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Trouble in mind: the best film, music, TV, literature and drama for a guilty conscience – The Guardian

From My Name Is Earl’s journey of redemption to Dave’s stirring origin story, our critics recommend art that deals with shame and regret
Guilt can be borne in different ways: with an open wince of shame or buried so far under the surface that the person concerned doesn’t even realise it is there. That second scenario is the stuff of the haunting morality tale Mr Klein. Directed by the great Joseph Losey, the star is Alain Delon, cast as a profiteer in Nazi-occupied Paris. His business is buying up the possessions of Jewish Parisians desperate for the means to flee the city. The prices he offers are cruelly low – and for Mr Klein, business is good. But as the story spins into an identity crisis, his own ethical debts are called in. The conscience is always keeping tally. Danny Leigh
HP Lovecraft famously championed a philosophy of indifference, saying: “I don’t make the mistake of thinking that the … cosmos … gives a damn one way or the other.” Yet even the irreligious among us are prone to imagining the slightest misfortune might be some karmic retribution for past deeds. In My Name Is Earl, Earl Hickey comes to this conclusion when he loses a $100,000 lottery ticket after being hit by a car, only finding it when he atones for past sins. The sitcom sees Earl wrestle with a guilty conscience as he lists those against whom he has transgressed and attempts to make amends. Viewed cynically, it’s like reciting 10 Hail Marys after a lifetime of skipping church. Jason Okundaye
A moody highlight from Dave’s 2021 album, We’re Alone in This Together, Survivor’s Guilt paints a disarmingly honest picture of Dave’s trajectory from working-class teenager to role-model celebrity, owning up to all the instances of casual colourism and toxic alpha-masculinity that have nearly tripped him up along the way. A rich tangle of sex, ego, loneliness and – indeed – guilt, it sits alongside Drake’s Marvin’s Room as a fourth-wall breaking example of vulnerable, self-reflecting rap; a style that the genre is all the healthier for. Jenessa Williams

Joseph Conrad
said that the hero of his novel Lord Jim suffers from “the acute consciousness of lost honour”. In a moment of terror, Jim abandons his post on a sinking ship, leaping into a lifeboat and leaving 800 passengers to drown. “It was as if I had jumped into a well – into an everlasting deep hole,” he says. This sense of falling dominates the remainder of this remarkable book. Conrad makes us see and feel every painful inch of descent. Sam Jordison

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s extraordinary play Fairview starts in a fairly ordinary fashion, with an African American family gathering for a birthday party. Gradually, however, things begin to warp in a unique theatrical experience that will have many wriggling uncomfortably in their seats. A subtle sense of guilt creeps around the edge of things. Booming white voices loudly take over spaces they should not. In a shocking twist, certain spectators find themselves no longer watching – but being watched. The stomach churns. The brain whirs. Curtain down. Miriam Gillinson

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