Its all well and good turning into a blubbering wreck at a weepie when you are in the comfort of your own home, snuggled up to your significant other or after too many glasses of wine with the girls- but when is it ever OK to cry at the cinema?
Now before this begins to appear a seemingly sexist account of rom-coms and oestrogen overload lets get one fact straight out of the way- they may prefer not to admit it but I know many guys that have felt the onset of waterworks inspired by some movie or another. Its part of what can make film such a magical experience, its ability to make us feel, to encourage us to feel empathy for a character or situation that we may not otherwise ever come across ourselves. Cinema, on the other hand can take that to an all new level, not only are we feeling excitement, desire, sadness or jubilation over the plight of the protagonist, but we are sharing that emotional experience with countless other people, the majority of which are presumably strangers.
So I return to the question; is it ever acceptable to cry at the cinema? There is usually always one thing that can really get you where it hurts, a story that you become so tied up in that you can’t help but feel emotional about. Of course emotional reactions are in no way forbidden from the cinema, there is little I love more than being so engrossed in a good horror film that I let out an audible cry as the killer jumps out unexpectedly or finding myself in tears of laughter at a comedy, so why the stigma when it comes to crying? After all, that’s got to be up there on a directors priorities if they are dealing with a modern tragedy, “lets get the audience balling their eyes out!” I can imagine them saying. But there is something about that kind of unabashed outpouring of sympathy or grief within the cinema that always makes me inclined to hold back.
I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been brought to tears in the cinema, and that is probably unsurprising when you consider that I tend to steer clear from overly emotive films. The first one that I can recall was Monster; that penultimate scene where Wuornos in the docks after being turned in by her lover and the narration as she strides towards death row. Its a genuinely heartbreaking moment. But therein lies a dilemma of course. What the director; Patty Jenkins, has masterfully done is encourage us to not only empathise with but cry FOR a serial killer. Is this kind of catharsis problematic? Lets not forget that identifying with the villain isn’t necessarily a faux pas of Hollywood, perhaps it is morally questionable but it is also a huge part of the escapism that cinema provides. Granted, this kind of emotional attachment or sympathy for a villain is given extra weight when the tragedies unfolding are based on real events- but surely no good story is as simplistic as good Vs evil? It is a credit to the writing, directing and indeed the Oscar winning performance that members of the audience (I wasn’t the only one) are moved to tears when, after witnessing her crimes we watch a serial killer march towards her capital punishment.
But Monster isn’t your average weepie, and strictly speaking neither is my next example; We Need To Talk About Kevin, the mother of all psychological, head scratching dramas. Again I sat in darkness whilst this movie flung itself onto my psyche and again it stirred in me an emotional reaction which was difficult to suppress. This film had one of THOSE moments- less a tug on the heartstrings more an attempt to tear them clean out. As the bewitchingly magnetic Tilda approaches the high school, sheer grief and shock sweeping over the crowd around her, Kevin emerges handcuffed and proud and gives her one of the most loaded looks in cinema history. Its as much as to say “This is for you”, he revels in her torment and that one moment tells you everything you need to know about their relationship. Even after being familiar with the novel, and therefore the twist, it still swung a powerful emotional punch, and although I may not have been balling I won’t deny that tears were shed.
Most recently I saw Carol Morley’s critically acclaimed documentary, Dreams Of A Life which takes the tragic, mysterious death of one lonely individual and uses it to explore human connections in a 21st century capital. The premise is rather simple but the heartbreaking story of Joyce Carol Vincent is genuinely intriguing and this film, cleverly, asks us more questions than it is willing to answer. How can a seemingly popular, beautiful woman, not yet 40, die alone at Christmas time and not be missed for 3 years? How can a woman with family and friends pass away unnoticed? How can a society simply forget of her existence whilst she rots away in her run-down North London flat? The claim to reality that documentaries can hold, the use of real people connected to the story, can of course be more tear inducing than fiction and you certainly couldn’t make Dreams Of A Life up. The power of this film is an altogether different kind of sadness, the kind that can stay with you as you walk out into the evening air, that follows you home and plays on your mind whilst you try to sleep. Its a story that is difficult to forget. As the credits began to roll I looked around to see others wiping away tears, trying to hide their emotions behind their hands or simply sat in reflection, absorbing what they had just witnessed, dwelling on the effect that this story had had on them. I left the screen and hurried to the toilets where I saw other people drying their eyes and discussing how devastating the story was, how moved they felt by it.
Perhaps in that moment, in that cinema toilet, I realised what it was I had just experienced; the true power of cinema. To bring strangers together and unite them in contemplation. Sure we all love the spectacle of Hollywood, the bombastic blockbusters and the feel-good factor. We love to share with our fellow cinema goers a good laugh or a well timed shock moment. But isn’t cinema at its best when it can draw on something deeper? When it can get us to release those feelings that we would usually hide? The next time your in the cinema, and you are transported into a good story, allow it to take the reins, enjoy the ride- and if you have to cry then don’t feel too bad. Your probably not the only one.