12 social distancing films where touch is taboo

Practice isolation with this list of streamable, non-scary movies where the characters are solo or alone together because of the plot.

God’s Own Country (2017)

Director Francis Lee’s 2017 feature debut follows a budding relationship between Johnny, a British sheep farmer, and Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker set against the windswept backdrop of Johnny’s sprawling family farm in Yorkshire. From its terse beginnings, something beautiful develops between the two men as Johnny learns the importance of vulnerability in the face of desolation, when all they have in an unstable and unforgiving world is one another. SD

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime

Duck Butter (2018)

Intimacy is kicked into overdrive in this indie gem, when two women (floundering actress Naima, played by Alia Shawkat, and free-spirited Sergio, played by Laia Costa) meet at a bar and hunker down in Naima’s apartment, having sex every 60 minutes for 24 hours. With all its sweat, spit and screaming fights, Duck Butters experiment in extreme courtship shows that social distancing can be anything but distant. SD

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime

Grey Gardens (1975)

This 1975 documentary offers a look into the lives of Jackie O’s reclusive aunt and cousin in the now-squalid East Hampton manor where they’ve been holed up for years. Aside from cementing eccentric anti-socialite Edith Bouvier Beale (“Little Edie”) as a cult icon, this classic film also shows the extremes of self-isolation in all its glamour and abjection. A few more weeks of quarantine and you may just find yourself donning your best furs and brooches to feed the local raccoons. SD

Where to watch: Kanopy, Amazon Prime

Un chant d’amour (1950)

Bound by prison walls, a guard satiates his desire via voyeuristic sexual fantasies that quickly escalate to include violence. This was prolific French writer Jean Genet’s only film, and is believed to be at least partly autobiographical, conceived amidst several arrests for theft and prostitution during his adolescence. The experimental short film, as brazenly erotic as any output by Kenneth Anger, is also misty-eyed, as Genet insists upon love’s triumph in times of solitude. DC

Where to watch: Vimeo, Archive​.org

The Dreamers (2003)

This later effort by director Bernardo Bertolucci is as lush a viewing experience as it is scandalising, and I couldn’t get enough of it during (voluntary) self-isolation growing up. An American studying abroad in Paris is absorbed into the lives of a pair of siblings, who may or may not be fucking. Set amidst the Student Riots of 1968, the ménage-à-trois cast aside the outside world, sinking deeper and deeper into a destructive, lurid bohemia in which nothing is forbidden, so long as they’re with each other. DC

Where to watch: Chili

Gates of Heaven (1978)

Deemed one of the ten best films ever made” by Roger Ebert, a viewing of Gates of Heaven is as sublime an experience as any epiphany one might have after days spent increasing Average Screen Time to 20 hours. Director Errol Morris documents the owners of a pet burial business in southern California, along with a hodgepodge of eccentric pet owners as they wax philosophic on life, death, and canine companionship – not before, nor since, has such a specific breed of outsiders been given space to share truths so kooky that, by the brief runtime’s end, seem something close to divine. DC

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Criterion Channel

Carrie (1976)

Social distancing becomes an extreme sport in Brian DePalma’s 1976 horror classic. Carrie transcends the era in which it was made, and its themes of social ostracisation, fanaticism and mass violence might still ring a bell. Upon a recent rewatch of a 35mm print in New York (already a dated experience?), I couldn’t help but get lost in the dizzying calm before the storm” scenes of Carrie at the school dance. Dim the lights, pack the bowl, and let Sissy Spacek nullify any desire to escape your apartment. DC

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Marlene (1984)

Once at the epoch of Hollywood glamour, German actress Marlene Dietrich had, by the late 1970s, become reclusive. Actor Maximilan Schell convinced Dietrich to let him interview her in her Paris apartment, in what would be a reunion of sorts (they had acted together a decade prior in Judgement at Nuremberg). Dietrich agreed under the condition that she herself could not be filmed. The result is an eerie, tense montage of old film and TV appearances scored by a disembodied voice. It was one not belonging to the young chanteuse as society knew her, but to an aging star, living alone amongst her own memories and clutter, desperate at a final chance to control her narrative. DC

Where to watch: Kanopy, Amazon Prime, Fandor

Last Summer (1969)

Peter, Dan and Sandy are three teenagers with money to burn one scorching summer on New York’s Fire Island. They swim, they dance, they get high, and they experiment with their budding sexualities. Their only plans are one-upping the other with devious mind games, until plucky Rhoda swims ashore to crash their party. Adolescent instinct soon turns animalistic as they isolate the newcomer by any means necessary. A prototype to the violent teenage angst later depicted by Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, this countercultural oddity is worth scrounging the internet for (while you have the time). DC

Bubble Boy (2001)

A potent mix of weird in the vein of Edward Scissorhands and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Bubble Boy – the film directly following Donnie Darko on Jake Gyllenhaal’s CV – stars a different kind of wacky loner: an immuno-compromised Gyllenhaal in a giant bubble suit. His character Jimmy falls for the girl of his dreams, but when he discovers she’s getting hitched to a doof, he suits up in a protective bubble with arms and makes a cross-country trip to stop the marriage and win her over with his declaration of love. TT

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Lake House (2006)

Swapping love notes across time, as Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock do in this 2006 romantic drama, seems the cutest way to pass social isolation. Reeves plays a lonely architect who lives in this incredible lake house that was constructed just for this movie. Every once in awhile the flag on his mailbox pops up, and he finds a message from its former resident (Bullock). Epistolary passion is back on the menu! Plus, it was the second film they made together (kind of) post-Speed. TT

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Vudu

End of the Century (2019)

A meandering quality permeates this dreamy footnote to director Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy. This debut from Argentine filmmaker Lucio Castro portends that a lonely night hookup between two men in Barcelona might actually be a decades-long romantic epic. Underseen upon release last year, it’s just as dazzling and enigmatic as Call Me By Your Name. End of the Century dissects the repercussions on the psyche that an app like Grindr offers gay men, and contextualises the uncomfortable feelings of longing and familiarity that haunt such brief encounters into a nonlinear and moving love story. DC

Where to watch: Vudu

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