I have only cried during two movies. The first time was during Ingmar Bergman’s Shame, when I was 13, and the other was during Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, almost 30 years later. The first tearful outburst was, perhaps, my fault. My parents were attending a local screening of the film, and they decided to bring me along, a decision primarily inspired by my avowed passion for foreign films. In this case, my passion was driven by the film’s R rating, catnip to my cinephilic tendencies. Also, I was, after all, 13, and I had used my understanding of cinema to determine that an R-rating might mean any number of things would appear on screen. Nudity? Sex? Shocking violence? The sky was the limit! What excitement! I felt proud of myself for having eased my way into the film so cleverly. But: Was there nudity? Was there sex? Was there wrenching violence? Not so sure. What did happen was that, near the end of the film, the two main characters ate some poison berries and killed themselves, on a boat in the middle of the ocean, having lost all of their possessions. Needless to say, this wasn’t what I was expecting. Tears followed, along with profound disappointment. Anyhoo, the second movie I cried during, and I mean really sobbed, was Never Let Me Go, Romanek’s 2010 adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartbreaking and rashly dystopian novel. Many of the characters in the film were facing having all their organs removed for a massive cloning experiment, and something about the low-key despair of the film brought many deep sobs out of me. In fairness, I cried while reading the book too. Invenire Films has created a compendium of movie scenes from recent years that, for one reason or another, might have caused viewers to weep. Many great films are here–The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest–clipped together in a frenzied way that nevertheless pays due homage to the poignance of the original works. The collection raises a question: what is it, exactly, that makes us cry while watching a film? Usually, it’s over-empathy. When a drama is powerful enough, or confident enough in its methods, you forget it’s a drama, and some part of your mind begins to believe that the events in the film are happening to you. At moments of victory, you feel exhilarated; in moments of rage, you feel your blood pressure rise. And at moments of great sadness, you may cry because you can’t see how to avoid confronting the problems characters are wrestling with–and you think things may not get better. You know they will internally, but the terms of your viewer’s contract with the film won’t let you do anything but cry, as if you might never stop.
Watch: The 30 Saddest Scenes in Recent Movie History: A Supercut