For this list I stayed away from the sillier “potty” humor films—not only do I not find them to be entirely funny, but also there are about a million of them. Instead, I selected a batch of more serious films that have exceptional, aesthetically impeccable scenes that take place in a bathroom. Be forewarned that almost all of these are fairly disturbing, and if you have yet to see some of these, don’t watch those clips. Get your life together and go watch the whole movie.
5) The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), dir. by Wes Anderson
After dealing with a lifetime of loneliness and unrequited love, Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) attempts to kill himself. He comes from a family of kid-geniuses, a narcissistic father, and an adopted sister that he’s in love with. In this disconcerting and devastating scene, Richie looks into the mirror and performs his ritual of cutting all of his hair off and shaving his beard. Before he finishes shaving his beard, he pulls the blade out, and cuts his wrists. He manages to survive this attempted suicide, though the scene is still just as disturbing and powerful. The scene is accompanied by Elliot Smith’s heartbreaking song “Needle in the Hay.” At the time of the release of Tenenbaums in 2001, Elliott Smith had not yet killed himself. Looking back on this scene now, another layer of true sadness and hurt comes through.
4) The Rules of Attraction (2002), dir. by Roger Avary
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I’ve written about Rules a handful of times over the past few months. Enough already, right? Obviously not, because here we are. This movie has a lot going on stylistically, so it just happens to be applicable to a variety of lists. I’m of the belief that Rules is in the small pool of successful film adaptations that come from a respected source material. The wide array of different techniques used throughout the film, both aesthetically and thematically, seem to match up perfectly with the book by Bret Easton Ellis. One of the more affecting examples is when we finally learn who has been writing Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) anonymous love letters. The love letters are sprinkled throughout the film, just as they are in the book. We finally get a look into who this young girl is (in her only real scene) as she commits suicide. It’s a deeply moving, unsettling, and graphic scene. I certainly commend director Roger Avary for making this risky decision.
3) La Haine (1995), dir. by Mathieu Kassovitz
Taking place over the span of one day following a violent riot, this film follows three young French men who live in the impoverished housing projects. After a friend of the three ends up the hospital following the riots, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) vows to shoot a cop if his friend dies. It’s an incredible study on racism, classism, hate, friendship, and violence. In this film, there are actually two noteworthy scenes that happen in a bathroom. The first is short, but effective. Vinz is looking in a bathroom mirror, acting out the iconic “You talkin’ to me?” scene from Taxi Driver (1976), but in French. He holds up his hand as a gun and “shoots,” which ends the scene with a real gunshot noise. Something worth noting with this scene is that it was filmed with two actors mimicking each other, allowing the camera to shoot an over the shoulder shot of Vinz’s “reflection” and not be seen. The second scene shows an older man who interjects a verbal fight between the three in a bathroom by telling them a long story about an old comrade of his trying to find a place to go to the bathroom in peace. It seems like a non sequitur, especially to the characters, but it’s an important allegory that is integral to the story.
2) Enter the Void (2009), dir. by Gaspar Noé
Watching Enter the Void is an entirely visceral experience. You are placed into the body and perspective of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), who is an American drug dealer living in Tokyo. After his friend rats him out, Oscar is killed by Tokyo police officers in a tiny bar bathroom. After he dies, his soul continues to observe life after his death—primarily following his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who is also living in Tokyo, working as a stripper. The scene in the bathroom is highly affecting, as you can’t help but feel that you are Oscar and you are dying. It’s a technically and aesthetically stunning film, which deeply explores sex, drugs, spirituality, and the seedy underbelly of Tokyo.
1) TIE: Full Metal Jacket (1987) and The Shining (1980), both dir. by Stanley Kubrick
The bathroom is a constant recurring theme in almost all of Kubrick’s films. Not only do scenes just happen to take place in bathrooms, but also they are scenes of great, great importance. It was hard to limit this choice to a tie of just two, but these seemed to stand out the most. Consider the other Kubrick examples part of the honorable mentions.
The first half of Full Metal depicts the intensive boot camp training of recruits for the Vietnam War, while the latter half chronicles the actual events of the war. The boot camp training has harrowing effects on the recruits, and is led by the ruthless drill instructor Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, who actually served in the Vietnam War). Private Poyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) is one recruit who cannot seem to stomach the constant abuse, criticism, and loneliness. After graduating boot camp, he decides to to kill Sgt. Hartman. After he is found in the camp’s bathroom and confronted by Private “Joker” (Matthew Modine), the Sgt. soon arrives as well. Poyle shoots him dead, and then turns the gun on himself while sitting on a toilet.
The Shining is perhaps Kubrick’s film the most laden with bathrooms. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes his family to the remote Overlook Hotel while he serves as the caretaker during the off-season. Among a slew of important bathroom scenes (one of which is the classic “Here’s Johnny!” scene), two particularly notable ones stand out. The first is when Grady and Jack speak in the hotel’s bar bathroom, which is a striking red and white room. It is in this scene where Grady shifts from being a mere servant, to directly influencing and manipulating Jack. The second is the ever-horrifying bathtub scene when Jack enters the ominous “room 237” to find a beautiful young woman bathing. She gets out of the bathtub, seductively makes her way to him, and embraces him. Next thing he knows, the beautiful young woman has transformed into a rotting corpse.
Notable Omission: Psycho (1960).
Honorable Mentions: 25th Hour (2002), American History X (1998), Vanilla Sky (2001), Better Off Dead (1985), Pulp Fiction (1994), Trainspotting (1996), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Liar Liar (1997), Scream (1996), The Fly (1986), Nightmare on Elm St. (1984), Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), Fatal Attraction (1987), The Dreamers (2003), American Beauty (1999).
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.