Looking at this year’s Best Picture nominees, I realized that while I had liked three, nine out of nine had made me tear up—including The Wolf of Wall Street. Fellow movie criers will understand. Especially for those of us who might hesitate to cry in the light of day, there is a singular pleasure to letting tears flow, even—or maybe especially—when what’s happening on screen is really stupid. I come by this honestly. My father refuses to see any movie in which a child dies.
This outpouring of emotion is not limited to the cinema; after watching Audra McDonald and Norm Douglas perform “Bess You Is My Woman Now” in the recent revival of Porgy and Bess, my mom and I were so overcome that we had to skip the second act and go get a drink across the street. And the list of songs I can’t listen to dry-eyed is so long that I’ve had to quarantine them in their own Spotify playlist. But movies are the biggest culprit.
The first movie that made me inconsolable was Dumbo—“Baby Mine,” of course, after he’s been taken from his mother—and the second, I believe, was Chipmunk Adventure, after the baby penguin is taken from his mother. My brother and I both sobbed so loudly in Land Before Time (after the baby dinosaur is taken from his mother) that we had to leave the theatre. Thank God we were never exposed to Bambi. (My mother, traumatized to realize that she was “Man,” resolved at age five to spare her own kids the same shock.)
As an adult, I find I can’t watch any of the following without dissolving into tears: The Best Years of Our Lives, The Browning Version, The Remains of the Day, ET, Old Yeller, The Pride of the Yankees, Fear Strikes Out, Bang the Drum Slowly (I like baseball movies), Rudy, and New York Mets 1986: A Year to Remember, specifically the “You Belong to the City” montage.
Psychology Today informs us that
we cry at movies because the oxytocin in the human brain is imperfectly tuned. It does not differentiate between actual human beings and flickering images of human beings. Either one is enough to kick oxytocin into high gear and impel our empathy.
No doubt, and no doubt for many of us, we’re using the story and the darkness as a vent for other, pent-up emotions. But I would argue that sometimes storytelling is just so good, the human condition so universally tragic and uplifting, that it’s earned our tears.
And some championship seasons are so exciting, and so far from a current team’s prospects, that a viewer can’t watch Dwight Gooden’s windup and stay dry-eyed. This one can’t, anyway.
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