The Crying Game: Why movies move us

No! Champ! No! Champ. Is he out? Is he out? What’s the matter, Champ? Champ, wake up! Wake up! Wake – wake up! ~ The Champ

Cover of "The Champ"

Cover of The Champ

For some of us there is nothing quite as embarrassing as a good tear jerker, is there? You know that halfway through the movie, you will sob with Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin or Rachel McAdams for their failed love. But before the credits roll, tears of joy will gush for them because those “It” girl faces tell you they found true love this time.

My mother taught me one thing that I remember clearly — how to cry at a movie. When I was 14 years old, she and her BFF took me and her BFF’s daughter to see The Way We Were.” We two youths told them that sitting by their sides was not an option.

In the final scene Katie, played by Barbra Streisand, sees her lost love and ex-husband, Hubbell, played by Robert Redford, across a busy New York street. And so it started. I, sitting four rows behind our mothers, heard two very loud sighs.

Katie crosses the street, locks her eternal reminiscing eyes with Hubbell’s. She tells him about their daughter, and then, O-M-G!, she touches his hair (rent the movie if you don’t get it). The sighs became sobs and wailing from four rows ahead. The blubbering in the theater spread like anthrax as the sound faded up to: “Mmm. Mmm. Memories light the corners of my mind…”, the required tear jerker song sang  by Barbra herself. It’s a chick flick so weeping women is a quest and victory for the writer.

But, if any man or woman has ever sat down, uninterrupted, and watched Ricky Schroder in the final scene of “The Champ” and not cried, you must be a Vulcan.

Run a Google search, “movies about breaking up” and you will get about 500 million hits.


reese-witherspoon (Photo credit: αftεr thε rαٱη)

Lifetime Movie Networks offers “Tainted Love Tuesday” movie night if you need to cry at a movie in the privacy of your own home on a weeknight.

According to the numbers and programming, tragic love stories are an obsession.

Science has an answer for the tears that behoove us. It’s called oxytocin.

“We cry at movies because the oxytocin in the human brain is imperfectly tuned. It does not differentiate between actual human beings and flickering images of human beings,” according to Paul J. Zak, founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University. In “Why We Cry at Movies”, a “Psychology Today” excert from his book, “The Moral Molecule”, Zak adds,  ‘Either one is enough to kick oxytocin into high gear and impel our empathy. And it reveals why men like me avoid chick flicks–we don’t want to be seen bawling when the guy finally gets the girl.”

Chemicals get the best of us and the tears are a relief of sorts for our most sincere empathetic thoughts.

Award winning journalist and author Steve Winn writes in a San Francisco Chronicle article, Moved to tears/Probing the mystery of art’s emotional power, “In our most fundamental and mystifying response to art, tears flow as reliably as millstreams. Crying in theaters, concert halls and museums may register our deepest personal feelings, transporting rapture or easiest access to sentimentality.”

I tell people I’m a chick flick expert because I accompany my wife to every one she wants to see. I must admit though, there’s nothing like a good cry to clear my mind.

What’s your favorite tear jerker? Please comment.

8 thoughts on “The Crying Game: Why movies move us

  1. I cried, no sobbed uncontrollably, when the oldest daughter, Bobbie, in the 1970’s Film, The Railway Children (played by Jenny Agutter), runs to the railway station just as an old steam train pulls in. The platform is filled with dense, fog-like steam and when it begins to clear a little you see a misty figure alighting the train and the camera takes Bobbie’s angle as she moves towards it. Slowly we see a tall man just standing on the platform and Bobbie runs into his arms shouting, ‘Daddy! My Daddy!’ Greeting her loving Father returning from London after being wrongly imprisoned for Espionage.
    Where’s the Kleenex?
    Great Post, by the way! CK

    • Thank you for the reminder. I now vividly recall that movie. There is nothing like a tearful happy ending and that one has it. Thanks again.

  2. Excellent breakdown of why we break down. 🙂 I can’t remember the last movie I cried at, but Steven Spielberg’s AI never fails to reduce me to a sobbing mess. It’s not my usual, film, either – robot kid goes on journey to find the love of a mother who will never love him; whether he does or doesn’t it up for debate.

  3. I hate crying, but I sob with a lot of movies. Reality makes me tough, but fiction makes me cry…go figures! 🙂 Lately, I cried like a baby at “It’s a wonderful life”. I love James Stweart, and had never watched this classic. By the end I was a sobbing mess!

    • I still sob at that movie and I’ve watched it every Christmas for at least 20 years. Thanks for the follow. So you watch too much TV too I see.

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