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Movie Characters You Forgot Were In Isolation For Years

In times of widespread illness, unrest, and calamity, society must shut down. Families, friends, and roommates find themselves spending long days indoors, with few to keep them company — or in some cases, entirely alone. It's an intense experience, capable of revealing one's deepest anxieties ... or one's greatest strengths.

Unsurprisingly, it's also a killer storytelling technique. Many of our favorite movie characters have spent years on their own, for a variety of reasons. Some are quarantined due to plague, some are alone by choice, and some are trapped in a remote location because of social breakdown. All of them have had to spend years at a time with no interaction with society. Occasionally, they might encounter a passing stranger, a face on a screen, or an artificial intelligence — but by and large, they're spending years with just themselves for company. These are the characters who spent years in isolation ... and the stories of what that did to them.

Rapunzel (Tangled)

Fairy tales might be the basis for many a Disney princess film ... but a lot of them are still pretty messed up. Some of them, however, end up as creepy on the silver screen as they were for hundreds of years: Take the story of Rapunzel, re-purposed by Disney for the 2010 animated musical Tangled. It might not retain the original fairy tale's  blindness, pregnancy, and, uh, salad, but it's still plenty creepy. This film tells the story of an evil witch named Mother Gothel who kidnaps a baby and locks her in a tower to exploit her innate magical abilities. Gothel lies to Rapunzel as she grows up, telling her the world is full of evil people who would hurt her and steal from her — precisely what she is actually doing to the naive girl.

Gothel manages to keep Rapunzel trapped until her 18th birthday. For all those years, Rapunzel lives locked in a small tower, with only Gothel and a chameleon named Pascal for company. Of course, Rapunzel eventually finds her inner strength and discovers that she is actually a princess before defeating Gothel and resurrecting her newfound love, Flynn Rider. But before that triumph, she'd lived a lonely life, taken advantage of by the only other person she knew.

Dae-Su/Joe Doucett (Oldboy)

The original Oldboy film is the second in legendary director Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, though it has no real plot connection to the first, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. There's also an American remake of Oldboy directed by Spike Lee. However one encounters it, however, one thing is clear: Oldboy is worth your time.

Oldboy is based on a manga, and has become a neo-noir classic. The main character (Dae-Su in the original, Joe in the remake) is an alcoholic businessman who is kidnapped by an unknown assailant and imprisoned in a tiny room for 15 years. Right before he's managed to dig himself to freedom, he's let go with no explanation.

The rest of the movie follows Dae-Su's quest for revenge, as he attempts to make sense of the time he's missed out on, who has done this to him, and why they have done it at all. Oldboy features a few extremely memorable scenes — a single-shot hallway fight is essentially filmmaking 101, and the film's conclusion is a thrilling, bloody spectacle. It's awful, it's wrenching, and it's entertaining as all get-out.

Oh Geun-Se (Parasite)

Parasite was the surprising smash hit of 2019, taking home dozens of awards, including a historic Oscar haul. Every bit as unexpected is the actual plot of the film. It is easy to become lulled into a false sense of security during the first hour or so of Parasite. You definitely know things are going to go wrong, but you don't know exactly how. Are the Kims going to get caught in their con? What are the Parks going to do when they find out?

Then you find out there's a dude secretly living in the basement.

The former housekeeper (whose position the Kim matriarch usurps) has been keeping her husband in a hidden room in the Park family basement, sneaking him food and keeping him company when she can. The husband's name is Geun-sae, and he's been living in his hidden room for years, though he was once nearly caught when the youngest member of the Kim family, Da-song, saw him sneaking upstairs. The ending of Parasite is absolutely bonkers, and the whole movie is well worth the watch.

Robert Neville (I Am Legend)

The ending of 2007's I Am Legend is quite different in the 1954 novel it is based on. In the film, Dr. Neville dies heroically, having sacrificed himself to safeguard the cure to the plague that has transformed humanity into bloodthirsty monsters. In the book, he dies realizing that the world as he knew it is gone, and that he will become a legendary figure to the Earth's new, monstrous denizens, just as vampires were to humanity. Hollywood endings — they come for every story, in the end.

But before those critical climaxes, the story is largely the same. A virus (that began as a miracle cure in the film) wipes out the vast majority of humanity. It mutates a huge number of the survivors into bloodthirsty monsters who are fiercely allergic to the sun. The "lucky" few who are unaffected are hunted by these monsters. One such person is virologist Robert Neville, who ekes out a solitary existence over several years, running experiments and trying to devise a cure for the disease, survive his hunters, and locate any other uninfected humans.

At least he's got his dog, Sam. But save his canine companion, Neville is utterly, tragically, and entirely alone.

Jimmy Livingston (Bubble Boy)

Bubble Boy has been largely forgotten in the wider scope of Jake Gyllenhaal's career. Did he truly star black comedy riff on The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? Sure thing, 2001. You do you.

Here's the premise: Gyllenhaal plays Jimmy Livingston, a boy born without an immune system. Because of this disorder, he has to live inside a giant plastic bubble to keep him safe from germs. Undaunted, he undertakes a cross-country journey to stop his crush's wedding. Along the way, he befriends a variety of odd characters and learns some valuable lessons. Hilarity in the form of mud-wrestling competitions, cults, and wayward bikers ensues.

Livingston is not entirely socially isolated, despite his overzealous mother's efforts, but he is uniquely quarantined from the world for almost the entirety of the movie. In the end, he climbs out of his bubble and survives. Turns out his mom had been lying to him about his immune deficiency. Hilarious! And incredibly dark! At least he's not alone any longer?

One thing we can be thankful for – Bubble Boy allowed sites like CNN to exhaust their pun reflexes with headlines that describe the film as "bursting with dumb humor." Also, Bubble Boy was released by Disney! When will it hit Disney+? Kids today need to know that the man who plays Mysterio wasn't always so cool.

Sam Bell (Moon)

You know a movie is swinging for the fences when the response to "Who's in it?" is "Sam Rockwell, and that's about it." That's the case with Moon, Duncan Jones' 2009 sci-fi head trip. Rockwell plays an astronaut named Sam Bell, who is the solitary worker on a moon base for years on end. His only company is an AI system named GERTY, but he's actually bearing his life pretty well ... until his clone shows up.

Moon gets real crazy from there. This is one of those movies you'll probably want to watch again once it's over, just to see what new clues you can pick up.

Moon was made on a tiny budget in just 33 days, and its behind the scenes stories are almost as fascinating as the movie itself. For example, Rockwell has spoken with multiple outlets, like The Guardian, about how he played the different versions of himself to help the audience along — and also waxes poetic about a particularly terrible wig that they considered putting on him. It's a thriller, an elegy, and a poignant look at extreme loneliness.

Chuck Noland (Cast Away)

Cast Away may not be the best movie Tom Hanks has ever made, but it's probably one of his most impressive performances. The man went through a major physical overhaul to portray Chuck Noland before his crash and after. Speaking of the crash, it still holds as one of the most terrifying wrecka ever put to film. Afterwards, Hanks basically carries the entire movie by himself. And boy, does he pull it off. The man makes us cry over a volleyball floating away.

In the film, Noland is stranded on his island for four years, hoping for rescue and trying to survive. He very nearly loses his mind and almost dies multiple times over the course of his isolation, with only a volleyball that he cleverly names "Wilson" to keep him company. Also, if this interpretation is to be believed, Chuck's wife was cheating on him long before his plane crashed with the man she would later marry. So, you know, Noland doesn't even really have that going for him. He comes through the other side intact, but his long solitude will never be forgotten — by him, or the film's fans.

Adrian Veidt (Watchmen Series)

Watchmen in this case refers to the HBO miniseries, not the comic or film adaptation. Jeremy Irons' absolutely bananas character arc as the smartest man in the world, Adrian Veidt, is original to the series — but it's every bit as bonkers as its source material. Watching the voice of Scar rage around an idyllic countryside, murdering his homegrown servants, was one of 2019's television highlights.

So, backstory. Veidt was once a costumed hero known as Ozymandias. He sees humanity threatened by extinction during the Cold War, and decides to unite the planet against an outside force. He does this by creating a massive "alien" beast, dropping it in New York City, and unleashing a deadly blast of energy that kills millions. The world is, briefly, united, and he stays hidden in his Antarctic laboratory for years afterwards, maintaining the illusion that extra-dimensional beings are threatening the planet.

His true isolation comes after that, when Doctor Manhattan transports him to one of Jupiter's moons to live as he always wanted: Worshiped (by weird clone people) in a perfect little world. As you might expect, he eventually gets bored of it and makes his way back to Earth in time to stop his daughter from stealing Doctor Manhattan's powers. Privacy is not, as Veidt thought, all it's cracked up to be.

Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo)

The characters in The Count of Monte Cristo are locked in prison for over a decade. They have a bit of contact with others — ritualistic beatings from a sadistic group of guards counts, right? — but they are mostly confined in isolation, left to starve and go insane. All because they tried to help Napoleon.

Our focus in The Count of Monte Cristo is Edmond Dantes, who tries to relay a message from Napoleon to his supporters after his exile. He is caught and betrayed by those he'd regarded as friends, and locked away in a terrifying prison that essentially serves as a place for people to be forgotten about. He lasts six years before encountering another prisoner making an escape attempt — and they spend several more years digging a tunnel out to take their revenge.

The film is wonderful, but the book is worth attempting on its own. Happily, it's in the public domain, so it isn't hard to find online. Enjoy its solitary, revenge-minded delight, then compare it to the movie — but don't forgot to go outside at some point as you do so.  

Dr. Mann (Interstellar)

No, no. We aren't thinking of The Martian, which is also a movie about Matt Damon getting lost in space. He's only on Mars for about a year and a half. Certainly not pleasant, but it pales in comparison to what his character Dr. Mann goes through in Interstellar.

Dr. Mann is part of the team sent on the Lazarus missions, seeking planets that could sustain human life as the Earth becomes uninhabitable. The world he finds is seen as a prime candidate, and Dr. Mann runs tests to see if his mission would be a success. Unfortunately, the planet he is on is not a good candidate, and he seals himself in cryosleep to wait for death or rescue — whichever comes first.

Three decades later, Dr. Mann is awakened by Joseph Cooper of the spaceship Endurance. It doesn't take him long to turn against his savior, as he attempts to sabotage the crew of the Endurance and steal their ship. He is killed after damaging the Endurance, leaving our heroes with just enough fuel to ... throw themselves into a black hole so they can time travel. We think.

Maui (Moana)

Isolated as punishment for stealing from the gods, Maui gets a chance to redeem himself when a determined young girl winds up on his island prison. He seems a charming individual — Maui is voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, after all — but after singing a lovely little ditty, he attempts to strand Moana on his island by stealing her boat. Kind of an jerky move there, Maui.

It's understandable, though. Maui, being an immortal, has the longest imprisonment of anyone on this list. He is stranded on his island for 1000 years with no hope of escape. We would probably seize the first chance we got too, if we'd had only ourselves for company for a full millennium.

Luckily, Moana is able to catch up to the big lug and talk sense into him, and the two team up to return the heart of Te Fiti to its proper place, vanquish Te Ka, and save Moana's people. Through it all, there is plenty of time for one of the film's many songs to get stuck in your head on an endless loop. You're welcome.