Sunday, July 22, 2012

Crying Time Again: Tear-Worthy Movie Scenes

"When was the last time you cried twice in one day?"

That was the rhetorical question that an Ohio congressman/gubernatorial candidate asked his aide on Veep after watching U.S. Vice-President Selina Myer (played by Emmy nominee Julia Louis-Dreyfus) break down two times in about as many minutes in the first-season finale of the HBO series, which I just finished watching on DVD.

My answer: today!

Don't worry, I haven't turned into a crybaby overnight. Real life still rarely brings out my crying side, and even if it did, nothing has happened that would activate my tear factor since I wrote yesterday's post. I haven't even listened to any of those tear-jerker songs all day. But I spoke -- wrote -- too soon when I said that movies rarely move me to tears. I cried several times just putting this post together.

Yesterday, I thought I was speaking the truth about movies and me, which is why I stopped at just two examples. Then today, an email arrived from my friend in L.A., the one I spoke about in the same post, and she mentioned the 2002 film About Schmidt. She said she saw it recently, and she thought about me.

Of course, she did. Everyone who knows me knows how much I loved that movie. That's when it hit me! I cried at the end of it, bawled like a baby, though not nearly as neatly as the one in the photo that accompanied yesterday's post. I've never been able to master the art of the single tear. But movies can movie me in much the same way that music does. Sometimes they evoke a memory of some incident that didn't necessarily make me cry at the time. Sometimes it's merely the suggestion of an idea that evokes a groundswell of emotion that ends in tears.

The more I thought about it, the more I remembered. I seem to cry at the end of a lot of movies, especially when the final shot is a close up of the lead actor's/actress's face with tears -- or a single tear -- streaming down it: Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt, Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station, Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons.

Whoever said, "It's not where you begin, it's where you end up" (or however that saying goes), must have loved movies. (Coming soon: a post on great movie endings, featuring The Heiress, The Hours, Being Julia, and more, perhaps with a little TV -- the Sex and the City episodes that closed with "In the Waiting Line," "Is That All There Is?," "If You Leave Me Now," "No Ordinary Love," "Point of View," and "You Got the Love" playing on the soundtrack -- thrown in.) Nicholson, Montenegro and Close were Oscar nominees who all deserved to win their categories in their respective years. (Sorry, Adrian Brody, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cher.)

When they shed tears, I did/do, too. (Toni Collette's tearful, wordless reaction to Haley Joel Osment's revelation in the car in The Sixth Sense, though not at the end that movie, always wrings a few tears, too.) I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

Carrington doesn't end with Emma Thompson crying, but for its finale, she does something far more devastating. I'll have to find some way to flatter her that doesn't involve imitation, though. Coming in a year (1995) in which Thompson won plaudits -- and an Oscar nomination -- for Sense and Sensibility, Carrington stayed slightly below the radar, but it might be my favorite Thompson performance of all. In the final sequence, it's just her and a hunting rifle. She positions it facing upward, hunches over it, bows her head. The camera pans the grounds of the estate. The music swells, the music stops. Silence. A single shot rings out. Black.

In Trois Couleurs: Bleu, it's mostly about the music. Without it, the ending might not move me as much as it does, but the combination of Zbigniew Preisner's score and all the lovely images, including those achingly gorgeous close-ups of Juliette Binoche's face, always make me lose my composure -- and my tears. The first time I saw the movie in 1993, I had to sit alone in the theater for five minutes after the credits rolled because I didn't want to face the outside world with a tear-stained face. The closing montage was -- and is -- that effective.

The final scene in Interiors, Woody Allen's misunderstood 1978 masterpiece, gets to me, too. It has nothing to do with music (there is none), but rather the stark, minimalist setting, in which the three sisters take their spots by the window and look out at the ocean in which their mother recently drowned herself. "The water is so calm," Mary Beth Hurt observes. To which Diane Keaton replies, "Yes, it's very peaceful." Darkness.

Oh, my heart.

And finally, there's Virginia Madsen, who I don't think sheds a single tear in Sideways (Did she?), which, like About Schmidt, was directed by Alexander Payne, and which, unlike all the other movies mentioned above, features no heart-rending death scenes. When it came out in 2004, Sideways was even billed as a comedy! Still, every time I watch Madsen's character explain to Paul Giamatti's why she loves wine, describing the wine cycle like she's talking about the life cycle ("And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline...."), I lose it -- all over again. When I first saw the movie, I had just turned 35. I got it. Now, eight years later, I understand it even better.

She ends with a joke ("...and it tastes so fucking good"), but by then my emotional stability is long gone. It's a quiet, unfussy scene, but sometimes it's the simple things, the smallest of moments, that have the biggest effect, leave the greatest trace.

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