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Some Films That Evoke Intense Emotion – and Why?

I am a film buff, teach film classes, use film in my classes, and am one of those who believes that film is one of the best points of departure for discussion available. So, I offer this list of “films that evoke intense emotion” to you, and encourage you to watch some of them if you are interested in stories with moral lessons. Oh, and I also encourage you to contribute to it. I love it when you take the time to teach me!!! Did I just say "love?"

Every time I watch the film Crash and witness the little Mexican girl shot while attempting to save her father, thus becoming an innocent victim of racism and a symbol of how our children get caught up in the societal pollution we have left for them to breathe, I cry, or attempt to fight back the tears, and then ultimately cry anyway!

Every time I see the classic sports film Brian’s Song, and watch Chicago Bears running back Gail Sayers tell a throng of people how much he loved his best friend and fellow running back Brian Piccolo, who is slowly dying of cancer at a very young age, I cry, or fight the tears!

Every time I see Aunt Sarah in the film Rosewood fall to her knees after being shot, I cry, or have to dig deep to fight back the tears. Then I break down even more when Sylvester, her son, discovers his mother has been shot because she dared to speak the truth about the race of the actual perpetrator of the crime that ultimately contributed to the decimation of that black township of Florida in 1923.

Every time I watch the film Geronimo and witness the epitome of American hypocrisy framed in a way that is inescapable or undeniably poignant I am conflicted about articulating various group’s struggles when, in America, it all takes a back seat to the travesties levied upon Native Americans (the First Americans). The pain of recognizing the magnitude of the losses for the United States indigenous people makes me cry! I can’t win the battle of the tears over this one.

Every time I watch Jody Foster in the Accused, getting raped on a pin ball machine, as a group of young men cheer the rapists on, I imagine that it isn’t Jody, but instead my daughter, or any woman that I love, and I get angry and confused that others didn’t or don’t give the same consideration. In the moment of watching it though I cry, or fight back the tears.

Every time I see Forrest Gump get on the bus (in the film of the same name) and get denied seats by other children who really don’t know why they are even denying him a seat, it really chokes me up. I don’t really know if I cry for Forrest Gump being treated that way, or for the misguided perspectives and possibly dysfunctional role models of the kids treating him that way!

Every time I watch Boys Don’t Cry and witness Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank) getting raped and beaten by two young hoodlums, who befriended her when they thought she was a boy, I feel intense anguish that we haven’t done a better job of teaching our kids about respect for diversity and basic human life. I then cry, intensely!

Every time I watch the film Losing Isaiah and witness little Isaiah hysterically crying himself to sleep in the back of a car as a sheriff takes him away from his White social worker mother to go live with his Black recovering crack abusive mother as the result of a judge’s decision that black kids are better suited to live with black families because of America’s racism, I cry or fight back the tears.

Every time I watch Shindler’s List and Oskar Shindler starts to talk about how much he regrets having not done more to save the lives of even more Jews from the extermination camps, I cry, or fight back the tears trying to convince myself that this is just a movie. Then my logic kicks in and I realize that it is a movie, but based on a true story. I then sob, uncontrollably.

Every time I watch Jeff Bridges as the president of the United States demand that Congress appoint Joan Allen’s character as the first woman vice-president in the film The Contender with the words “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” I cry or fight back the tears. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an endless amount of government officials with that type of vision about fresh voices and breaking old traditions.

Every time I watch a love story about two people that obviously truly loved one another but couldn’t consummate their passion for one another openly and honestly for fear of being ostracized, marginalized, or murdered, accentuated further by one of the lover’s fully realizing his loss by fervently embracing his murdered lover’s shirt, I recall how fortunate we are to live in a time that gay men can have a love story like Brokeback Mountain that unfortunately must chronicle an aspect of their struggles to love one another, and I sigh deeply, cry for the human condition framed by the loss of a vibrant man to a hate crime, and then just cry because not enough of us do that for one another.

Every time I think about watching the film Hotel Rwanda (which I have owned for two years, but not even opened) I decide not to watch it, because I don’t want to cry, or have to fight back the tears.

What are some of the films that you watch that bring you to tears, and why?

I wonder if other men cry as much as I do over films. What do you think?

Is crying a gendered emotion? What is it about crying that makes so many of us feel “less than” when we do it, as opposed to the emotion that is situated on the other extreme, laughter?


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I'm horrible at remembering movie titles, so, bare with me...
I love sports films - Miracle (USA Hockey Team), Slapshot, the Longest Yard, Major League, etc...

I watched a film just last week about the Marshall University football team and the plane crash in the early seventies that obliterated 75 players, coaches and boosters. As the movie tells it, one player, left behind on that trip because of an injury, rallied the remaining bunch (3 upper-classmen and a few freshman red-shirts) to stop the school's board of directors from eliminating the program. "WE ARE - MAR-SHALL" the crowd screamed. That's pretty inspiring. The film intertwines tales of personal sorrow and rebirth - the father of one of the star quarter back killed in the crash - with stories of defeat - one of the returning players, a star on defense, who just couldn't bring himself to ever play football again. And there's self-sacrafice - the assistant coach who took one year out of his life and helped resurect the program even though football had become incredibly painful for him..feeling anguish over loosing players he'd recruited and his mentor/head coach every time he stepped on the field.

There's the Movie "Rudy" about Rudy Rudigar - a walk-on practice player at Notre Dame - fighting everyon'e expectations of what they thought he should be able to do - finally winning a spot on the roster and making it into a game.

Then there are Sci-Fi flicks...
The most recent Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith - portrays some of the darkest evil I've ever seen on film. Anikan Skywalker becoming so evil that he can justify the purposeful killing of children. It also portrays the deep hurt of betrayal of one brother, or even father, to another - Obi-Wan Kanobi's pleadings to a defeated Anikan toward the end of the movie - "You were my brother, Anikan" he sobs - "You were the chosen one. You were to bring balance to The Force, not leave it in darkness." For those who just don't get the references - imagine the Apostle Peter learning that Christ was actually the Anti-Christ and you'll have an idea of what Obi-Wan was feeling.

*** CB, I haven't seen We Are Marshall, but you just put it on my "must see" list. Good looking out! Also, you blew my mind with the anology of Christ and Star Wars. I am not sure if I should see it again or not. If I do, and don't see what you see, what does that mean about you, or me? *** -- J.W.

Glory - Particularly when Morgan Freeman's/Matthew Broderick's regiment walks toward the beach near the end of the movie, through a line of all-white soldiers that previously mocked and badgered them.

The director captured the pride of the soldiers and the respect they earned (by their actions) perfectly. That moment is as spine tingling a moment as any I've seen on screen.

*** Whaler, I know the scene well and it does evoke a tremendous amount of emotion. However, another scene that is just as poignant from this great film are when Morgan Freeman challenges Denzel about bullying the more refined soldier, and when Denzel is whipped for attempting to steal some shoes to protect his feet. *** -- J.W.

Dear J.W.,
I love this blog. I love that you cry at movies as it makes me feel like I am not alone in my feelings. I have cried at all of these movies accept Aunt Sarah which I haven't seen yet but now will watch it.

I feel that it is ok to cry for everyone. It is a healthy release of emotion. Sometimes ok to keep it in but in my own experience I just feel angry later. I think society has taught people that you are weak if you cry and that laughter is an emotion that people feel more comfortable with. Some people think not showing your soft side is important in many arenas especially work, home life, sports, competitive environments. Which pretty much means it is not safe to show your soft side.

Some other movies that I have cried at A Beautiful Mind where Nash is made fun of in the college yard for his mental illness, Smoke Signals where Victor is trying to forgive his father and throws his dad's ashes into the river, The Color Purple where Celie leaves to go to Memphis, The Notebook where the couple is dealing with Alzheimers and the wife finally remembers after the husband has cared for her, Driving Miss Daisy where the cop stops Morgan Freeman , Fried Green Tomatoes where Cathy Bates figures out that Jessica Tandy is Iggi, My Left Foot where Paddie brings Chris to the bar and announces that he is Chris's father, Angela's Ashes where the kids are starving, Dance Me Outside when the woman is murdered, Stand and Deliver when the students have to take the test again cause the administration think they cheated.
The movie Philidelphia where Denzel Washington helps Tom Hanks get retribution over being fired because he is gay and has AIDS. Riding in cars with boys where Drew Barrymore finds out she is pregnant, Boys on the side where Whoopi Goldberg is there for Mary-Louise Parker as she dies of AIDS. Mad Love where Drew Barrymore has manic depression and Girl Interuppted where Winona Ryder is in a mental institution.

All of these movies hit a chord with me about the human condition and moved me to tears because I could relate in some way of being vulnerable, being marganilized and trying to survive in society where people are judging you all the time. I think that crying at these movies makes it easier to show your soft side cause you can say you were crying at the movie not about how you feel.

Good Blog, J.W. Thank you.

*** M&L, Good suggestions, especially the Smoke Signals reference. That actual scene completely breaks me down. The poem he recites I carry around in my Palm Pilot. It goes:

"How do we forgive the sins of our fathers? Do we forgive them for leaving us to often.. or forever when we were little? Maybe for scarin' us with unexpected rage? Or makin' us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage there at all? Do we forgive our fathers for marryin'... or not marryin our mothers? For divorcin' or not divorcin' our mothers? And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth... or coldness? Shall we forgive them for pushin' or leanin'? For shuttin doors? For speakin' through walls... or never speakin'? Or never being silent? Do we forgive our fathers in our age... or in theirs? Or in their deaths, saying it to them? Or not saying it? If we forgive our fathers... what is left?"

Because of my father's murder when I was 15 and relative absence from my life prior to that, this poem destroys me when I hear it. Every single time I watch this film (and it has been at least a dozen times since I also use it in one of my courses) I either cry, or fight back the tears!

As always, thanks for joining the conversation. *** -- J.W.

Hi, this is my first comment to your blogs. The little girl in "Crash" was not shot, because the gun the man in the movie was shooting was loaded with blanks, because the shop owner's daughter knew her father would try to shoot the guy who was the locksmith. I have to tell you, just about every sequence in that movie was heart breaking.
Another movie that tears my heart out and stomps on it is "Selena." Based on the life and murder of singer Selena Quintinalla- Perez. Selena was an up-and coming Mexican-American singer, and clothing designer who was murdered by her fan club president. The story follows her life from childhood until her death at age 24. It is a real heart breaker!! Great blog by the way!

*** AY, I agree that the little girl wasn't shot. I know the film excpetionally well, using it in many of my classes. I didn't go into the specifics because I didn't want to ruin that moment for those who might have watched it after seeing it discussed on the blog.

I must see Selena. I have heard much about it and somehow haven't taken the initiative to sit and watch it. Also, I loooove me some Jennifor Lopez, especially with George Clooney in Out of Sight. Thanks for joining the conversation. *** -- J.W.

One of the most memorable and moving scenes I’ve watched is the cold water-drowning scene in the movie “The Abyss”.

While trapped in a sunken submersible, rapidly filling with cold water, and only one life support system to get them to safety, separated feuding “alpha” couple Lindsey and Bud Brigman (portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Ed Harris) argue about survival options. The situation ends with Lindsey opting for a cold-water drowning while her spouse dons his survival gear and tows her lifeless body the short distance back to their underwater oil rig. There he performs life saving techniques eventually resuscitating her.

What makes this scene so intense is the proximity of the individuals to one another due to the closeness and cramped quarters of the submersible, the coldness of the rising water, the rapid fire bantering of intelligent conversation interspersed with intense love and emotion (despite any past feelings of hurt or misgivings the other had experienced), and the fact that you know somebody is going to have to make the decision to give up their life for the other – in other words die. The water in the submersible rises; the characters clutch one another and argue until Lindsey’s body goes limp. Bud tows her to safety and after several tense minutes of resuscitation efforts he saves her.

Even without knowing that a person can be resuscitated within a timely period after experiencing a cold water drowning, you realize that in this scene “this is it” for one of the characters. What would I do, what would I say if it was my partner and me? You begin to understand the intensity of a relationship, all the things you should be doing and saying while living, and ultimately would you give up your life for your partner? In this scene you’re rooting for the hero and the heroine.

But after you watch this movie a few times you realize the dynamics of Bud and Lindsey’s interactions and the fact that she is cold hearted and a b*tch (as she was referred to in the movie). With that in mind, when you view the cold water drowning sequence you root for Bud going “Don’t do it. Let her drown. Don’t resuscitate her!”

Now that’s what loves all about!

*** GC, Damn, it that what love is really all about? I do want to see this flick now, to see Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, but more so to see the viability of love within the dynamic you described in the film. Thanks for entering the conversation and the film recommendation! *** -- J.W.

Thanks for the comments on the blog. My father has clinical depression and that scene is hard for me too. I love my father very much and have seen him cry but mostly his crying was not accepted. I think crying and healthy emotional releases are good to have. I can relate to Victor and Thomas in the movie.

I really enjoyed the clever way you presented the topic of crying through films.Crying is our body releasing our grief or sadness and it only hurts us to harbor it. Simple enough , yet some people allow their insecurities and fears of how they might be perceived by others to be an obstacle to their own well being.

I think most of us can relate to the intense emotions we feel as we are pulled into the plot, sometimes so engrossed that we feel we are right there along side the characters. Producers capitalize on our emotions using powerful music that seems to draw the tears even faster. Sad movies give me a greater appreciation for all that IS good in life as well as a greater awareness for humanity and all the struggles and conflicts in the world.

A few movies that have impressed me as touchingly sad are-

The Notebook, a power of love tale where two teenagers, Allie and Noah, played by Rachael McAdams and Ryan Gosling fall deeply in love only to be separated by Allie's parents who deem Noah as unsuitable based on his class order. Allie and Noah eventually find their way back to each other, only after Allie is engaged to someone else. The story is told by an older Noah (James Garner) as he reads their story to his true soulmate, an older Allie (Gena Rowlands) as she suffers from Alzhimer's.I cried through most of this movie.

Another similar power of love story is Titanic.Kate Winslet plays Rose, an engaged socialite, who falls in love with Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, an underprivileged but talented artist. The scene that gives me the the most profound feeling of the power of Rose's love for Jack is when she is about to be lowered off the sinking Titanic in a rescue boat and all of a sudden she fearlessly jumps back on to the Titanic because she loves Jack so much that she can not bear to leave him. I think I might cry right now!

(I so thoroughly enjoy the rebellion aspect of these "improbable" love stories.)

Another movie that I found emotionally intense was I am Sam, the story of a mentally challenged father played so well by Sean Penn. When his 7 year old daughter, Lucy gets taken away from him by family court, he hires an attorney played by Michelle Pfeiffer to help win her back. The courtroom drama is overwhelming, enough to produce sobs.

The Green Mile is another touching story about a death row inmate, played by Michael Clarke Duncan, who is wrongly accused of murder and rape. He is befriended by the warden, played by Tom Hanks who comes to realize the special healing powers this gentle giant possesses. It is a story of tragic injustice.

It was amazing to me how much emotional anguish Tom Hanks portrayed in Castaway in the scene where he loses "Wilson" his inanimate friend, the volleyball, and how that made me cry!

I must mention The Lion King on behalf of my daughter. At age 4 she replayed the scene over and over where Mufasa dies and Simba thinks it's all his fault. I finally had to remove it from the collection of Disney Movies as I was concerned she was becoming obsessed with the drama.

The movie My Life is sad because a workaholic, stressed out husband, played by Michael Keaton, takes out all his problems on his wife,played by Nicole Kidman. One day he gets a rude awakening when he finds out his wife is pregnant with their first child and he has just been given 4 months to live. He chronicles his life and advise for his son on a videotape in hopes that his unborn child will know who his father was and benefit from his advice. He ends up living a lot longer than expected, but the moral of this one is don't take anything for granted.


Hey JW -
If you don't see what I see, it just means we were looking through different lenses.

Overall, however, I think you'll agree that Star Wars is awash in spirituality that at least paralells Christianity.

*** First off CB, I want to thank you for loaning me your lens as often as you do! That is what healthy dialogue is all about.

Secondly, now I must go back and watch Star Wars to see if I can see that as clearly as you seem to indicate you do. I must admit, your assertion feels right, but I wasn't explicating film at the time I saw it like I do in my classes. So I wasn't delving deeply into messages. I was looking more for escape. So I may have missed the subtext. I'll get back to you on this one. *** -- J.W.

MOVIE- "Hereafter" It has a sensitivity about it. The connection with the twin brother's The SCENE When he was listening to the psychic had reached his brother and he wanted to tell him something.'He had to let go, He always took care of him and now he has to do it alone' It just tore my heart out, I cry everytime, there are many other parts that made me cry but i wont give away. Watch and tell me what parts made you cry!

MOVIE/DOCUMENTARY: West Memphis (or Paradise lost) 1,2,3 Unreal how 3 boy's were basically tossed aside for many insane reason ignorance, prejeduce, and Political reasons they picked these 3 innocent boy's.This could happen to anyone who comes from a poor family and don't try to fit into society just being a young kid and trying to befree and real with their interests which was'nt liked by the community,and was used against them for trying to convict but it turns into soooo much more. True Story and Sad what these 3 boy's went through was incredible and how all of of these suppoter's came in and helped them was amazing! It gives you hope that there really are GOOD people, who care enough to do what they did to get these convicted children, into adulthood out of this amazing story of 3 innocent boy's I bawled my eyes out when they showed friend's, kid's in their school lie in the court room. The look on these boy's faces is one i will never forget, Sad Indeed.

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