Over the summer I wrote a post about 5 great scenes that take place in a bathroom. For whatever reason, the bathroom has become a mild cinematic obsession for me. Perhaps it’s because the bathroom is a private, vulnerable environment—but by being on film that privacy is shattered. There is, though, still that vulnerability and occasional shame that can still be present. Some of the most intimate moments in movies exist in the bathroom, and that may be the primary reason why it intrigues me so much. In my last post I had a large focus on Kubrick, who similarly seems drawn to the bathroom in almost all of his films. For this post I thought I would narrow it down a bit more and explore scenes exclusively involving a shower (which won’t include any bathtubs). I’ve steered away from any straightforward horror films, as that list would be insanely packed. Unfortunately, some scenes listed below aren’t necessarily prominent in the film, and as a result are difficult to find direct videos of. It should also be mentioned that despite my love and admiration for Psycho (1960), I’ve left it out of this list to allow space for less well-known shower scenes.
5) Mulholland Dr. (2001), dir. by David Lynch
The shower scene in Mulholland Dr. is not immediately noteworthy. Betty (Naomi Watts) moves to L.A. to pursue her dream of acting, and after exploring her aunt’s home that she’s staying in, she opens the shower door to find Rita (Laura Elena Harring) taking a shower. They have a brief discussion as Betty lingers outside the closed shower door, trying to figure out who this unexpected woman is. After repeated viewings of the movie, this scene can be seen as a subtle but powerful display of themes and clues found later on in the film. The shower door allows you to see a body, but it’s disjointed and unclear. This immediately touches on the themes of Betty’s own ambiguous vision of her true identity, her blurred sense of reality, and her inability to really see or understand the woman she loves.
4) Irreversible (2002), dir. by Gaspar Noé
After becoming a victim of rape, Alex’s (Monica Bellucci) lover Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and former boyfriend Pierre (Albert Supontel) spend the course of a night seeking revenge. The film is told entirely backwards, which can border on disorienting (especially amidst the slew of disorienting camera movements). However, as the film progresses, slight nuances come out with every scene, making the backwards manner of reveals necessary and effective. The film ends with Marcus and Alex at the very beginning of the night, getting ready to go to a party. Alex is showering, and Marcus approaches her, and first kisses her through the shower curtain before pulling it back. It’s ostensibly a touching moment, especially if the film were to be played “backwards” with everything in order. Though by coming after everything else we’ve seen between Alex and Marcus from later on in the evening, it only showcases the distance between the two and their inability to truly connect.
3) Carrie (1976), dir. by Brian De Palma
Though the above video doesn’t cover the initial moments of the scene (which is also the first scene of the movie), Carrie (Sissy Spacek) discovers her period for the first time while showering in her school’s locker room. Because her mother (played by Piper Laurie) is a religious fanatic, topics like sex and bodily functions are taboo. When Carrie is shown getting her first period, she has no idea what is happening to her body. After asking for help from her fellow classmates, they mock her to the point of physical abuse, as she’s wet, cowering, and bloody on the shower floor with tampons being thrown at her. This opening scene also sets the stage for Carrie’s supernatural tendencies as a result of intense emotion.
2) Mysterious Skin (2004), dir. by Gregg Araki
It is perhaps for the best that this clip is very hard to find online (and if you truly want to find it, you can). Following a shared childhood trauma, one boy grows to have an obsession with UFOs, while another becomes a gay prostitute. This is a highly reductive synopsis, as the film is filled with achingly beautiful moments of both insight and cinematography. It’s a frank and poignant look at the impact that abuse has on different people. In one of the most realistic and disturbing scenes of the film, Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) comes home with an older, beefy client. After the man becomes rough beyond Neil’s comfort, he excuses himself into the bathroom. The man follows him, and hits him in the head, which causes Neil to fall into the shower. Neil grasps at anything, and ends up turning the shower on as he is being brutally abused. Shocking, yes, but not for the sake of being shocking. It’s yet another facet of Neil’s personal experience with abuse. It also highlights his own lack of self worth, and his inner conflict between wanting to confront his past but also cleanse himself of it.
1) Paranoid Park (2007), dir, by Gus Van Sant
I put this at the number one spot for a couple of reasons, not one of them being that I think this film is particularly great. In fact, I feel very conflicted about that (which often happens with Gus Van Sant’s films). One of my reasons may or may not be that I figured it would be a good “controversial” choice, but my main reason is that I find this shower scene to be incredibly moving. Not much from the rest of the movie has stuck with me since I first saw it in 2007, but this particular scene is one that comes to my mind quite often (and one that I make a point to watch about once a year). Alex (played by the amateur actor Gabe Nevins) struggles to hold himself together as his world is completely changed after being involved in the accidental death of a security guard. In this particular scene he is coping with his increasing guilt, paranoia, and confusion. What starts out to be a simplistically beautiful shot of Alex showering, slowly becomes a surrealistic, subjective moment. The lighting shifts dramatically and inexplicably, and the noise of the shower is heightened until it’s a swell of unrecognizable noises sprinkled with chirping birds.