On an episode of “Friends,” Chandler reveals that movies do not make him cry. Not even “Bambi,” which he dismisses as a mere cartoon. “You didn’t cry when Bambi’s mother died?” Joey challenges him. “Yes,” Chandler sarcastically replies, “It was very sad when the guy stopped drawing the deer.”
But Bill Murray knew better. In “Stripes.” rallying his woefully unprepared Army squad the night before graduation, he asks, “Who saw ‘Old Yeller?’ Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end?’ When he is met with embarrassed silence, he sneers, “Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot, I’m sure. I cried my eyes out.”
The recent release of the teen tearjerker, “The Fault in Our Stars” along with commemoration of the 10th anniversary of “The Notebook” opened a floodgate of online sharing about the movies primed to make us cry.
Why do we cry at the movies? Paul J. Zak, writing in Psychology Today, postulated, “We cry at movies because the oxytocin in the human brain (which engages brain circuits that make us care about others, even strangers), 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.”
So there’s that.
And it’s subjective. In one of “Sleepless in Seattle’s” most memorable scenes, a woman can’t get through her recap of the classic weepie, “An Affair to Remember” without sobbing uncontrollably. “That’s a chick’s movie,” Tom Hanks mocks, and then jokingly confesses to crying at the end of “The Dirty Dozen.”
As a child, movies in which death unexpectedly cameoed were understandably devastating. I was blessed to have parents who lived into their 80s, but movies such as “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Mister Roberts” (which had been sold to me by my parents as a comedy) conveyed that death can strike suddenly and unmercifully.
In terms of making audiences cry, death, as British actor Edmund Kean famously observed, is easy. I can appreciate them now as inspiring profiles in courage and character, but as a kid, I was blindsided by the deaths of Brian Piccolo and Lou Gehrig in “Brian’s Song” and “Pride of the Yankees.”
Now as a Baby Boomer with a son midway through college and soon to be out in the world. I’m seeing a common thread in the movies that make me well up these days. I haven’t seen Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” which was filmed over the course of 12 years, but just its coming attraction in which the child actor grows up before our eyes, is enough to get me misty.
“Field of Dreams,” which this year marks its 25th anniversary, hits the sweet spot every time it builds to the moment that Ray Kinsella asks his once-estranged father, now a youthful ghost, “You wanna have catch?” I was in Italy several years back and came across “Field of Dreams” on the hotel television. You really want to blubber, try hearing that line in Italian: “Papà, si desidera avere cattura?”
And animated or not, “Up’s” opening montage chronicling the couple’s life together never fails to reduce me to choked sobs.
We go to movies for many reasons, not the least of which is to be entertained. At this point, my wife and I prefer comedy to catharsis. Not for us the Alzheimer’s drama, “Amour.” Those are coming attractions we can do without.
Your turn: What are the movies you can’t watch without a box of Kleenex at the ready?