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June 10, 2005

Movies That Make Men Cry. [Dave at Garfield Ridge]

Warning: gratuitous and egregious gender stereotyping contained within.

The other day while flipping the movie channels and coming across one too many chick flicks, I got to thinking: what sort of movies make men emotional?

It's axiomatic that real men don't cry, but admittedly, everybody gets choked up over things from time to time. You don't have to be full-on, tears-streaming-down-your-face crying to qualify here-- choking back the sniffles counts.

To address our question, I've got two theories, but before we get there, let's look at the chick flick.

Guys hate chick flicks because 1) they're usually stupid, 2) they're usually fantastic, 3) they don't speak to guys.

They're stupid because, well, they're stupid. They usually rely on artificial comic scenarios ("She thinks he's gay but it's just a misunderstanding!"; "She thinks her mother doesn't want her to get married but secretly she does!"). If there is any romance at all, it's inevitably spawned by the "meet-cute," that accidental meeting where our heroine bumps into her one true love in a bookstore/coffee shop/tractor-pull only to spend the rest of the damn movie being prevented from hooking up because of their own stupidity or misunderstandings.

Which brings me to the fantastic part-- no one in real life acts like this. Case in point: in nearly every romantic chick flick, there is a scene where Julia Roberts/Meg Ryan/Jennifer Lopez is drunk in a bedroom with Dylan McDermott/Dermot Mulroney/Freddie Prinz, Jr., and instead of rutting like rabbits in heat, the man decides against taking advantage of the drunken woman and puts her quietly to bed instead.

Granted, in real life this makes some sense, because in real life we haven't watched 45 minutes of our woman telling her mother/her sister/her beautician/her mortician that she's in love with the guy and wants to be loved back. Watching the movie, however, you just feel cheated, because it's obvious that the screenwriter is artificially preventing the characters from doing what real people in real life would do, which is rut like rabbits in heat.

Finally, the chick flick doesn't speak in a language men understand. That's okay, it doesn't have to, that's why we've got Bruce Willis movies. Yet, women everywhere persist in dragging men to these movies in the hopes they'll one day find the sad sack who actually enjoys it.

Seriously, what real man can identify with a woman crying about their sister's love? Hey, if you two chicks want to hug and bond over that time in that cafe in Paris with that waiter (Jean-Luc!), be my guest-- I'll be watching Australian-rules football on ESPN2. Again, men's emotional buttons simply aren't the same as women's, and these movies don't punch them.

That all said, which movies *do* punch men's buttons?

Movie critic Jeffrey Wells has written a lot of things I disagree with, but one of the smartest things he ever wrote was his thesis that men cry over loss-- the loss of their one true love, the loss of a friend, the loss of a dog, the loss of a war, the loss of their bike, etcetera.

Obviously, women can get emotional over this sort of thing too, but it's really the only thing that consistently gets guys. Women carry baggage, men carry regret. Loss is usually accompanied by regret, which gets nearly every man at a certain point. If only I had asked that girl out. . . if only I had made that free-throw. . . if only I had told my daughter I loved her before I blew up the asteroid.

So, what are some movies that deal with loss that get most guys?

-- Old Yeller. He has to shoot his beloved dog. Also see The Yearling.
-- Forrest Gump: Jenny is that girl every guy knows, the girl who will never settle for the man who truly loves her and would take care of her, who would rather fly high and crash. A lot of people criticized the movie for killing Jenny at the end, but hey, it's a useful parable-- live decent and be happy for life, or live indecent and suffer the consequences.
-- Titanic: Yeah, yeah, it's a chick flick. But it has three elements (aside from Kate Winslet naked) that endear it to many guys. It has a big ship sinking with lots of nifty destruction. It has Leonardo DiCaprio dying. But it's that ending, with Rose being reunited in death with everyone on the Titanic, that made the film work as well as it did. It redeems all the cheese that came before by telling you how when you die, all that you lost returns to you.
-- E.T.: Boy has no friends. Boy finds best friend. Best friend leaves boy to return to outer space. It's a true story, and damn, does it still get me.

I mentioned one other theory: let's talk about vindication.

See, the opposite of regret is satisfaction, and satisfaction requires some sort of achievement or success. While any variety of success may make you happy, victory is sweetest when others have written you off. Movies understand this, which is why nearly every sports movie focuses on the underdog instead of the dominant team. There's no drama in following the New York Yankees winning another World Series, but the Boston Red Sox? No one expects them to win, thus it's twice as emotional when they do. You get the victory AND you get to prove others wrong. It's a two-fer.

How is this tied to regret? Well, if no one expects you to win, you're liable to never try. You'll just give up, surrender, let yourself be the bum people call you. You'll rationalize your choice-- the mountain was too high, the opposing team too tough, the Union had too many soldiers. The "lost cause" will give you comfort.

Yet, it is in overcoming that adversity, in *avoiding* the pain of regret and loss, that movies can make men emotional. Sure, women love a winner, too, but a guy watching the film will know that these guys could've given up, they could have suffered a lifetime of regret, but they didn't, and thus they proved their father/their boss/their wet-blanket wife wrong. Never underestimate the allure of revenge.

You could spend all day counting off movies that follow this archetype, but for guys, here are some of the best:
-- Hoosiers. Goes without saying.
-- High Fidelity. John Cusack has his regrets but confronts them head-on, learning that he can "win" if he learns to love the one he's with.
-- Glory. The "desperate, doomed assault" genre always resonates with men. In Glory, the 54th Massachusetts doesn't win in the end, but they satisfy the requirements of honor, and prove themselves worthy in the eyes of their peers.

Honor is a big factor. See, if men never try, they'll have regrets, which are bad. But failure is rarely guaranteed, so men feel compelled to give it a shot-- anything to avoid the pain of regret. Hence, the concept of honor: it's more important to try and fail then to never try. Most movies that deal with violent struggle feature this prominently, see Braveheart, Gladiator, or nearly every World War II movie ever made. Watching courage up on the screen inspires men, gets them all choked up, because it reminds them of what they *should* be doing in life.

Similarly, sports movies, particularly boxing movies-- see every Rocky movie, or the recent Cinderella Man-- feature a cast of characters dedicated to convincing our hero that he *can't* do what he's set out to do, what he must do. Talia Shire or Renee Zellwegger will spend half the movie telling her husband they shouldn't do what they're doing ("You're going to die in the ring!!!"), but the man has to do it anyway-- and when in the end he wins, he gets the vindication that many men are denied in real life.

Even if he dies, the movie recognizes his noble sacrifice, that he led a life worth living, which is all most men ever hope for-- to live a life worth living, a life of consequence. A shallow, selfish man cares about being remembered as a great man, but the true hero would rather be remembered as a good man.

Yup, movies are a great way to live vicariously.

Anyway, just some movie thoughts for a Friday. Let me know if you think I'm talking bunk here.

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posted by Ace at 11:36 AM

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