Lynn Hirschberg asks a series of actors the question: “What movie made you cry?”
(via Hanna @ evil angel)
Featuring: Annette Bening, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Michael Douglas, Mila Kunis, Mark Ruffalo, Helena Bonham Carter, Justin Timberlake, Dakota Fanning, Andrew Garfield, Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Melissa Leo, Vincent Cassel, Julianne Moore, Robert Duvall, Jesse Eisenberg, Elle Fanning and Colin Firth.
Watching the clips, obviously, makes you think about what movies have made you cry, and why. Or at least, it made me think about what movies have made me cry …
As a child I was not a big weeper. I had a finely-honed sense of what frightened me and I would steadfastly refuse to watch any movie, or any scene in a movie, that I suspected would scare me (I was a bit braver about books, but books you can always shut tight and put away. Movies are different that way).
I don’t think I actually started crying at films, publically or privately, until I was in my twenties. I’m not sure what made tears feel more ready-to-hand. I’d like to think it has something to do with the fact I’ve grown up enough to realize that weeping is not shameful, and expressing deeply-held emotion openly is a sign of strength, not weakness. On the other hand, it could just be hormones! In any event, the end result is the same: I cry at movies and television shows. Sometimes fairly copiously. Hanna has forbidden me to watch episodes of The West Wing when I’m home sick, for example, because she invariably finds me crumpled on the couch amidst a sea of tissues.
Sometimes? I don’t even have to actually see a film in order for it to provoke tears. Last spring around Academy Award time I happened to hear an interview by Terry Gross with Colin Firth, who’d just been nominated for an Oscar thanks to his performance in A Single Man (2009). During the interview they played the scene from the film in which Firth’s character receives the telephone call informing him that his lover has died in a car accident. At that point I hadn’t seen A Single Man (I still haven’t worked up the nerve, actually), and yet I sat there at my desk with tears in my eyes just from the silences between the words.
Iron Jawed Angels (2004) always provokes the tears. If you aren’t familiar with the film, it’s an HBO drama telling the story of the final push for female suffrage during the first two decades of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of suffragist Alice Paul and some of the other radical activists who advocated controversial tactics (read: picketing the White House during wartime) in order to win the vote. These were women who were sent to prison, went on hunger strike, and were in some cases force-fed (leading to life-long health complications) for full citizenship rights.
As an historian, the analytical side of my brain can kick in an consider the way in which this film contributes to the collective memory of the struggle for suffrage: what it chooses to highlight, what it leaves out, what it represents in ways that bear only passing resemblence to the historical record. And yet, when I sit down to watch the film in the end I am moved profoundly by the story of these women who refused to be silenced or sidelined. I watch them be strapped down and violated by feeding tubes. I watch them refuse to give up. And, in the end, I watch the characters witness the moment when all of that pain and struggle is rewarded by the passage of the 19th amendment.
Securing social justice is never a sure thing; history is not a linear progression toward ever-more-enlightened times. Rights have been given, and rights have been taken away. And while women have had their right to elective franchise protected by constitutional amendment for nearly a century, I am acutely aware that this legal protection is an historical contingency. There is no guarantee it will remain. (After all, if birthright citizenship is open to question, I will lay no bets on what portions of the constitution might be opened to re-negotiation).
So about once a year or so I sit down and I watch Iron Jawed Angels and I let myself weep. For the women who cared so much and so passionately about changing the world.
What movies or television shows have provoked you to tears … and why?