For memorable movie scenes that feature rain, you can probably list a dozen examples right off the bat. Entire films can be defined by a murky, cloudy, rainy pall that seeps into the land, the characters, the sky, and everything else. 1994’s The Crow built an entire aesthetic around an endless cycle of gray, damp despair.
Despite the inherent bleakness of such surroundings, they nonetheless have their own kind of vibrancy and energy. 1982’s Blade Runner is perpetually set in a polluted, almost sickening cycle of non-stop rain, but there’s also a very potent story about humanity (or lack thereof)
Rain of course also manages to find its way into a slew of romantic films, including comedies. Kissing in the rain can be a mixed bag, but movies ranging from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man to Breakfast at Tiffany’s suggests it can be quite the moment in your life.
There are dozens of ways we can talk about using rain in movies. There are literally thousands of films that could be used for this discussion. I will obviously be leaning into the sorts of things I like to begin with, but I’m also hoping this month’s Make the Case can show, in my own little obsessed way, that rain can shape the movie you’re watching in a variety of ways.
It amounts to a lot. Although probably not as long a list as country music songs that are set in the rain.
5. Seven Samurai (1954)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
There are a lot of things I like about Seven Samurai. Widely considered to be one of the most influential movies of all time, I won’t pretend to be an expert on its themes of vengeance, the value of a community banding together in a common cause, or the larger subject of how warfare transforms classes and individuals alike. I can simply say that I love the film’s performances, pacing, attention to detail, complex character arcs, and the varied, stunning cinematography by Asakazu Nakai.
And more. I also love the final confrontation between the largely-transformed villagers and deeply-involved samurai in their technical employ against the bandits who threaten to destroy literally everything. The melee in of itself is the movie’s nasty, noticeably violent climax, but the fact that so much of it occurs under hideous gales of rain and wind makes the showdown even more distinctive.
The ground turns to mud. An ugly battle becomes even uglier, yet more stunning in the context of the spectacular movie we’re watching. One of the heroic samurai, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), proves he is indeed one of them by dying a hero’s death in the filthy mud.
Rain is used for carnage, tragedy, and victory in Seven Samurai. It’s one of my favorite examples of rain in movies.
4. Identity (2003)
Director: James Mangold
Identity is a grimy, dark, and very, very rainy movie. An absolutely wild neo noir ride from start to finish, with an ending that can still catch almost any first-time viewer completely by surprise, Identity has one of my favorite thunderstorms ever captured on film. It also has a really good time with its varied characters and equally-wide-ranging ensemble cast, throwing these poor personalities for one loop after another across a night of particularly stormy weather.
Directed by James Mangold (Logan and the upcoming Indiana Jones 5), this movie has rain that can get into the bones of the viewer, as well. Have you ever come in from the soaking, suffocating, freezing rain, only to wish you had just stayed the hell outside? Identity loves to destroy comfort zones and expectations with equal enthusiasm. No one and nowhere is safe in this story.
The characters create or become consumed by varying degrees of danger within the confines of a cheap motel. The storm outside is the kind of thing that can kill someone all on its own. Then you have to contend with how this movie depicts the inner workings of a serial killer (the ever-wonderful Pruitt Taylor Vince).
Identity confounds on several levels, and the rain isn’t just there for atmosphere.
3. Blade Runner (1982)
Director: Ridley Scott
A noir of a considerably different breed than the previous entry, Blade Runner does utilize rain in a similar fashion. However, whereas that film is set during a memorably chaotic storm, Blade Runner descends us into an everyday buzz of drenched, weary dread. Not only is the rain never-ending in this film. It is also toxic. The sun as we appreciate it in the present has been gone for quite some time.
Blade Runner sets a man responsible for tracking cloned humanoids known as Replicants (a particularly cranky, damp Harrison Ford) against four beleaguered, highly dangerous examples of humanity’s destructive relationship to progress. The rain follows his every dogged, unhappy move. It feels as though the rain is dulling, poisoning, and eventually eliminating the pockets of society that refuse to go away.
This world is visually stunning, as anyone will tell you. It is also a death spiral of bleakness that we ourselves may not be able to avoid. The rain is not a warning. It’s a sign of an ever-worsening present and future. It is here that an extraordinary story of humanity and machinery is told. “Tears in the rain” indeed.
2. Withnail and I (1987)
Director: Bruce Robinson
The famously rainy London, as well as the equally soaked English countryside, has been depicted in a variety of ways throughout the history of film. Withnail and I uses rain, boredom, the constant horrors of a repressively aimless life, and buckets of alcohol to show just how unromantic this particular weather pattern can be oftentimes.
Two struggling actors (Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant), one considerably more destructive than the other, think they have found a reprieve from their woes in the form of an invitation to the countryside. This does not turn out to be the case. Without being too overt about it, the rain in this film is as dangerous as the locals who seem to torment every waking moment for our protagonists.
For every story of kissing the love of your life in the pounding rain, or for every story of someone who really can sing and/or dance under these conditions, there are stories of slow and fast deaths and other catastrophes buried in the murkiness of the atmospheric conditions. Withnail and I is a perfect black comedy, but it’s also a story of what happens to those who aggressively avoid direction.
Sooner or later, the weather can force a hideous change of plans.
1. Road to Perdition (2002)
Director: Sam Mendes
Few rainy movie scenes are more deeply burned into my memory than the last moments on screen for Paul Newman’s ancient mob boss John Rooney in the unforgettable graphic novel adaptation of Road to Perdition.
There is a lot of good stuff to take from this story of a mob enforcer (Tom Hanks, who goes relatively gently against type to great effect) fleeing a tiny mix-up at work with his young son (Tyler Hoechlin, currently playing another character based on a DC Comics book). The scenery, often shown under drizzling gray skies, is a constant and essential companion for this multifaced family drama. One which is punctuated nicely by stylistic, sometimes disturbing violence.
More than a story of fathers and sons, expressed in two distinct, connected narratives, Road to Perdition is also about regret, action and consequence. The rain here seems to have its own word to add on the futility of trying to escape from the present, while steering clear of your inevitable future. This thought at least applies to the ocean of rain that is dumped on Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, and the others caught in the culmination of their deep personal bond and professional history.
It is one of the most cinematic scenes covered this month, to be sure. That’s impressive to consider on its own.
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