The Cinematic Tears

I love movies. And I’m a sap. I admit it. I do cry at movies. Yes, I really do. I love film, literature, art – I’m a sentimental fool and I often relate films and books to the events of my own life. And all-too-often, those memories and recollections bring tears. I’m an emotional guy. That’s just who I am, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I cry.

That being said, I’m also a film buff. Like I said, I love movies. I love to see movies, quote movies; I’m like Anthony DiNozzo. There are movies, such as Pulp Fiction, in which I can quote nearly from start-to-finish. I believe film – like literature – is an art form, and I appreciate greatness in all its cinematic incarnations. I love dramas, documentaries, comedies, or any bit of cinema that is skillfully and artfully done. And when the art ties into deepening emotion – as it often does – I simply love it all-the-more.

So, that being said, here are the Top Five movies (and coinciding film clips) that have made me cry in the past and still do to this very day . . . and why.

[SPOILER ALERT: Most of these involve the end of the movie. Just sayin’…]

#5: Without Limits

As a runner, I’ve always loved this film – the story of United States track & field legend Steve Prefontaine. At the end, following Pre’s tragic death in a car accident, his coach, Bill Bowerman (co-founder of Nike, played by actor Donald Southerland) gives the eulogy at his funeral at Hayward Field. You can just see the heart break in his eyes before he puts on his sunglasses after his speech; and as the music cues up, the crowd at Hayward Field cheers for Pre one last time as they stopped the scoreboard clock at precicely Prefontaine’s goal time for the three-mile race. And in the end, Pre runs from this life into the next with cheers and triumphant music.

I don’t know why, but the deaths of athletes has always gotten me for some reason. And when it comes to an athlete in my own sport – even though it happened several years before I was born – it still tugged at my emotional heartstrings.

#4: Four Days In October

This one is simple. This documentary from the ESPN 30-For-30 Series is about the 2004 American League Championship Series when the Red Sox were down in the series, three games to none against the New York Yankees, and came back to win it – the only team in any major professional sport to accomplish that feat. And this film gets me for one simple reason (well, actually two): I love the Red Sox that much; and I hate the Yankees that much. I remember watching these games the summer after I graduated from college, and my love for the Sox has only grown since then. And seeing this amazing documentary provides the chance to relive it, and it gives me those amazing tears of joy – every single time. Red Sox Nation!

#3: American History X

This film – partially inspired by one of my all-time favorite books (The Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead by Frank Meeink) – is about a former skinhead, Derek (played by Ed Norton), who went to prison and was completely changed, for the better. Unfortunately, he didn’t change before his little brother, Danny (played by Edward Furlong), followed in his skinhead footsteps, becoming everything the older brother had worked so hard to change about himself. And in the end, the little brother is killed in a racially-motivated act of violence. Essentially, Derek knows that his past choices and actions led to the eventual killing of his own little brother; but what we learn immediately following the murder is that Danny had subsequently shed his racial hate as well. However, his murder had already been set in motion.

I see the connectivity between this film and the damage I’ve caused to the people in my life – my friends, family, and loved ones. None of it was intentional, but like Derek, I was only focused on myself and paid no attention to any possible collateral damage, until it was too late. I can’t help but see this film as on huge metaphor, mirroring my own choices, simply in a different context. And seeing the extremes of how past choices can cause future pain, this film gets to me every time I watch it.

#2: Stand By Me

The end of Stand By Me is essentially the end of childhood and the realization that the world is a big, scary, unforgiving, and hopeful place. In the final scene, Gordie, played by Wil Wheaton (as a kid) and Richard Dreyfus (as an adult) realizes an innumerable amount of life lessons from the adventures and misadventures of childhood. And in somber reflection as an aging adult, the adult Gordie has been writing about these adventures and lessons, which in-and-of-itself is significant because as a child, Gordie wanted to be a writer. And in the end scene, the son of adult Gordie says to his friend, “Yeah, my dad’s weird; he gets like that when he’s writing.” And this makes him smile. And it makes me smile, because after everything I’ve been through, I’ve finally become a writer; and I’m still climbing the writing ladder. But that’s not the only reason I tear-up when I see this, and once, it was an all-out sob.

When I was teaching freshman English, my curriculum included a unit of short stories in the “coming of age” genre – stories about young people who experience something trying or difficult, and learn valuable life lessons as a result. So part of this multi-week unit was to show Stand By Me and compare it to the literature we’d read. Well, one year, either my second or third year of teaching, one of my colleagues in the English department died of cancer. And I happened to get this news on the same day my classes were watching this ending scene. And hearing Richard Dreyfus narrate about the death of his friend Chris was just too much. With the lights out, I knelt down behind my desk where my teacher assistant was grading papers, and just let it out, sobbing quietly. He looked over and gave me a look, but knew what my issue was, so when the movie was over, he stood from his chair and occupied the DVD player, drawing the attention of the class long enough to give me a chance to regain my composure.

I never thanked him for that, but I wish I would have.

#1: Indecent Proposal

This film came out in 1993, the same year my parents divorced. In the film, Robert Redford’s character, John Gage (a millionaire), meets David (played by Woody Harrelson) and Diana (played by Demi Moore). John becomes so captivated by Diana that he offers the couple $1 million for one night with Diana. And the tension from this nearly tears their marriage apart. But, in the end, they meet by happenstance at the pier where David proposed to her. And there sitting at the pier in the quiet haze, they have this familiar and often-repeated traditional exchange:

“Have I ever told you I love you?” she asked.
“Still?” he replied.
“Always,” she said.

And they reach up and take each other’s hand – and everything is going to be okay. And that’s where the film ends.

But in 1993, when I was 13-years-old, everything wasn’t okay, and my parents never had that moment of reaching up and taking each other’s hand – their marriage ended. And then, nearly twenty years later, I faced nearly the same situation in my own marriage – all of my own doing. I faced the very-real possibility of losing my own wife, all due to my own choices.

However, I was fortunate enough to have my own metaphorical moment on the pier, when my wife said to me:

“Have I ever told you I love you?” she asked.
“Still?” I replied.
“Always,” she said.

I cry, every single time.

Still. Always.