Marshall Fine has posted a piece about the primal welling of tears when the right movie does the right thing. He naturally lists a few films that have melted him down — Inside Out, Field of Dreams, E.T., My Dog Skip, Cyrano de Bergerac (even an amateur staging will do, he says) and…wait, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Who cries at an acrobatic, roof-jumping martial-arts film? Worse, Fine says he once watered up during a certain undescribed scene in Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.
I’m sorry but by the authority vested in me by the Internal Fraternity of Guydom, I hereby place Marshall Fine on a compassionate 30-day probation. This is not a slapdown or a suspension or demotion. He’s just being asked to contemplate the meaning of a seasoned critic weeping at a Hillary Clinton movie…that’s all. For his own health and that of his readers.
Everyone has written a piece about movie weeping. I tapped out my last one around eight years ago. I ran a quote from Owen Wilson that said most guys “choke up over loss. Stuff you once had in your life…a girlfriend or wife, a beloved dog, naivete…that’s now gone and irretrievable.”
And this quote from Mary Beth Oliver, a Penn State University communications professor and researcher of the effect of media on humanoids: “Films that make us cry cause us to contemplate what it is about human life that’s important and meaningful…[not] just tears of sadness but searching for the meaning of our fleeting existence.”
My guaranteed meltdown happens in the second half of the third act of Henry King‘s Carousel (’56). Specifically Gordon Macrae‘s Billy Bigelow trying to say to his widowed wife (Shirley Jones) and father-less daughter, “I messed up, I was a seriously stupid, selfish and insensitive man…I can’t do a damn thing about that now, being dead, but I really get it now. Except you can’t hear me say this.”
A lot of older guys get emotional about being older guys. Back in the ’80s my dad and I were watching a WWII doc in which some doddering vets were tearing up about fallen comrades, and my dad said he didn’t completely buy it — they were really weeping over their vanished, never-to-return youth.
I’ve always believed that James Cameron‘s T2: Judgment Day should have ended with a completely illogical moment that nonetheless would’ve worked emotionally. As Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg is saying goodbye to Eddie Furlong as he deliberately lowers himself into that steel-mill inferno, a single tear should have leaked out from the corner of one of his lifeless eyes.
Yes, the movie clearly has established in an earlier scene that Arnie’s cyborg can’t cry and in fact has no idea what crying is. But Schwarzenegger has also been learning certain phrases and social habits from Furlong (hand slaps, ‘eat me’, ‘hasta la vista, baby’) so it’s conceivable that a resourceful super-robot might have somehow generated the ability to weep by the end of the film. Illogical, yes, but it would have worked.
Postscript: In the ’07 piece I mentioned something a friend said to me when in my 20s. It has nothing to do with movie-crying, but I’ve never shared it before. The friend was telling me about his very first time in bed with his girlfriend, whom he was totally in love with at the time. He said that ‘the sex was so good, I cried.’ I’ve never heard that line since — not from anyone I’ve known or spoken to, and not in any movie, book, play, poem, song lyric or nightclub act.
I didn’t believe him, of course — he was trying to amuse — but I felt the residue of it. If you don’t know what he meant you haven’t lived.