Continuing my participation in Mettel Ray’s “Breaking Emotions” blog-a-thon, I find myself confronted with a couple emotions that are once again difficult to find good examples for… although in each case, it’s for a different reason, not just from each other but from the previous entry (Fear & Awkwardness).
For the second pair of emotions, Mettel Ray has chosen Tears (as in tears of sadness, not tears of joy) and Surprise. It took some consideration, but I was able to come up with three films for each.
I’m not going to go all machismo here (people who know me in real life would laugh at the idea), but tears, much like fear, isn’t something I’m all that prone to when it comes to movies. It’s not easy, partly because I’m sometimes a little too aware of when a film is being manipulative. That said, there are definitely a few things that are known to get me choked up from time to time. And maybe it’s just because it’s easier to elicit tears when it’s not obvious the film is trying for them, but two of my picks are generally happy films, aside from a key scene or two…
Maybe it’s just because Thanksgiving is around the corner, and this film is a regular viewing for me this time of year, but Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was one of the first films I thought of for “tears”. Now, most of the tears in this film would be tears of laughter, but not quite all of them. At the end of the film, Neal is finally getting to go home, and the film has the typical heartwarming flashback of all the goofy incidents he and Del went through to get him there. Then it starts taking a different tone. Neal suddenly notices the little evasions and awkward pauses that Del sometimes had in conversation. He takes a train back to the station, and finds Del is still sitting there. When Neal asks him why, we get a real tearjerker of a moment as Del admits the truth. He isn’t going home… because he has nobody to go home to anymore. This friendly, boisterous guy who has been talking the whole film about his wife has been a widower for eight years. It sets up the film’s final heartwarming moment, with Neal taking Del home to share Thanksgiving with his family, but that moment when we see behind Del’s persistent smile is a bit of an emotional sucker punch.
The Muppet Movie is not, by any stretch, a sad film. It’s about as far from it as possible, in fact. But there’s still one scene when it can cause me to choke up a bit. The Muppets are faced with their dreams evaporating before them; the Hollywood deadline is just a day away, and they’re stranded in the desert. It’s a brief moment of melancholy for the normally cheerful characters, and by itself it would just be a scene that helps to set up the eventual triumph. But then Gonzo starts singing. “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” is a wistful song that perfectly expresses lost dreams, and it’s sung quietly in Gonzo’s broken voice. Again, it’s the aspect of having a cheerful character — one that normally accepts failure as graciously as success — express sadness that drives it home. Had it been Kermit, it would still be a sad song… but I don’t think it would have captured quite the same sense of still-hopeful loss as it does from the little weirdo.
I don’t have to explain this to anybody who has seen it. Or, for that matter, to most of the people who haven’t, since it’s one of the most notorious tear-inducing films in history. I’ll just say that I haven’t seen Old Yeller since I was a kid, and I’m still getting choked up just thinking about it. What can I say, I’m a dog person.
Moving on from sadness to something a little more energetic, the other emotion for this post is surprise. Here, the difficulty wasn’t due to not having felt the emotion from movies; plenty of films have surprised me in one way or another. In fact, I generally consider it a pretty poor movie which doesn’t have a few surprises along the way. No, the difficulty here was remembering — since hindsight changes so much — just which movies had produced really good cases of surprise for me. But it didn’t take too long to come up with a few that have stuck with me over the years.
The Matrix had one of the best spoiler-free marketing campaigns I can remember. The trailers showed some action, but never anything that really said exactly what was going on. Indeed, the website for the movie — back when having a website for a movie was a novel concept — was http://www.whatisthematrix.com. Just as “What is the Matrix?” was the central question for Neo in the movie, it was a mystery to the viewers. And, being something of a slow burner at the box office, it wasn’t a film that got spoiled left and right early on. So when I went to see it in the theatre, I knew I would be getting an interesting action film, and I had gathered the Matrix had something to do with computers. That was about it. So the initial scenes were filled with intrigue, but nothing that gave me any reason to think this wasn’t just a slick, action-filled crime caper about hackers. Any scenes with a slight sense of unreality (such as Trinity’s hovering kick) were ones where it was easily explained by the directors just wanting a cool action shot. And then came the interrogation scene, and all of a sudden the film’s not just a crime caper…. I still remember thinking “What on Earth is going on?” and wondering if it was some weird dream sequence (which of course, the film plays with.)
All right, so it may seem like a cliche now. It may seem obvious now. But I’m not talking about now, I’m talking about then. The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, the year after I was born. It hit VHS some time around when I was in kindergarten or first grade, I think. At any rate, I saw it before anybody had the chance to tell me anything about it beyond “It’s the sequel to Star Wars“. So here’s me, little kid who hasn’t yet graduated beyond Dr. Seuss in literature, and the most grown-up film I’ve ever watched prior to this was its predecessor. The very concept of a plot twist would have been a twist to me at the time. So here I’m watching Luke Skywalker, one of the coolest heroes ever to my little mind, getting his keister kicked by Darth Vader, one of the coolest villains ever. Then Darth Vader strikes a pose, and I can tell he’s about to say something. A taunt? A threat? “And now you die,” something like that. But instead he says “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father….” Not even remotely what I expected. What? What was that? Where could he be going with that? What could he mean? And then he drops the bombshell. Sure, we all know it now. But to a little kid who didn’t have a few decades of film-viewing and novel-reading experience at the time, it was a revelation.
Alfred Hitchcock sure loved his twists. And despite being one of his most acclaimed works, Vertigo doesn’t get the ubiquitous spoiling that Psycho does. So when I watched Vertigo — the second Hitchcock film I watched, after North by Northwest — I didn’t really know what to expect. And I quickly bought into this story of an acrophobic former police detective trying to protect a woman who believes herself haunted by the spectre of her ancestor. It had intrigue and suspense, and it was easy to follow without being totally obvious. Then it reached what I felt was a logical and expected conclusion. Only… it didn’t conclude. I had thought the end credits would come up, but it was only the middle of the film. The film had taken the expected path, but it kept going beyond it — and I no longer had any idea where it was going. It’s not quite a singular moment of surprise, but it was easily the most surprised I’ve ever been by an entire film.
Three tearjerkers, and three movie surprises. Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you have any good moments yourself for tears or surprises (though try to avoid being too spoilerish on the latter, as much as possible.) I’ll tackle Mettel Ray’s next two suggestions on Wednesday.