Losing It: My Cinematic Breakdowns


Feel free to do what you want with my mythical “man card” or whatever, but I’m not afraid to admit that there are movies that have made me cry.  Any filmmaker worth their salt is trying to evoke an emotional response from their audience; who am I to deny them?  Now it’s not something I do at the drop of a hat.  You’ve got to work for it.  But there have been a good number of films that have turned on the waterworks for me, whether from sadness, joy, fear, or, in the case of Batman and Robin, the overwhelming emptiness of  the existential void.

But let’s not spend any more time peering into that particular abyss and move on to the list.  This is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good sample of what’s set my eyes to watering over the years.  And yes, there are likely spoilers ahead for those who have never watched movies ever.

The man/dog hybrid — Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) — No joy or sadness here, just pure bowel-to-water run-from-the-room-screaming terror.  This came on network television when I was a kid, and I wasn’t quite patient enough to appreciate the oppressive air of paranoia and dread with which Philip Kaufman invested his remake.  So I checked out for good stretches of this, waiting for monsters or aliens or something to show up.  And then that monstrosity over there came strolling on-screen and I absolutely lost my mind.  Complete hysterical meltdown of epic proportions.  Even as an adult, knowing full well that’s just a latex mask stuck on a dog, I’m still creeped out by that thing.  I’m almost sorry for bringing it up.

Edward alone — Edward Scissorhands — This was one of those alignments of art and life that found a sweet spot and stomped all over it.  I was going through a break-up and was an emotional basket case as it was, and then along comes this sweet little love story where the two lovers are separated at the end.  Throw in some gorgeously swelling Danny Elfman music and the idea of the lone artist throwing himself into his art to assuage his heartbreak and that was that.  Done.  Big old sloppy mess.  Thirteen year later Tim Burton would do it to me all over again with another example of the power of creativity, this time with William spinning the tale of helping his father escape the hospital at the end of Big Fish.  For all his Hot Topic aesthetics, Burton sure can turn on the waterworks when he wants to.

irongiant-1“Suuuuupermaaaaaaan!” — The Iron Giant — I was loving The Iron Giant the whole time I was watching it.  Wonderful animation, great story, the works.  And then the Giant decides to go and sacrifice himself to save everybody.  Okay, that was sad, but I was holding it together.  He’s becoming the hero he didn’t think he could be, that he was created not to be.  And he’s content.  He’s found his place.  Tearing up a little, but still okay.  But then he closes his eyes and shouts, “Superman!” and I was completely destroyed.  Like sobbing.  And then, when I’d just about regained my composure, they go and pull you back from the brink and show the Giant’s various parts slowly hopping, dragging and crawling back together, and I lost it all over again.  Thanks a lot, Brad Bird.

Pretty much the last thirty minutes — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King — The funny thing here is that I didn’t have this reaction to this sequence the first time I saw it.  That was at around three in the morning in a theater that had apparently shut off the AC shortly after midnight.  So between the stuffy theater and the sheer overwhelming scope of the film, I didn’t have much of an emotional reaction.  The second time though?  Everything after “You bow to no one” played me like a damn harp.  The slow pan across the map from Minas Tirith back to Hobbiton, reminding us of what we’d seen and that it was now all over; the silent toast between the four hobbits, the only ones who know what they’ve sacrificed to save everything around them; the agonizing good-byes at the Grey Havens; that blissful shot of Frodo, looking the way he did in the first film for the first time in about nine hours of screen time; the boat slowly sailing into the brilliant sunset.  I was an utter wreck, the enormity of Peter Jackson’s accomplishment finally sinking in, as well as the finality, the accumulated emotional weight of the trilogy.  And then those gorgeous drawings over the end credits, a fitting curtain call for the actors who had brought the imagination of the ten-year old who’d read these books some twenty-five years before.  You stow all that crap about too many endings.  This earned all the damn endings it wanted.

The church battle — Avengers: Age of Ultron — Finally a moment produced not by sadness or fear, but pure unadulterated fanboy joy.  Joss Whedon slows things down in the midst of the final battle and shows us the Avengers taking on Ultron’s drones in a swooping, soaring, swirling flow of geek-out moments.  These were the heroes I’d grown up with seemingly lifted straight off the page, and Whedon was basically composing a love letter to them right before my eyes.  I was so overwhelmed with sheer delight at the whole thing that I felt myself welling up and laughing and feeling like I was eight again.  You might be fatigued with super-heroes, but if I can get moments like that, keep ’em coming.

I could keep going.  Andy and Red embracing at the end of The Shawshank Redemption; the final game in Rudy; hell, I could probably make a list of the dozen or so times Spielberg has made me cry all by itself.  There are even film scores and pieces of classical music that can make me tear up listening to them.  Why anyone would want to deny themselves that feeling for the sake of being tough or macho is beyond me.  It’s not being weak.  It’s being alive.

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