What Makes You Cry In A Movie?

Okay. I admit it. I’m an emotional clicker. I sit in front of the TV with the remote control at the ready. Enter a scary scene, embarrassing scene, obnoxious voice, too much blood, a snake or large spider, or an animal about to shred another living being, and my fingers jab madly. I am such a wuss and that’s why I love pure romance. Except then there are the emotional scenes, you know, the greeting card moments. Tenderness that makes my throat feel like it has a hot potato stuck in it, followed swiftly by a tight chest, and then a cascade of tears.

I wondered about this as I choked up in a film I’d seen a gazillion times. I do this when reading books too. I cry in exactly the same scene. So what is it? Is it the writer’s skill in portraying the character, the dialogue that conveys that message of emotion, the musical score, or is it the actor’s expressions? I began an experiment with that book/movie that had made me sob like a baby, Sense and Sensibility. The movie production that I own stars Emma Thompson, Kate Winslett, Alan Rickman, and Hugh Grant. I questioned which emotion had touched me when Edward came back to visit Elinor.

After rewinding the movie, I closed my eyes to block the facial expressions on the screen and studied how the dialogue built to create the tension.

Elinor puts on her brave face, again, so she can congratulate Edward on his marriage. Each word is carefully chosen to build upon the last. It hit me then that good dialogue is not information giving, and it isn’t chit-chat, it’s an emotional investment. It’s an investment in that character. I heard the tremble in Elinor’s voice, noticed a pause or hesitation, an exclamation or emotional inflection, a half-finished sentence, a perfect word that evoked a picture in my mind.

There were murmurings and explanations from Edward. “You mean my brother’s wife, Mrs. Robert Farris…I recieved a letter from Miss Steele, Mrs. Farris…a transfer of affections…time spent in London…only right…change in my circumstances…they were married last weekend.”

Elinor: “Then you…you’re not married?”

Edward: “No.”

By keeping my eyes shut and listening to the words spoken I could create the character’s facial expressions and actions in my mind, allowing me to get inside the character’s head and heart. I wasn’t being swept away by a pretty face, or a well-lit and well-dressed scene. When it came to the big black moment–when all seemed lost and something had to die so something could live–Elinor’s deep sobs were like the breaking of a dam wall as she let go of her more practical side and allowed her true feelings to show. The dissolution of Edward’s engagement allowed for the rebirth of their love.

Her loud sobbing was totally unladylike but it told him more about their love than any words could convey. Those tears reassured Edward and encouraged him as he explained and consoled. He had met Lucy when he was very young and impressionable. He thought Elinor viewed him now as only a friend and thought he risked his heart alone. He had come to visit without expectation. And then there is that fabulous line that cinched it all:

Edward: “My heart is and always will be, yours.”

I finally had my answer. It was Elinor’s courage that made me cry. Even though they had no prior understanding, she knew in her heart that she loved Edward and that he loved her. Her willingness to show her vulnerability, her relief, her love for him, and how her tears washed away the prior hurts and left them both with a clean new beginning, was for me the perfect ending. And isn’t that what excellent romance writing and reading, or in this case movie watching, is all about? What do you think about this romance? Is there another film, or novel, that has touched you in the same way this one did for me?


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14 Responses to What Makes You Cry In A Movie?

  1. Janie Emaus says:

    Everything makes me cry lately. Even TV commercials.

  2. robena grant says:

    I’m with you on that, Janie. : )

  3. Hi Robena,
    I agree that keeping that noble front is what broke my heart in that scene. She was dying inside, yet saved face in front of him. that always gets to me.

    I cry a lot in movies. Hey, recently I sobbed during an episode of The Walking Dead! (the scene was heartrending)

    I sob through the previews for Les Mis when she sings I have a dream.

    And I cried in Lincoln when the 13 Amendment passed.

    I’m not a crybaby by far, just deeply moved by greatness.

  4. robena grant says:

    Oh, yeah. Les Miz. I’m looking forward to the movie. And to Anna Karenina. I’ll take a large box of tissues. : )

  5. Sam Beck says:

    What a great post! Talk about doing your homework. I’m a BIG sap when it comes to TV/movies. I’ve cried during home improvement shows on HGTV. But my friend John held the crying crown. He cried during the movie, “Win A Date with Tad Hamilton.”

  6. Nan says:

    My mom’s family (the Irish Meehans) had a saying about themselves–that our tear ducts are attached to our bladders–we cry at everything. I’m a true Meehan–I cry at every opportunity. I’ll cry at movies and books–have you read Liz Flaherty’s “One More Summer”? If you love to cry, I recommend it!

  7. robena grant says:

    Ohhhh. So that’s where it comes from, Nan. My mother’s side are Irish. : )
    I have not read Liz’s book but will see if I can get that for my Kindle. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. I’m a huge marshmallow. No, seriously. Someone will get something in their eye, and their eye will start to tear up, and BAM: I’m crying too. It’s empathy to an extreme, and something that’s very hard for me to turn off! I think it makes me a good listener, but it sure can be inconvenient (it took me years before I could watch Schindler’s List, and even then, only in small doses).

    My husband lovingly teases me when the waterworks kick in, he’ll ask me if I want any graham crackers and Hershey bars (you know, to go with my marshmallowness?). Even a song will get me going (and not just the sad ones, like Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” I’ll tear up at “God Bless the USA,” “Wonderful World,” “Impossible Dream,” even “Little Drummer Boy”).

    And don’t get me started on the awkward scenes! I can’t STAND those! I never watch movies like “Meet the Parents” or other awkward comedies, I just can’t handle them! I get so embarrassed and feel so BAD for the characters, I can’t enjoy it or see the comedy, it’s too much.

    What can I say… I’m a marshmallow.

    • robena grant says:

      So that’s what I am…a marshmallow. Ha ha. Had to agree with you on everything. I cried last night on The Voice. I cried today when I read a blog comment that touched my heart. Sigh.

  9. Julie says:

    I am not familiar with that movie (although I’ve heard of the book, obviously), but I try to avoid anything that will make me cry. I do it enough in life (I’m very emotional, and tender-hearted) so I like my stories to be funny.

    With that being said, what DOES send me over the edge is usually something having to do with parenting, like a dad hugging his daughter at her wedding or something similarly highly charged with emotion.

  10. robena grant says:

    Yes, I’m such a sucker for those tender moments, Julie. You think you’re not going to cry and then you get that tightness in the throat and all is lost. But I think having that empathy for another is important. : )

  11. londonmabel says:

    Oh one of my fave scenes! Makes me cry too.

    I will add some credit for Patrick Doyle. He wrote those great soundtracks to Branagh’s Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing. His scoring of the St Crispin’s Day speech is brilliant.


    However Jane Austen’s wonderful story, and Emma Thompson’s wonderful script, and everyone’s wonderful acting all come together to create a magical moment. Probably more so than in the novel itself, though I don’t remember too well. (Who was the director? Ah I see, Ang Lee. Yes, great directing too.) And another element is the joy of her mother and sisters–it adds to the cry factor.

    In the final episodes of The Vicar of Dibley our heroine has a romance of her own (opposite the dreamy Richard Armitage). Early on she makes all these jokes about Emma Thompson’s “blergh!” noisy breakdown in S&S, and then of course has one of her own when she finds out Armitage isn’t marrying another woman, but wants to marry her.

    (If you want to watch it, it’s halfway into here:)


    It makes me cry too, but from laughter.

  12. robena grant says:

    Oh, London, that video was fabulous. I laughed and cried. Used to be able to get The Vicar at my place in Utah but here I don’t get it. Fabulous show. Anyway, I also love your other comments. Thanks for stopping in.