the region, they decide to build a treehouse to call home.
Family is the most important thing you will ever have in your life. When you feel the world is against you, they are always willing to help out. The Robinsons were lucky enough to have each other’s back. In their isolated state, they were able to build a closer connection with each other.
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble tells the tale of Tod Lubitch (John Travolta), who has a horribly compromised immune system. Because of it, he has to grow up inside a plastic bubble to prevent him from dying. In order to live at home with his family, Lubitch is forced to do everything inside his room.
Many people are forced into isolation because of various causes such as health issues. Lubitch understood this and made the most out of his situation. If isolation is a constant, it’s important to rearrange your daily life to make things work.
In Alien, warrant officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) returns from stasis on Nostromo. Along with six other crew members, Ripley lands on the moon to complete sudden repair work on the ship. Unfortunately, she is stuck having to face an alien creature by herself.
While it’s nice to be working as part of a team, facing situations alone is pretty common. It became a tall task for Ripley, though. Facing an alien alone on the moon wasn’t on her agenda that day. Fortunately, being alone doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to solve your problems.
Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone showcases every parent’s worst fear — their child left completely alone to fend for himself. In the movie, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) gets left behind while his family goes on their Christmas vacation. The boy is ecstatic about being left in the home by himself. Unfortunately, two comical bandits are plotting to break into the home.
After learning about their plan, McCallister booby traps the entire house. Sometimes, isolation can spawn some newfound creativity. This could mean finishing that novel you started writing or producing some new music. Inspiration can lead to exciting new things happening in your life.
Apollo 13 (1995)
Apollo 13 tells the true story of the failed moon mission of NASA astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise. The three men were set for an unforgettable adventure aboard spaceship Apollo 13. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst when an explosion on board disrupts the entire operation.
At certain times in our lives, we all feel helpless. There’s often the feeling of not knowing how a situation will turn out. The brave astronauts didn’t know if they would ever come back to Earth. Just because you feel helpless, it’s not going to stay that way forever. Having hope is important for keeping a positive mindset.
Robinson Crusoe (1997)
During his time as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan also starred in Robinson Crusoe as the titular character. Crusoe finds himself isolated on an island following a typhoon. Knowing he will never be found, the character begins turning the island into his new home, eventually saving a local native who becomes his only friend.
When it comes to being isolated with another person, it’s always important to work as a team. Finding each other’s strengths and weaknesses can help things run smoothly. It’s also important to talk about each other’s feelings. While it can be a bit scary, discussing problems will make you feel better.
Cast Away (2000)
In Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays system analyst Chuck Noland, who works for FedEx and enjoys traveling until a trip to Malaysia leaves him the sole survivor of a disastrous plane crash. Upon making it to land, Noland realizes he is the only one on the tropical island.
Over the course of four years, Noland made the island his new home and relied on a volleyball he named Wilson for “companionship.” As viewers, we are right there with him as he learns to dig deep to adapt to his new surroundings. Changes are always inevitable in life, and Noland teaches us that making the most out of a bad situation is the best way to persevere and survive.
Bubble Boy (2001)
In Bubble Boy, Jimmy Livingston (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to live his best life while confined to the inside of a plastic bubble. He suddenly finds himself attracted to his neighbor, Chloe, and his world changes dramatically when Chloe tells him she’s marrying her boyfriend in Niagara Falls.
Livingston escapes from isolation because he wants to stop the marriage. During his potentially deadly journey, he runs into a plethora of colorful characters. When isolation weighs you down, it’s always great to take a big step outside. You never know who you might run into outdoors — from across a respectable social distance, of course.
Panic Room (2002)
Panic Room finds Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) isolated with her daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), in a panic room. They are hiding and protecting themselves from home intruders, oblivious to the fact that this specific panic room has a whopping $3 million locked in a safe. Things change when Altman has to defend her family.
It’s always important to defend things important to you, such as family and your goals. People will often criticize those around them for their actions. Standing up for yourself probably won’t make others change their mind, but it can lead them to gain newfound respect for you.
Swept Away (2002)
In Swept Away, the wealthy and the poor clash on an unforgettable journey. Socialite Amber Leighton (Madonna) treats herself to a trip to Italy. During the voyage, she has an argument with deckhand Giuseppe Esposito (Adriano Giannini). Things get dicey when their ship runs out of gas, and they land on a deserted island.
Being isolated with someone you’re not familiar with isn’t fun at first. For Leighton and Esposito, it was a complete disaster when they found themselves alone. Fortunately, getting to know each other can help strengthen the bond between two individuals.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Lars and the Real Girl showcases the extreme measures some people will take to avoid being alone. Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) has zero luck in the social department, but things change — sort of — when he finds a doll named Bianca and starts a “relationship” with it. This behavior obviously worries everyone around him a great deal.
While Lars gets plenty of strange looks for his wild imagination, a great imagination is actually one of the most important things in life. It allows you to picture yourself in a different setting, such as a new city or in a new career. In many cases, imagination leads to people making their dreams become reality.
In Pixar’s Wall-E, the titular character lived humbly alone as a trash compactor. Unfortunately, he ends up inhabiting an empty Earth filled with waste at every turn. Upon meeting another robot named EVE, Wall-E decided to follow her back to her ship, Axiom.
When it comes to exploring, many people who are isolated are scared to leave their city. After spending a long time alone, Wall-E wanted to discover something different. By hopping on the ship, he managed to have a unique experience. Traveling to another place can help give you a brand new perspective on things.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
In It’s Kind of a Funny Story, 16-year-old Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) faces the perils of being a teenager. When he harbored feelings of worthlessness, he kept it to himself. Following a suicide attempt, he is sent to a psychiatric ward for a one-week stay.
Gilner’s internal isolation led to a near-tragic scenario. For millions of people, this is a situation they know all too well. If isolation is getting to you, it’s important to reach out — even from a distance — for help. Whether you talk to a professional or a friend, having someone there can make a difference.
127 Hours (2010)
In 127 Hours, actor James Franco portrays real-life outdoorsman Aron Ralston. While climbing in Bluejohn Canyon, he accidentally dislodged a boulder that crushed his hand, pinning him against the canyon wall. With no one around to help him, his life flashed before his eyes, and he anticipated the worst.
For days, Ralston recorded his experience and his thoughts to keep himself sane. Similar to journaling, recording daily activities is a healthy outlet for many people. Some record their journey for vlogs, while others use old-fashioned pen and paper. When you look back on these entries, you will be able to see how far you’ve come.
In Hugo, the title character had a rough upbringing. His father died in a fire, and his uncle Claude came up missing. Left alone at the Gare Montparnasse railway station, Hugo decides to take care of the station’s clock. For him, it kept the memories of his father alive.
At such a young age, Hugo learned more about isolation than any person should. It was his love for his father that made the difference. Everything he did was in his father’s name. Sometimes, love is all it takes to keep someone going.
Life of Pi (2012)
In Life of Pi, 16-year-old Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel gets ready to move to Canada. Unfortunately, a storm managed to disrupt his travel plans. After his boat sinks near the Mariana Trench, Patel awakens on a lifeboat, thanks to an unnamed crewman. Of course, Patel wasn’t completely alone as a Bengal tiger was also on board.
While isolation can be a struggle at times, it’s always best to have someone by your side, even if it’s a scary someone. For young Patel, he didn’t have a human who could communicate with him. Fortunately, the tiger became a major part of his journey — and his friend.
All Is Lost (2013)
In All Is Lost, Robert Redford portrays an unnamed man who is lost at sea. Upon discovering his boat has been destroyed, he tries to find a way back to land. The challenges get worse as he has to power through two major storms.
Not surprisingly, Redford’s character felt hopeless as he tried to find help and a way to survive, but he proved that he truly understood the phrase “never give up.” If something is hard or complicated, many people want to walk away from the situation, but it’s always best to see things through to find a solution.
Gravity tells the chilling story of Dr. Ryan Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) first space mission. Things go south quickly when debris crashes into the spaceship, causing her to float away into space. When commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) sacrifices his life to save hers, Stone has to find her way back alone with very little experience.
Having no experience in something can easily lead to disaster if you aren’t careful. Stone did what she could with the tools around her. Even if you don’t have the right experience, it’s possible to make it through something tough with some quick thinking.
Locke features actor Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, who is a construction foreman in England. Things get hectic when he receives word that his co-worker is in labor. The baby is his, so he decides to drive to be by her side.
The film plays out with Locke calling everyone he knows during the long drive. In some cases, being alone doesn’t always mean really being alone. With a simple phone call or text, you can reach out to someone who will be there for you. Whether it’s for some help or for a laugh, it’s always best to keep in contact with those closest to you.
Novelist Cheryl Strayed had her unbelievable voyage showcased in the 2014 film Wild. In the movie, Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed, who embarks on an 1,100-mile hike all by herself. For Strayed, it was the perfect way to get over a recent divorce.
Isolation might get a bad rap from people, but there are times when it’s absolutely necessary. In Strayed’s unique situation, being isolated from everyone aided her journey of self-discovery. Having so much time alone helped her focus. Sometimes, you need a clear head to get back on your feet.
In Housebound, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) gets placed under house arrest following a robbery attempt. She chooses to live with her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), instead of her step-dad, Graeme. Unfortunately, she quickly learns her mother’s home is haunted, and she decides to figure out more about the ghost.
Finding out the truth can be difficult for some people. Depending on the situation, it can be completely heartbreaking. Bucknell felt it was important to understand why strange things were occurring. In some cases, learning the truth can help put your mind at ease.
The Martian (2015)
In The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets left behind during a trip to Mars. While he was originally presumed dead, his team tries to bring him back home. Watney is forced to survive on the planet alone until help arrives.
Waiting around for a long time can make anyone lose their cool. In isolation, the wait can feel like an eternity. Watney had the misfortune of being forced to wait quite some time while being stuck on another planet. In the end, waiting is a major factor in moving forward with life. Not everything is given to you in an instant.
In Room, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) has been held captive for seven years with her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). The two are trapped in a room together by Jack’s father, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). After years of isolation, the mother and son make plans to escape.
Leaving isolation behind can seem tricky at first. In certain cases, individuals feel right at home alone and simply don’t want to change. Taking the first step toward exiting isolation is important. It’s one that will eventually lead to you feeling completely better about yourself.
The Shallows (2016)
The Shallows follows medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) on her trip to Mexico. During a surfing session, Adams gets attacked by a great white shark who takes a nibble out of her leg. Things get worse when she’s forced to seek shelter on a small rock formation about 200 yards from shore — and safety.
With no one to help her, she must find her own way back to shore, and she’s quite determined to make it. Determination is a strong factor in pursuing your goals. When you feel isolated, you might feel a bit unsure about moving forward with any plans, but with the proper mindset, you can accomplish anything you want in life.
Captain Fantastic (2016)
Captain Fantastic follows a family that chooses to live in isolation for a decade. Instead of allowing his children to grow up in a normal setting, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) wants them to grow up around nature. Things change when Cash’s children confront him about their lifestyle.
When it comes to confrontation, many people try to avoid it at all costs. In certain cases, however, it’s necessary for someone else’s — or your own — benefit. For Cash’s children, their feelings were boiling inside them for years. Confrontation can be tricky, and it’s best to communicate in a civil manner.
Agoraphobia, which is the fear of feeling trapped in unsafe situations — not simply the fear of leaving your home, as many believe — was explored in 2016’s Phobia. Artist Mehak Deo (Radhika Apte) starts to experience the anxiety disorder following an attack by a taxi driver. Deo starts to believe another spirit is inhabiting her apartment, which leads to her having visions.
Fear is often synonymous with isolation. When kept away from people for too long, some individuals are scared of what others might possess. Deo’s attack caused her to see the world in a darker way, but, fortunately, fear is something that dissipates over time.
Everything, Everything (2017)
In Everything, Everything, Madeline “Maddy” Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) couldn’t experience life like other teens. Because she had SCID, she couldn’t leave her house like other people. Things change when Madeline starts having feelings for her neighbor, Oliver (Nick Robinson), and runs off with him.
Sometimes, obstacles make it harder to truly appreciate the finer things in life. Maddy didn’t allow her life-changing situation to get in the way of finding love. Tearing down the walls might seem tough, but being able to have a better experience makes it all worth it.
Ad Astra (2019)
In Ad Astra, astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is nearly killed following power surges throughout the solar system. He discovers his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), is responsible for these incidents through his Lima Project. After hearing his father may be alive, Roy heads to space to confront him.
Depending on the situation, reconnecting with people can be a challenge. McBride’s need for reconnection was important to the entire solar system. With so much history, you might not know how the other person will react. Saying “hello,” however, is always a great first step.