Are the filmmakers to blame for failing in other respects to elicit tears for these characters and the fates they face? Sometimes. Am I to blame for coming in on guard, waiting for a film to get at me and maybe throwing up some hurdles along the way if there's no lack of trying? Perhaps. Isn't it acceptable to feel something without showing it, and to do so without being labeled a callous bastard? You better believe it.
But I'm not entirely invulnerable, mind you. Let me admit that up front. Just last night, I was watching Dear Zachary... for a second time, sitting in the same bed, sobbing at the same parts (and I don't seem to have been alone in doing so). The first time, though, I had the liberty of pausing the film and getting all my emotions out of the way; had I seen it theatrically, my sleeves would've been a mess by the time the credits rolled.
I was twice left a wreck by father-related films, both of which I happen to think are very good, not quite great. The first was seeing Big Fish with my dad and my brother, because that was the first time I had ever seen him cry in front of me. I knew that the film had left him thinking about his late father, and when he saw that I was crying, he asked me why; after all, he wasn't dead yet. (That, while smile-prompting, didn't make matters any easier.) This past summer, I attended a screening of When Did You Last See Your Father?, which ended with about all six of us men quietly sniffling on our way out the door. By the time I'd gotten to my car and thought the worst was over, I just began bawling and eventually called my dad just to say "hi". It was an utterly visceral reaction to a film that hadn't necessarily reflected my own relationship with my father, and had transparently built up its emotional catharsis, but it had hit me, and hard.
Other ones aren't so easily explained away. I didn't outright cry at either August Rush or Be Kind Rewind -- my eyes merely welled up with tears, and we'll leave it at that. The former looked treacly as hell going in, and I was admittedly expecting little enjoyment out of it. But eventually, the Big Climax came, and sure enough, I found myself a bit more flushed than I'd ever planned to be. Truth be told, I'm afraid to give the film a second look -- not because I might cry again, but I rather fear that my opinion of the flick will just collapse upon further inspection. Meanwhile, I had no reason to think that Rewind might lash out in the sentimental direction that it did, but I nonetheless found myself oddly touched beyond all the eccentric antics of Michel Gondry's comedy. Some of my closest friends have yet to let me live this admission down.
But it's awards season, and dramatic contenders are the ones that often have me questioning whether or not I don't subconsciously hold a glass ceiling of sorts aside from all anticipation and appreciation. I love it, but I'm not IN love with it. Though released in April, United 93 was a prime example of a film that I went in hoping would devastate me -- after all, if that didn't do it, what would? Sure enough, it had, but there was a bias there going in, if not coming out, but one of a hope to be moved. And now with this year, I've seen all manner of films that have given my heart pause, that have shortened my breath and that have made me wonder if I wasn't about to fall apart all over again: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, WALL-E.
And yet I didn't. I think those films and others range from good to great, but as I see film after film in these last cold weeks of the year, I can't help but step back and assess the situation. (Oh, the looks I got for shrugging off The Boy in the Striped Pajamas...) Am I seeing every last movie I can not out of completist habits (though I am), but instead out of hopes that this film is the one that will Touch Me? Again, I ask: is it the movies, or is it me? As I mull that over, and as I open up to all of you, I want to hear from the people who don't cry often at movies, who don't bawl at every Nicholas Sparks adaptation and yet who don't avoid something emotionally trying because that could never worth their nine bucks. What movie was it? When did you see it, where, and who with? Most importantly, why did it affect you so?
It means more to me if you're not too sensitive in sharing these anecdotes; at the end of the day, the person who tells me they cried at maybe one movie in the past ten years means more to me than the person who find themselves undone by a single teaser...