Last week my daughter made the following statement: “Happy-sad evokes a stronger emotional response than sad-sad,” referring to the many movies that make us tear up. Rather than take this statement at face value, we went through the list of the movies that make us cry: some by her, some by me, and some that we both agreed on. Here’s what we came up with:
Field of Dreams
Dances with Wolves
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Color Purple
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Sense and Sensibility
It’s a Wonderful Life
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Sixth Sense
We could have named another dozen or two, undoubtedly. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune cried at the movie Up, but I’ve seen in so many times now it evokes, I can’t remember if I cried the first time. I probably did. Other movies people seem to mention a lot are ones I haven’t seen: Marley and Me, My Girl, The Notebook, etc.
Looking at the above list, I can draw a few conclusions:
1) Actors Henry Thomas and Haley Joel Osment are fricking geniuses and Thomas should have been nominated for an Oscar. Kids are too often overlooked, though thankfully Osment did get a supporting actor nomination.
2) Music is the big emotional manipulator. Aimee Mann’s song “Wise Up” in Magnolia kills me – KILLS me – every time. And don’t get me started on Randy Newman’s waterworks-inducing scores to Avalon and Awakenings.
3) Steven Spielberg could be paid based on tears on do quite well.
4) Music isn’t an absolute necessity to induce tears. Sometimes silence is the best soundtrack for us to feel raw emotion. Watch this clip from The Sixth Sense:
5) Happy-Sad movies – those that produce a tear even when conveying a happy or bittersweet moment – produce far more tears for me than downright sad movies. And many movies have sad scenes that don’t evoke as much response from me as the happier moments minutes later. Case in point: in To Kill a Mockingbird, I don’t cry when Tom Robinson is wrongly convicted of rape, but I do cry when Scout recognizes Boo Radley in her brother’s bedroom near the movie’s end. Another example: in It’s a Wonderful Life, the only moment that gets me every time is when Ernie reads the telegram from Sam Wainwright. There’s something about a guy who’s willing to stick by a friend even after losing his girlfriend to him that resonates with me. Again, this scene plays without music and works beautifully.
Below is the list my daughter and I comprised, this time with an HS for happy-sad and an S for sad. Happy-sad wins out by a mile for me.
Cinema Paradiso (HS)
Field of Dreams (HS)
Dances with Wolves (HS)
To Kill a Mockingbird (HS)
The Color Purple (HS)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (HS)
The Natural (HS)
Sense and Sensibility (HS)
It’s a Wonderful Life (HS)
Schindler’s List (S)
Forrest Gump (HS)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (HS)
Roman Holiday (HS)
Finding Neverland (HS)
The Sixth Sense (HS)
What is it about a bittersweet or happy moment that fills us with emotion that exceeds even that of the dourest occasion? Do we respond to happy moments with the same emotional level in real life, or are we merely being manipulated by the creators of a constructed art form? If our real lives were accompanied by a score, would we be crying constantly?