Getting over a breakup? Critics pick music, books, games and more to help

Heartbreak is the ailment, could culture be the cure? Our critics’ suggestions to help ease your pain – or channel your angst


The best method for getting through a breakup is watching Marc Webb’s movie (500) Days of Summer, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets dumped by the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl Zooey Deschanel. For all its faults, this film has a killer rejection scene; it’s so painful, especially for a man, that it should lance the boil of emotional pain all by itself. Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom, who shows up for a party to which he has been diplomatically invited by his now ex-girlfriend Summer. The poor dope is somehow hoping against hope that the old magic will be rekindled. The party is cleverly split on the screen between “Expectations” and “Reality”: on the left we see his fantasy that they will start canoodling, on the right, the horrible reality of her distant, if polite interactions with him. Pure agony. Peter Bradshaw



Nessa Barrett
Revenge is sweet … Nessa Barrett. Photograph: Kristen Jan Wong

Once you have graduated from the initial cathartic weeps, you need a song that captures the right degree of unattractive, vaguely childish, just-been-dumped bitterness, without any of the emotional baggage of shared romantic memory. Settled next to Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Huddy, Nessa Barrett’s self-confessed “petty” ode i hope ur miserable until ur dead

marks her out as one of 2021’s most exciting new gen Z exports in the pop-punk reboot explosion, revelling in the extreme highs and lows of her teenage perspective. It’s not quite Lemonade levels of sophistication, but it’s an excellent soundtrack to the “throws darts at personalised dartboard” phase of post-breakup grief. Jenessa Williams

* * *


George Eliot
George Eliot. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

George Eliot wouldn’t want you to wallow. Her masterpiece, Middlemarch, a “Study of Provincial Life” tracing the web of connections between the inhabitants of a town in the English Midlands, shows us mistakes in love: idealistic Dorothea and the ambitious doctor Lydgate marrying the wrong people (a dried-up old pedant and a shallow flirt). The novel is wise, witty and fascinated by every element of Victorian society. Eliot has no truck with romantic illusions, championing instead “passions of the mind”: the intellectual and moral curiosity that eventually leads to a deeper understanding of oneself and others. Virginia Woolf called it “one of the few English novels written for grownup people”; you could equally say that reading it can help you grow up. Justine Jordan

* * *


Lose yourself … Firewatch takes you to Shoshone National Park Forest. Photograph: PR Image from Campo Santo

Video games are the perfect thing for those unbearable post-breakup weeks, because you are likely to prefer the idea of being a space wizard or grizzled monster-slayer for hundreds of hours to the idea of actually inhabiting your own life. But if you want to play something that will help you feel your feelings rather than distract you from them, go for Firewatch, a game about a heartbroken man who, after his wife develops early onset dementia, retreats to Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming to gaze out at the gorgeous scenery from a fire lookout. It is soothing, sad and gently mysterious. Keza MacDonald

* * *


Bas Jan Ader
So emotional … Bas Jan Ader’s I’m Too Sat to Tell You. Photograph: Hayoung Jeon/EPA

Crying helps, they say, and no artist captured the agony and ecstasy of tears better than Bas Jan Ader. In a great gush recorded in photographs and a film titled I’m Too Sad to Tell You, the conceptual artist is lost in tears, letting them stream out in a voluptuous orgy of pain. We don’t know what has made him cry. It could be a bad breakup. Maybe he peeled an onion. He never said why he was sad – he was too sad to tell us – but melancholy itself is reclaimed by this work of art that finds beauty, truth and reassurance in the universality of sorrow. Go on. Cry. Jonathan Jones


Jenessa Williams, Justine Jordan, Keza MacDonald, Peter Bradshaw and Jonathan Jones

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Want horror for Halloween? Critics pick music, books, games and more to help
From a creepy Hollywood comedy to trick or treat for gamers, Guardian critics suggest their cultural classics

Peter Bradshaw, Alison Flood, Keza MacDonald, Phil Harrison and Jenessa Williams

31, Oct, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Succeeding Succession: books, games, music and more about the ultra rich
As Succession returns to our screens, Guardian critics offer artists’ varied takes on the seductive and corruptive nature of excessive riches

Sam Jordison, Keza MacDonald, Danny Leigh, Jonathan Jones and Jenessa Williams

18, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Dirty work: film, books, games and more to help with the daily grind
From Office Space to the Rakes’ 22 Grand Job, Guardian critics suggest culture to cope with the pressure, politics and crushing ennui of earning a living

Phil Harrison, Sam Jordison, Danny Leigh, Keza MacDonald and Jenessa Williams

25, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Cultural prescription: plays, films, books and more to help you start university
From Educating Rita to The Secret History, Guardian critics suggest some comfort viewing and listening to take on campus

Miriam Gillinson, Peter Bradshaw, Jenessa Williams, Justine Jordan and Adrian Searle

27, Sep, 2021 @2:43 PM

Article image
Cultural prescription: film, books, plays and more to help you embrace autumn
From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to When Harry Met Sally, Guardian critics suggest comforting culture for the changing seasons

Peter Bradshaw, Tim Ashley, Adrian Searle, Alison Flood and Arifa Akbar

04, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Family misfortunes: film, books, games and more about dysfunctional clans
From Jonathan Franzen to Charles Ray, Guardian critics suggest culture that can mess you up as much as Mum and Dad

Danny Leigh, Sam Jordison, Kate Wyver, Skye Sherwin and Keza MacDonald

22, Nov, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Ennui will rock you: books, games and more for getting through burnout
From Death in Venice to virtual husbandry in Stardew Valley, Guardian critics suggest culture to help cope with exhaustion

Andrew Clements, Sam Jordison, Keza MacDonald, Danny Leigh and Skye Sherwin

15, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Feeling lonely? Film, music, art and more that will put you in good company
From the stark horror of Hamsun’s novel to Fassbinder’s commentary on love and racism, our critics choose great cultural works about being alone

Sam Jordison, Jenessa Williams, Danny Leigh, Jonathan Jones and Hannah J Davies

06, Dec, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Down but not out: film, theatre, art and more to help deal with failure
From Oscar Isaac’s underperforming folk singer to The Good Place, Guardian critics offer up bittersweet culture for when success eludes you

Jessica Kiang, Kate Wyver, Phil Harrison, Alison Flood and Jonathan Jones

29, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Show me the happy: art, theatre and music that celebrates Black joy
From lovers at Pride to side-splitting comedy to a rallying rap, our critics rejoice in a variety of joyful Black art

Yomi Adegoke, Sara Collins, Micha Frazer-Carroll, Jason Okundaye and Jenessa Williams

08, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM