Why Books and Movies Make Us Cry

Jun 3, 2013 by

Why Books and Movies Make Us Cry

First of all, before I go any further: SPOILER ALERT! This post will talk about books and movies that have made me cry, so you can assume that there is something cryworthy contained within. I will try not to go into specific details, but if you’re super hard-core and don’t even want to know that there’s a chance some book or movie mentioned in the post below may make you cry, don’t read any further.

Perhaps the title of this post is a little grand. I can’t speak for you all, only myself. And I am a huge weeper at books and movies. Massive. To the point where I don’t even bother to get a tissue. I just let the tears run down my face and drop off my chin, occasionally making a swipe at my cheek with the back of my hand. My poor husband doesn’t even have to ask what’s wrong. He knows as we’re lying in bed doing our bedtime reading, and all of the sudden my body is shaking from the sobs I’m trying to suppress. “Geez, it’s one of those, huh?” he’ll say as he turns his light off and rolls over.

So why do I subject myself to this? Crying is not an inherently fun activity. I don’t go around thinking, I want a good cry today. And yet I still read books where, even from the book jacket I can figure out this is probably not going to end well. So why?

The answer is actually really simple. To be so affected by a character in a book or movie or television show that you can be brought to tears if something bad happens to them means the writer  has done a really good job. The writer has written that character so three-dimensionally that the character has become more than an acquaintance. You as the reader or viewer have become emotionally invested in that character, to the point where, just as you would suffer if something bad or sad happened to one of your real-life friends, you likewise suffer and grieve for the character.

Why am I writing this post now? Because (SPOILER ALERTS abound below)…

Game of Thrones was on last night. And something happened in an end scene that readers of George R.R. Martin‘s series have known and dreaded would come for seasons. And not only was it sad, but it came as a surprise, and because we’ve now gotten to know these characters for three seasons, there were elements of utter tragedy (Arya, so close!) that made it hard to bear.

So while crying may not be your cup of tea, the following books and movies have earned my Five-Tissue rating of quality, earning a good, cathartic cry.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Duh. Teens with cancer. You know from the get-go this will be a tear-jerker.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Gorgeous, funny book about a young woman who works as a caretaker for a quadriplegic.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. The tears come as a surprise in this one, so I can’t say anything more about it, other than that I read it several years ago, and it STILL has stuck with me.

Toy Story 3, directed by Lee Unkrich. Kids growing up and not needing their toys anymore? Please. I’m crying just thinking about it.

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, directed by Lasse Hallstrom. The loyalty of a good dog, even unto death? Recipe for mass tears.

The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick. The spiritualism of this movie sneaks up on you and then, bam! I inexplicably found myself sobbing to the point where I couldn’t stop.

LOST – Series Finale. Yes, maybe it was dense and wrapped up too easily, but I still thought it was enormously moving. Runner-up episode: The Constant.

Parenthood – Lots of episodes. The one I remember most that undid me was “Clear Skies from Here on Out” in Season 3 where Haddie and Alex broke up. What made me lose it was not the scene of their breakup, but where Alex (Michael B. Jordan) is talking with Christina (Monica Potter) at the door and he’s crying because this is a breakup with this family that he loves, too.¬† Beautifully acted, and so, so sad.