Sunday, March 16, 2008

These tears dry on their own

Smack dab in the middle of my afternoon jog yesterday, I came to a sudden, significant self-realization: I have not cried outside of a movie theatre in five years. The last time I became emotional to the point of tears was after a crunch period in my first year of university; writing final three papers simultaneously one night proved to be the trigger, and I lashed out at a family member only to break down, overwhelmed with guilt and exhaustion. I feel fairly certain that this is the last time I cried with such force, in public, for reasons completely unrelated to any cinematic experience. More and more, escaping in film is becoming the means of expressing emotion for me, and I don't know if this is a good thing or bad. It's not a problem of being unable to cry: only that I can't do so in "real life".

Indeed, I can recall plenty of times that I've welled up at the plight of a character or a collage of sights and sounds with relative ease, but am hard-pressed to recall a similar reaction in any other context. I wept throughout all of Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, possibly my favourite film of all time. A second screening of The Fountain - a film which I found hokey and vague the first time around - hit me hard for reasons that are still unclear to me. Watching Mira Nair's adaptation of The Namesake was jarring only because it's rare to see my experiences reflected so precisely in a cinematic medium. Stories about first-generation South Asian-Americans or Canadians negotiating identity, family relations and history are, to put it mildly, not "hot" properties for film companies today. Most recently, Persepolis had me giggling through my tears, moved by Marjane Satrapi's nakedly honest reflections about her early years situated across several countries and cultures. Essentially, the cinema hall has become - for lack of a better word - my confessional, and everything I want to suppress and hide emerges in full-force. I suppose it's the only place where I feel comfortable doing so. The darkness and insularity provides a sanctuary for anonymous, private grief. And this is why it is hard to convince friends, family members and others in my life that film is more than an interest or hobby for me. It allows me to breathe, escape, and function. Without it, I don't know who I am.

Perhaps some of you may be wondering why this should be cause for concern? I suppose I am over-thinking this to some degree, but when I look back on my childhood, I am struck by how emotional I was in my early years. Even watching wedding videos of my aunts' marriages at the age of six was enough to send me over the edge, and I would have to leave the room and beg an adult to turn off the television (the sight of a bride leave her father's house is always a tremendously sad moment for Indian families.) I would collapse into sobs at the end of Robert Munsch's book Love You Forever, every time, because I had this intense fear of my mother dying and feeling powerless to protect her. Attending funerals, having heart-to-hearts with friends, thinking about those who had passed on - these all used to stimulate the waterworks. Part of growing older allows a person to feel more secure about themselves and the world around them. Of course, I don't miss being a nervous wreck all the time, but I do miss the part of myself that was able to feel so completely and unreservedly. I'm afraid I've lost that part of myself, or become closed off from expressing it in relation to other people in my life.

Obviously, powerful art has this kind of effect on all of us, and it is certainly clear why we are so absolutely invested in film. Thinking back, I've probably done this to protect myself from the ridicule and scorn of others. I was constantly criticized for being so emotional, for not being "tougher" and less sensitive. As such, most of my teenage years were spent trying to prove my "stability" and sensible nature, throwing myself into schoolwork and other activities.

... Hm. I'm clearly going to be thinking about this for weeks on end. What about the rest of you?


Jesse said...

Most of this post had me nodding my head in agreement and recognition--though I've never actually cried during a film (though I'm getting closer and closer) and before last November when I finally broke down in response to my boyfriend's mom passing away I can't remember the last time I really cried. Interesting, because I was also a terribly sensitive child, prone to crying at the drop of a hat--and I do know for a fact that forced myself to stop to stop appearing so sensitive. It's been a remarkably hard thing to unlearn, however.

I never liked Love You Forever because it would always make my mom cry, and that's just something I have never been able to handle...


RC said...

i definitly get caught crying in films, but it really just depends, it all has to hit you the right way.

sometimes it makes sense...sometimes it's ridiculous.

last film i cried in was the manipulative "August Rush" I didn't want to, but i did anyways.

Cal said...

It's much easier for me to cry during films than it is in 'real life'. I cried at the end of Once, The Bucket List, Dancer in the Dark, and ALWAYS Erin Brokovich. I think sometimes it's the willingness to put yourself in the shoes of the people involved and relate to them that finally makes you cave.

I've only cried a couple of times in the last few years for legitimate reasons. Heartache. Tis a killer. Lol.

I get what you mean about sensitivity. I was quite a sensitive child too, and was often told to stop being 'soft'. I think that might make you reluctant to show emotion and weakness to people. It'll probably come when you're totally not expecting it.

David S. said...

This was a beautiful, heartfelt post. It really is odd how we are almost expected to lose our emotionality when we enter our adult years. It's as if a lack of emotion is seen as equal to responsibility, practicality, and so forth. I guess we're just expected to be able to gain control over our own thoughts and feelings just like we learn to take everything else into our own hands.

I will never quite understand why there is such a premium on being "tough." What good does being "tough" do, anyway? But this continuous process of making ourselves socially acceptable and more mature has become so natural in the way our society functions that it really is difficult to resist. It's like we just lose our ability to openly feel all of a sudden and we're left wondering where the hell it went. I've actually thought about this, too. It's like I'm so in control of how I feel that I can't even force the tears.

To be honest, films don't even make me cry anymore. Creepy, right? I cried through so many screenings of Dead Poets Society, and now? Nothing. Actually, the only film to make me cry recently was The Fountain. That actually hit me surprisingly hard, too. I had a feeling I would like it, but I had no idea that I would walk out of that theatre completely speechless wondering what it was that just happened.

Maybe film is a place you can emote because it's so private. It is completely removed from society, even more so than sitting in your room by yourself. You are literally engaging with a universe that exists in its own terms. There are no social norms there, only holy moments. It could be seen as a bad thing, but it could also be that golden opportunity to get in touch with the inner-most part of you that is free from social construct and still as emotional as ever. And it can happen whenever you'd like.

David S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kamikaze Camel said...

Late last year I had very similar thoughts. I felt strange that all the truly heartwrenching things in my life were occuring on a screen i was sitting in front of and not actually happening in my real life. Which I decided was both a good thing and a bad thing.

I cried just the other night watching "The Body" episode of Buffy. I cried during the whole tsumami thing two years back. I could cry watching somebody on the news grieve (it's usually watching people grieve or deal with pain that gets me crying, actually). But nothing in my actual life has brought be to tears, and I'm not sure why.

Michael Parsons said...

Real life hardly makes me cry any more....not sure why. Only time it ever gets me is at work, and that is usually because I have received some personal bad news and someone always wants to 'talk'....then the waterworks.
I save it all up for the movies, but only when I watch them at home. Struggled with "Into the Wild" and "Atonement". Last time I bawled in a cinema was during "In America" I cried for forever with that movie.

Jonathan Mendelsohn said...

I wasn't a big crier post 5th grade but am getting mushier with age. Am definitely prone to the caught-in-the-throat feeling from certain movies, though heaven forbid (sorry to whoever posted it) not to "August Rush", one of the laughably worst movies I've ever seen on a plane (so bad you have to watch it through to the end). Watching "Whale Rider" (again) last night, had a few welled up moments. And, truth be told any father-son pic, that gets me every time. Field of Dreams anyone?