I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying

By Chris Breitenbach

Some movies, despite our best efforts, make us cry. Tearjerkers, weepies, melodramas, and perhaps most pejoratively, the chick-flick, these films are often oppressively fine-tuned to elicit our sorrow. Here are some movies that earned my own recalcitrant tears.

  • The Sweet Hereafter


    Many of Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s early films focused almost obsessively on emotional trauma and The Sweet Hereafter, the best of the bunch, saw no reason to concentrate elsewhere. Adopted from a great novel by Russell Banks, Egoyan, a master of nonlinear narratives, ambience and mood, sustains a perfectly calibrated register of sadness that finds its necessary release in the film’s mythical, transcendent and, yes, sob-inducing, final moments.

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  • On Golden Pond


    With the plaintive chords of a ghostly piano or the easy wash of an adagio for strings, a film's soundtrack often plays a crucial role in what kind of emotional reaction we'll have. To this day, despite myself, the opening seconds of Dave Grusin’s syrupy Main Theme for On Golden Pond, which goes right for the jugular by including the plaintive yodel of a loon, destroys me.

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  • The Spirit of the Beehive


    Set in the Castilian countryside around 1940, The Spirit of the Beehive revolves around the fiercely imaginative wanderings of an 8-year old child, Ana, and her sister, Isabel. It’s also one of the landmarks of Spanish cinema, a film that somehow manages to distill that perilous moment of childhood suspended between innocence and awareness of mortality, a haunted place, suspended in time and ripe for a tear or three.

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  • Shoeshine


    After seeing this Italian neorealist masterpiece, the late film-critic Pauline Kael wrote that she “walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine.” A sentiment which, once you’ve seen it, you’ll empathize with entirely.

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  • Pete's Dragon


    The movie is coming to an end and Elliot, a portly animated dragon with admirably small, pink wings, is saying goodbye to his buddy, Pete. I’m 6-years old, sitting in a crowded movie theater with my mom. I lean over and whisper, “Is it okay to cry in movies?” “Of course,” she answers. So I do. Discreetly. That’s the first time I remember crying at a movie.

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  • Yi Yi: A One and a Two


    I’ve seen Yi YI, one of the greatest films of the 21st-century, over half-a dozen times and its opening minutes never fail to unwind me. And there’s nothing particularly sad about this beginning, which depicts the warm family rituals of a wedding in Tapai, though what gets me, I think, is simply knowing what’s to come, a film of uncommon humanity and grace, a film that finds poetry and mystery in the messy undercurrents of one family.

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  • Moonlight


    Of course, the measure of the quality of a film isn’t if it makes us cry or not. There are cheap tears and earned tears, both are fine. Sometimes it’s not the movie, it’s just you. Moonlight, if you’re lucky, creates a powerful bond between you and its narrative. When the tears come, it feels like a kind of gratitude for the depths, the generosity, of its humanity.

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