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?