If you’re sunk in a swamp of solitude, there are movies.
If you’re drowned in the deluge of chaos, there are movies.
If you’re drenched in a drizzle of nostalgia, there are movies.
If you’re struck by the lightning of love, there are movies.
If you’re threatened by a downpour of death, there are movies.
If you’re at home on a rainy day, there are movies.
The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to watch a movie. Some of the greatest films in cinematic history owe their greatness to the presence of rain. Rain in cinema is often said to be the symbol of nostalgia, solitude, chaos, love, rejection, death, decay, and so on. But are not some things just simply what they are and nothing more? In the end, rain is just rain, water returning to its origin. The following list doesn’t feature movies with heavy rain, nor is it about movies in which rain is a central character. They’re just movies I think about when I think about rain. All films listed here are ranked in chronological order.
1. Rain (1929)
What better way to spend a rainy day than watching Rain? Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens is known for exploring the relationship between nature and humanity. Like any other natural phenomenon, rain is defined by its physical interaction with objects, whether a rooftop, car, or river. As its title suggests, Rain is an experimental short documentary about rain and how people react to it. It’s set in the busy streets of Amsterdam that look completely different with the sudden arrival of rain. Despite its grainy and grimy look, Ivens’ poetic sensibility is on display. With a symphony of rain and a ballet of umbrellas, this is the most lyrical visual document to capture the essence of rain and portray it as it is.
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2. Rashomon (1950)
A priest, a woodcutter, and a peasant take shelter inside a ruined gate named Rashomon. What follows then is a downpour of distrust created by lies and subjectivity. In post-war Japan, faith in humanity was lost. Rashomon teaches a valuable lesson about finding hope and humanity in the prevailing chaos. A notorious bandit is brought to trial for raping the wife of the samurai while they were traveling through woods. Everyone has their own self-serving interpretation of the same event. The film is about a lack of moral clarity that ultimately results in social decay.
Rain and ruins are essential elements of a Kurosawa movie. One of the reasons for using heavy rain is to show that humans are tiny in front of nature, and we’ve no control over bigger events. Kurosawa diverted the water supply of the entire village for rain effects during the scene of a downpour at Rashomon gate.
3. Andrei Rublev (1966)
Fire and water are key ingredients of a Tarkovsky film. The poetic vision of this Russian auteur was unparalleled. Books are written to decipher the symbolic meaning of his images. Rain in movies of Tarkovsky is just rain. More than a symbol, it’s a method of expression that reflects the emotional state of characters. There are multiple scenes involving horses. In one such scene horse stands peacefully in the rain for quite a while. Andrei Rublev is a spiritual journey examining the artist’s struggle and societal role. Andrei Rublev isn’t a movie; it’s a massive work of art whose sheer existence is nothing short of a miracle.
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4. Withnail and I (1987)
While taking a stroll on a countryside hill, Withnail’s uncle says, ‘We live in the kingdom of rains, where royalty comes in gangs.’ Under the disguise of comedy, Withnail & I is a heartbreaking story of an obsessively alcoholic actor. The film is loosely based on director Bruce Robinson’s friend and wannabe actor Vivian Mackerrell, who shared a similar fate as Withnail. Here, rain represents rejection. Two unemployed artists move to a country cottage owned by Withnail’s wealthy homosexual uncle. Country people aren’t exactly receptive; teashop owners wouldn’t serve them, and police chase them. In one of the most tragic rain of self-denial, Withnail is left with nothing but a bottle in his hand, reciting the verse from Hamlet. Everybody moves on, but we all have that one friend who’s stuck in that rain of ruination and will never return.
5. Blade Runner (1982)
What does it mean to be a human? Memories do not shape human existence but rather feelings that memories invoke. Ridley Scott’s epic sci-fi is set in dystopian Los Angeles, where Tyrell Corporation creates humanoids known as Replicants. Deckard is sent to kill them. Replicants are meant to be destroyed after four years, but with time, some begin developing emotions and want to extend their life span. After all, fear of death is what makes one alive.
At some point, Deckard realizes that Replicants are more humane than humans. In this movie, rain is skilfully used to enrich aesthetics. Scott reveals that one of the reasons for shooting in heavy rain and dark was to disguise the shortcomings of the set and to lend realistic quality to the story. Blade Runner is best seen on a rainy day, preferably with a bowl of noodles.
6. Damnation (1988)
Hungarian maestro Bela Tarr’s movies are about silence between words. He shoots in extremely long takes, in which nothing much happens, and nature begins to play its part. This is the cinema of wind and rain. Damnation is set in the muddy rain-drenched landscape, where fog gets into every corner and settles into the soul. Characters speak in long monologues and watch rainy water dripping down the window or buckets of coal sliding in the air. A nihilist protagonist lives off the possibility of love. Everybody has their own fraudulent scheme. Like many other Bela Tarr movies, Damnation depicts the boredom and painlessness of human existence. It’s about mud and turbulence that comes with rain.
7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
On a rainy night, a bunch of salesmen must chase dead leads and close on them in order to save their jobs. Life is harsh; just when you’re in desperate need of Glengarry leads, it gives you a Patel. Imagine going out in the rain, hoping that your broken umbrella will protect you, or keep knocking on the door that’s locked from the outside; that’s what it is like to be a salesman. It also shows how salesmen have to put on an act to reel in clients. Although rain is present in many scenes, we hear it more than we see it. A hefty amount of money was spent on creating rain effects during the first half of the movie.
8. Memories of Murder (2003)
In Bong Joon-ho’s murder mystery, a sadistic serial killer assaults women wearing red on rainy nights; local detectives are incompetent and invent their own killer by torturing innocents and planting fake evidence. Here, rain is effectively used to create an atmosphere of dread, to depict the state of chaos in which everything is obscure. Bong Joon-ho keeps shifting point of view. We see it from the perspective of detective, killer, and victim.
The detective was looking for a psychotic murderer, while the culprit was just another ordinary guy who could be anyone in the crowd. It’s said that nothing is too hard to solve. In the end, humanity solves all problems; time solves all problems. But if it can’t be solved, it is more reflective of the real world. And who is to say which the greater reality is? The one we know or the one we fear?
9. Raincoat (2004)
Raincoat is a tender story of unfulfilled longing and missed opportunities. Set in Calcutta, in an era when everybody is impoverished or unemployed, but nobody wants to reveal it. Then we hide our broken existence in the veil of raincoat to show the world that we’re concealed from this rain of misery, but we know that deep down, we’re as soaked as others. It’s an adaptation of a story by O. Henry, in which a village factory worker is down on luck and forced to knock doors of his well-off friends for financial aid.
Embarrassing as it is, he decides to drop by his ex-fiancé, who dumped him over a wealthy proprietor. Things have changed a lot since their last communion. Gone are the days of sweet summer; the love of his life has turned into a shaggy housewife. In a house full of antiques, she is no different from furniture. They light a candle on a rainy day and talk about the life they never lived.
10. Sin City (2005)
Turn the right corner in Sin City; you can find almost anything, so why not rain? Rain in Sin City is not rain, it starts with a drop of insanity, and then the dark torrential sky coughs it up and spits it out like blood after taking a punch. It’s the kind of rain that makes scum skitter off the street. Robert Rodriguez effectively brings Miller’s iconic comic book to life. It’s like Wizard of Oz, envisioned by Quentin Tarantino, in which old Tin Man can go to any extent to protect sweet little Dorothy, Lion wants to avenge Goldie, and Yellow brick bastard leads to the evil senator. In a corrupt world where blood dries up, and raindrops evaporate, once in a while, a torrent of white rain washes away everything.
11. Midnight in Paris (2011)
Midnight in Paris is the movie straight out of Woody Allen’s nostalgia shop. Gil, an aspiring writer struggling with his novel, is mysteriously transported back to Paris in the 1920s. Every night, he finds himself in the company of legendary artists such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Stein. He falls in love with the mistress of Picasso.
Midnight in Paris is a joy ride into the golden era of literature. It’s like watching a movie about Gods when they were humans. Here, rain represents nostalgia. Gil is stuck in the past. He is so lost in fantasy that he has lost track of the real world. At one point, Gabriella says, ‘Paris is the most beautiful in the rain.’ And Gil nods in agreement. It’s about metaphorical rain of nostalgia. Whenever Gil passes a street or café in Paris, he thinks of Legends that used to reside there.
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12. Garden of Words (2013)
In Tokyo’s heart, a garden where a naive aspiring shoemaker meets a mysterious lady only on rainy mornings. Perhaps no other movie has captured the essence of rain better than Makoto’s Garden of Words. Rain is apparent in almost every frame of this spectacular anime, and it’s not there just to create striking images. It serves as connecting tissue. It’s about a thunderclap that ignites the spark of passion and dissolves the invisible barrier between ever-blossoming adolescence and the towering skyscrapers of adulthood. Rain speaks of emotions that words cannot describe. Maybe that’s why, deep down, we never want rainy days to end.
13. Hide Your Smiling Faces (2014)
Carbone’s début feature is sublime poetry that captures the beauty of death. In this coming-of-age film, kids play with a dead pigeon, and two brothers take shelter in abandoned construction and contemplate over a swampy lake while rain descends. Everything around them is dying or decaying. The weather is always cloudy, with a chance of death. A kid encounters death for the first time when his close friend is found dead on the shore. Much like rain, death is bone-chilling and terrifying when the first droplet touches the body, but after a few drops, we stick our tongue out to taste it ourselves.
14. Hard to Be a God (2015)
Aleksei German’s visceral masterpiece Hard to Be a God is hard to watch. It’s not a movie; it’s a human experience of the highest order. This medieval sci-fi drama is set on a filthy planet that bears an uncanny resemblance to Earth. The last offering of this legendary Russian filmmaker is an exercise in ass-kickery. Local dons of the planet Arkanar roam around in mud and muck and poke arses with spears. Universities are destroyed; bookworms, artists, and wise men are hunted and slaughtered. The story follows noble Don Rumata, supposedly born from god’s own mouth. Each and every frame of this movie is rife with a vileness that speaks of our rotten existence. This is a hellish world of rain, fog, mud, and all other afflictions found in nature.
15. The Wailing (2016)
Hong-jin Na’s psychological thriller is about a berserk battle between Hex and Crow, in which the rooster plays an important role. It’s a genre-transcending movie that captures horror with the lens of humor. The Wailing vaguely reminisces Bong Joon-Ho’s masterpiece ‘Memories of Murder’. Apart from obvious similarities, what stands out is the use of rain to depict the state of ultimate chaos. It’s about the rain of suspicion that obscures the mind of a sane man and beclouds his judgment. When you’re dealing with an unknown entity, it’s hard to decide whom to trust. The best course is to wait until the sky is clear, but fear drives people insane, and that’s what the devil feeds on. The Wailing is essential for those willing to immerse themselves in the rain of horror.