Crying at the Movies–Spotlight

Field of Dreams catch scene


A Column by J. Torrey McClain

I have cried in many movies.  It took me a while to allow the tears to silently flow instead of fighting them back to maintain a sense of dignity that I imagined more that I possessed.  I can keep crying at the same scene after many viewings, but I’m not sure I can elucidate why.  Recently I watched Spotlight–the Oscar nominated movie–and I cried for a very different reason than I have before.  Before I get to that one though, I figure I will run down a list of some of the movies that made me cry and try to rationalize why on all of them.

Scrooged – Ever since I saw this film in the theater, there is one moment at the end that gets me every time.  It’s the moment that Calvin Cooley walks up to Frank Cross and tugs on his coat.  Bill Murray, as Cross, looks down after his big rambling speech, tears streaking his face and says, “Did I forget something big man?”  Cooley whispers his first words since his father dies and says, “You forgot to say ‘God bless us everyone,’” at least how I remember it.  Why does it still get me?  Maybe it is Calvin’s story that we as the audience see as a companion to Cross’s story and the tragedy therein of his assistant.  Maybe it’s stellar writing that makes a single character wait to speak until he has something magical to say.  Maybe it’s just the sentiments that accompany Christmastime.  I’ll bet it is the part of me that empathizes with Cross and all of the stress and responsibility of being an adult and remembering that sometimes being a child allows innocence to have the perspective to get to the point with just a few words.

SCROOGED, Nicholas Phillips, Bill Murray, Alfre Woodard, 1988, (c)Paramount

Field of Dreams – Many a man has had his stoic expression cracked by this movie when Ray Kinsella and his father are reunited.  It’s the moment where just before his father leaves again, Ray gets up the courage to stop him in his tracks and asks, “You wanna have a catch?” As the Ghost of Christmas Past says in “Scrooged,” it’s Niagara Falls for me. I remember kneeling before my TV during this scene as tears streamed down my face like never before or since.  I sobbed out loud.  I’m sure that’s why the Ghost of Christmas Past knows how to get Frank Cross to sob.  It’s the memories of the times past, those fleeting moments with family that as an adult I want to have had more of those times.  Even if they were plentiful, the past seems far away and the times few as life keeps pushing forward and spreadsheets replace baseball mitts.

The Incredibles – I can’t find the exact moment in an array of quotes from this movie, I just know that Mr. Incredible is held against his will, powerless and he can’t do a darn thing to help his family.  For all his strength, for all his love, for all his bravado, at that moment he can do nothing but watch and then mourn his inability to act.  I may not be a superhero, but I know that feeling.  I can’t stop disease.  I can’t stop aging.  I can’t stop sorrow.  I can just be the witness to it and weep to myself as it occurs within the life around me.  It’s a perfect analogy to the moments of worry in our lives when we cannot do anything but wait, listen and comfort those we love.

Incredibles caught

Spotlight – I think as I discuss these other movies, I realize what brings these movies together and it is love for those that need our love and generosity and so this movie may not be so different after all.  The moment in Spotlight that got me didn’t have any dialogue.  It didn’t contain a single main character.  The camera just started to pan over a children’s choir singing within a cathedral, young and innocent, and at that moment my breath caught and tears started to form, as I knew that these children were in danger.  Maybe not from the pedophile priests that Spotlight shines a light upon, but maybe.  Possibly.  Maybe the danger they face is from the world in general.  No matter what, that moment exposed me to the danger of just growing old in a simple visual way.  As an audience member, I knew I couldn’t do anything, but in watching the movie, I realized that society couldn’t do anything either.  Whether it is people, people with guns, people with knives, people with cars, people that don’t vaccinate their kids, disease or anything in our world, they’ll never be completely safe.  They are in the open, exposed and showing them in contrast to the priests hidden from the law made the feeling palpable enough to start my tears.

I’ll never be able to predict what will make me cry, but it is nice to be surprised and have a movie bring out that emotional response along with laughter and anger because then I know I’ll have left the movie theater and emerged into the night air thinking a little more and that’s always one of my favorite things.


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