Monday, May 22, 2006

I've Got Something In My Eye...

I recently confided in a small, intimate group of friends that I consistently tear up at the end of Pollyanna, Disney’s timeless tapestry of small-town Americana. And to their credit, none of my friends laughed right in front of me. Oh, I imagine phone calls were made afterwards and jokes were promptly exchanged about whether or not my estrogen prescription needed to be refilled. But I stand by my emotions.

Have you taken part in a recent viewing of this classic film and basked in the optimism and joy of the “Glad Game”? Do yourself a favor and treat your family to a sit-down this evening. You won’t be disappointed. A cornucopia of warmth, sunshine, and life-lessons for everybody. But be prepared for tear-streaked cheeks, right in front of your children.

The moment when I well up is at the very end of the movie, when the dignified and incomparable Dr. Chilton raises a recently paralyzed Pollyanna up out of her bed to carry her downstairs. The entire town of Harrington has flooded Aunt Polly’s mansion to pay tribute to this little girl that has touched each of their souls individually and left a permanent mark. And as Dr. Chilton carries Pollyanna down the line of people who want to offer their encouragement, each person leans in to express their gratitude for how she has changed their lives. And I think it’s sweet when Nancy and George announce their engagement, and when Mr. Pendergast tells her that he is going to adopt Jimmy Bean. And I’m proud of Reverend Ford for recognizing his professional error and acknowledging his role as a minister and not a political puppet. But it’s when that cantankerous Mrs. Snow softly strokes Pollyanna’s face and whispers “Bless you…bless you, darling.” I’m not made of stone, people! Are you? Can you tell me you aren’t moved by this display of one soul changing the entire disposition of a town? I’m calling your bluff. Let’s see your cards! Show your hand! Ah-HA! That’s what I thought.

Truth be told, my emotions are generally very near the surface in my everyday life anyway, and I am no stranger to crying. So it’s quite natural for me to be moved to tears while engaged in a movie. But that’s not to say I cry at every sad, inspiring, romantic, or manipulative movie. For example, I have never cried at the following movies:

Steel Magnolias
Terms of Endearment
A Walk to Remember
Message in a Bottle
Pay it Forward
Dumb and Dumber

Actually, I did cry once during Titanic. But it was because I had lost feeling in my legs, and I thought I was paralyzed. Imagine my embarrassment when it turned out to be that Katie had just fallen asleep on my lap, cutting off circulation to my legs.

It’s a general rule of thumb of mine to make a special, concerted effort to reign in my emotions if I can sense that a movie is scheming to make me cry (like some of the abovementioned films)…but I’m not always successful. Two examples:

1) The 1993 Michael Keaton film, My Life, wherein a man with terminal cancer begins filming a home movie to teach his unborn son about life, since he will most likely not be around to do it in person. I mean, come on! Designed to make you weep? Heavens, yes. Able to withstand its powers? Not a chance.

And 2) The 1997 Roberto Benigni movie, Life is Beautiful. Yes, the one where a Jewish man and his son are separated from their wife/mother in a Nazi death camp during World War II. I’ve seen it once. It was as if this movie ripped my heart right out of my chest, held it up in front of me and said, “Oh, is this yours?” and then sucker-punched it and tossed it back to me to put back in my chest all by myself.


You know how you have a favorite song or band or book or whatever that you absolutely adore, but you never really throw it out there for public discussion because you just don’t expect anyone else to really salute that flag? Well, I have a short list of Movie Scenes That Make Me Cry, and I suspect some of them may be on my list exclusively, and nobody else’s. I just wouldn’t expect other people to nod their head in agreement and say, “Boy, howdy! I was weeping like a school girl during that part!” Or worse yet would be if someone were to nod their head like they understood where I was coming from, and then say, “I know, dude, or like when Goose died, and you’re like, Will Maverick ever recover?” No, dude, that’s not what I’m talking about at all.

Two examples:

1) Chariots of Fire. (And I should note that it took me years to even give this movie a chance. We weren’t on speaking terms through most of the 80s, as in 1981 this movie beat out Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Best Picture Oscar. I was bitter for a long, long time.) If you aren’t familiar with Chariots of Fire, it’s about Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, two British runners preparing to compete in the 1924 Olympics. The story revolves around their personal goals and ambitions. Eric Liddell, a Scotsman who was a Christian missionary as well as a stellar runner, specifically fascinates me. And at the end of the movie, as he is running his final race (in slow motion), you see the thundering applause of his countrymen and the cheering of his peers…and you hear his internal voice, recalling some of the messages he’d previously taught (“From whence cometh the strength to finish the race? The strength cometh from within.” “God made me fast…and when I run…I feel His pleasure.”)…And you see the admiring eyes of members of his family who recognize him as more than a runner, but as an exemplar of honor and integrity…and it gets me every time.

And 2) In Good Company. A little overlooked gem of a movie, in my opinion. Carter Duryea, a determined but slightly misdirected soul who promotes himself well in the business world, but unbeknownst to him is, more than anything, earnestly seeking for emotional validation and approval. Throughout our story he is spurned by love and career, but through the example of his decent and centered mentor/employee, Dan, he learns something. Something that changes him. And near the end, when he is in a completely vulnerable situation, Dan tells him, “You’re going to be okay. You’re a good man.” I don’t expect that to really affect anybody else…but it gets to me. You’re a good man. It doesn’t even sound like much of a profound or comprehensive compliment. But on two separate occasions in my life, I’ve had two different people give me that compliment, unsolicited. And when they said it, it meant everything to me in that moment. And so when Dan says it to Carter at the end of In Good Company, I feel like I get it. I understand the impact it is having on Carter.

I won’t go on. I now fear that I have prominently displayed my vulnerable cinematic heart on my movie-going sleeve and confessed too much. But I take refuge in knowing that my wife and movie-viewing partner, Katie, also gets choked up at peculiar moments in the annals of Movies that Cause One to Cry. For example, last summer, Katie cried at the end of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. However, in her defense, she was pregnant and hormonal, plus I look an awful lot like Brad Pitt. It was the scene at the end of the movie, when Dr. Chilton was carrying Angelina Jolie down the stairs, and that cantankerous Mrs. Snow caressed her cheek and said, “You can be my wingman anytime.” I tell you, I’m getting all weepy just writing about it.