Before I start listing films that have made me blub, a distinction is worth making between those which engender genuine pathos and emotion based on story, direction and acting performances, against the artificial emotion painted on by the yard in Hollywood. They are poles apart and should never be compared, but the movie machine out on the West Coast churns out junk movies designed to prickle your tear ducts by the thousand, but you have to care about the characters and their predicament than apply a formulaic “oh woe is me” to any movie. Sure fire winners in the cynical Hollywood toolkit include:
- Cute kids
- Cute animals (especially dogs)
- Drawn out death scenes in which the hero/ine speaks their last words, usually with no sign of pain or suffering
- Lovers or parents and children reunited, usually accompanied by a flourish of orchestral music
- Miraculous recoveries
- …and so on.
Ignore those cheap and nasty tearjerkers and focus instead on those that draw real emotion from credible situations. Try these for a taster and tell me I’m not right:
- It’s a Wonderful Life: OK, there’s a lot about this movie that is allegorical, what with angels getting wings and all, but the subtext is about karma. Doing good will ultimately beget its rewards, and when a nice guy like George Bailey, a man who has always sacrificed his own needs to help others, is truly in need, everyone rallies around to help him. Who can resist a few tears?
- Brief Encounter: this is an innocent, chaste, bittersweet love affair, one doomed to failure but in which feeling burn with a hidden passion. Worth ten Love Story wannabes.
- Lost in Translation: that scene at the end when they finally hug and he whispers in her ear. She nods. We never know what they have said, but this is one occasion when we can let our imaginations run riot. It is a beautiful moment.
- La Vie En Rose: much less for the movie than the staggering performance of Marion Cotillard, portraying the tragic Piaf from youthful exuberance to prematurely aged superstar.
- Atonement: because it tells the story of a great wrong ultimately righted in the only way possible.
- Schindler’s List: granted that the ending of survivors placing stones on Schindler’s grave is a tad OTT, but is there anybody who doesn’t weep at the pathos of the story of a Nazi sympathiser and failed businessman who rescued hundreds of Jews from slaughter? Unquestionably Spielberg’s finest hour. And while we’re on about wartime tearjerkers, a subject perfectly fitting pathos and heroism:
- Saving Private Ryan: also Spielberg, of course, and moving precisely because it tells a human story against the backdrop of war in all its horrors.
- Life is Beautiful: Roberto Benigni’s movie turns from knockabout comedy to a moving tribute to his character’s father, who sacrificed his own life in a concentration camp to save his son.
- The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas: the innocent son of a German concentration camp commandant meets a young Jewish boy in the camp, with tragic consequences.
- The Pianist: Polanski’s homage to the horrors of wartime is as moving at Spielberg’s.
What makes you blub at the movies?
PS. Having done the list, I’ve now seen Sunshine on Leith, which would unquestionably be up there. Read the review and see the film!