I’m an avid podcast consumer, and one of my favorite bits of easy listening is Susan Orlean and Sarah Thayer’s Crybabies. Crybabies is a show where the gals chat with creators and celebrities about things that set them off on a crying jag. It’s relatable, listenable and it always gets me thinking about what I would cite as my own personal crying cues. I shared my desire to think on it, and share it with the world, with Annemarie, and she was fully on board. Obviously. So, here we go. If you want to make us cry or cry a bit yourself, read on.
A: There are so many distinct moments in movies and TV that either have made me cry uncontrollably once or tear up many times. I’m choosing to rank by the intensity of the crying, from 1 (tear up) to 12 (weeping, man).
- Parks & Recreation: Ann and Chris Leave Pawnee — Look, just because this is ranked #12 doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get me. Leslie Knope and her bestie Ann Perkins are two of my favorite characters on TV, and their bittersweet parting just feels so real to me. Most of what gets me is the final moment when Leslie actually says goodbye as Ann and Chris are sitting in the moving van. She’s been in such denial that the moment she actually accepts that her best friend is leaving is heart-wrenching to me. And then the gang goes and gets waffles, bacon and eggs at JJ’s Diner, because as Ron Swanson says, “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.” So wise. So Ron.
- Apollo 13: Ocean Landing — Just when you’re sure the crew is dead (never mind that you know that they lived in real life), they appear on the screen and their voices come crackling over the comm channel and the whole control room erupts in joy. It’s a powerful moment about the strength of character, intrepid problem solving and vast quantities of good luck that saved three men’s lives.
- ER: Dr. Greene’s Death — ER killed a lot of people. I mean, they came into the ER with injuries and/or diseases, so that makes sense. But it was never so awful as when Dr. Greene succumbed to brain cancer in Hawaii as Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” plays. It was a touching send-off to a beloved character.
- The Land Before Time: Littlefoot’s Mom Dies — Classic childhood tears. I debated between a few animated character deaths, but the fact that Littlefoot is alone in such a harsh, dying world just makes this so much bleaker than Bambi’s, Dumbo’s or Tarzan’s mom dying.
- Little Women: Beth’s Death — I’ve seen this movie many times, and it never, ever fails to make me cry when Hannah is spreading rose petals over the neatly made bed. Then when she grabs the hand of one of the dolls, forget about it. Crying now.
- Rudy: Rudy Finally Plays Football — Yes, Rudy was obnoxiously obsessed with playing football at Notre Dame. He had no business being out there, but when he gets carried off the field by his teammates, having earned a spot through sheer determination, it does make you think that you can also do anything you want it enough.
- Titanic: Nearer My God to Thee — “Gentlemen, it’s been a privilege playing with you.” This is also a classic weepy scene, and I fully admit to crying throughout this film, but this one always gets me the most. It’s mostly about the dedicated efforts of the quartet trying to keep the spirits up of the people doomed to die, knowing that by doing so, they doom themselves. But it’s also the other characters they show accepting their fate that gets me. One by one, they are serene, accepting, but still terrified, and a glimpse into what it must have been like for the real people who died that night.
- Toy Story 3: Toys Accept Their Fate + Andy Goes to College — We’re getting sloppy over here. Or at least I am. I cannot even think about either of these scenes without openly weeping. The former gets me because I attribute strong personalities to inanimate objects and the thought of them dying together is horribly tragic. The latter is a vivid reminder of how hard it was to leave home and how scary and disorienting that moment was for me.
- Braveheart: William Wallace’s Torture and Death — Somewhat funny story here. The first time I saw Braveheart was on network TV, and I started crying pretty much as soon as William envisions his departed wife in the crowd. He dies, I was ugly crying, and I distinctly remember a commercial for Sargento cheese making me cry even harder. Why? I have no idea.
- Angel: “I Will Remember You” — In the first of several crossover episodes, Angel becomes human, he and Buffy FINALLY get to be together, but he decides to turn back the clock and become a tortured vampire-with-a-soul again. It’s heart wrenching because these two characters have such a tragic history, and this was just one more thing that they couldn’t get to have.
- Up: Intro — Um, if the story of Ellie and Carl growing old together doesn’t make you openly weep, you’re probably dead inside.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “The Body” — This episode of television is often hailed as one of the most impactful ever. For a show in which monsters and people routinely died, Buffy’s mom dying alone, silently, of a brain aneurysm is simply the most devastating death across the whole run of Buffy. I was pretty weepy when I watched it the first time, but I made the unwise decision to watch it when it was on reruns the day my grandmother died. I saw the first scene and started bawling, changed the channel, then decided that I needed to just cry it out, so I went back and watched it. Besides the agony of Buffy finding her mom and imagining that she could have saved her, the anguish from Anya who doesn’t understand death is the most brutal to watch.
Ok, now to go find some Kleenex.
B: I like this idea of sob power rankings, but if I’m honest, 12 won’t nearly cover us, so we might have to do another installment of this at some point. But, that’s a (sob) story for another day. For now, I’ll do my own from 1 (tear up) to 12 (weeping, man).
1. American Honey: American Honey sing-along — We’ve written pretty extensively about American Honey in the past, and though it is a movie that destroyed me on first watch, the intensity has largely faded with time. But, there is one scene near the end of the picture that still gets me misty and a bit choked up every single time I watch. Star and the other youths we’ve been traveling with are packed into their van. Headed for another town on another day. They’re a bit weary, but a familiar tune comes on the radio. American Honey by Lady Antebellum. One-by-one the kids all join in a sing-along. It’s sweet and pure and the perfect representation of those endless summer days with friends during the dying days of adolescence. And what’s even lovelier? It was meant to be a solo, but knowing the performer tasked with singing was nervous, the rest of the actors joined in. One-by-one.
2. Judy Garland: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas — Judy’s version of the Yuletide staple is my favorite Christmas tune. And chances are that if it’s used in a bit of Christmas entertainment, I’ll tear up something fierce. The lyrics on their own are powerfully melancholy. But knowing the story of Judy’s tragic life brings a haunting aura to the beautiful performance. I can’t get enough of it.
12. Up: The Intro — Yeah, Annemarie summed this one up pretty well. “Adventure is out there!”
12. Titanic: The Staircase Wedding —If you read through this whole list, you’ll notice that wish fulfillment and stolen moments of perfection tend to devastate me. As much as watching the band come back together and the various passengers say goodbye in their own ways is tragic, the bit of Titanic that really gets me comes after Old Rose throws the necklace in the ocean and dies an old lady warm in her bed. The visions we’re shown of her final thoughts take us back to Titanic, and back to the staircase where Trudy and Tommy and Mr. Andrews and all the other lost characters are back and whole again. And there stands Jack at the top of the stairs. Alive and waiting for Rose, who ascends in a simple, but beautiful white dress. They share a kiss, the crowd bursts into applause and I burst into tears. We all know that Jack and Rose’s love is perfect because it was doomed, but that doesn’t make the dream of what might have been any less sweet.
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Becoming Part II / The Gift — Annemarie already called out arguably the most devastating moment in Buffy history, but I couldn’t resist drawing attention to a couple other tearjerkers. The first is the second season finale, Becoming Part II that finds Buffy forced to sacrifice the love of her life in order to save the wider world. It’s an eloquent spin on that moment that happens to all of us wherein we realize that the world will occasionally conspire to bring us to our knees. The second comes from the season five finale, The Gift. In this episode, Buffy is once again faced with a decision, and once again takes the hero’s path. This time, she sacrifices herself. And the act itself is beautiful, but it is the reactions of her friends that renders it absolutely heartbreaking.
12. The Wrestler: The Boardwalk Scene — I’m still quite bitter that Mickey Rourke did not win a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Wrestler. His entire turn as the Ram is quietly tragic, but the scene I never saw coming is the one that transpires at the Boardwalk with his estranged daughter. The two wander around the empty, boarded up tourist destination during the off-season and somehow the landscape feels like the relationship between them, shuttered and sad, but not completely dead. And then our wayward hero launches into a speech about everything he did wrong. About how he deserves to be alone. About how is only hope is that she doesn’t hate him. I remember shaking with tears in the theater, causing my friend to look at me with concern and pass me a massive bucket of popcorn as some form of consolation.
12. Inside Out: “Take her to the moon for me.” — Remember earlier in this article when Annemarie suggested that anyone who didn’t cry in the Up intro is dead inside? I would lobby the same charge against anyone who didn’t feel like their heart was being ripped out when Bing Bong sacrificed himself to get Joy back to Riley. No sooner did he say “take her to the moon for me” than my own personal water works launched into overdrive. My mom, who was with me, sat utterly unmoved. And I still cannot fathom, how she, who had a child and watched said child grow out of childhood innocence, was unmoved. I was wrecked.
12. Little Women: Christmas, Beth Dies — So, I know I watched this movie as a kid, but I had no idea that I was walking into such an emotional buzzsaw when Annemarie and I caught an Afternoon Tea screening around the holidays. Naturally, the completely wonderful scene that finds the family reunited and singing Christmas carols together was the beginning of the end for me. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I knew this idyllic moment couldn’t stay. Then Beth got sick and made her sad speech about how she never imagined much for herself really. And then mused about how she wasn’t sure why people ever left home, before just up and dying. I don’t think I stopped crying for the entire second half of this movie. I’m not mad.
12. Angel: I Will Remember You — Like Annemarie, I’m firmly on #TeamAngel and this episode was a dream come true. Until it wasn’t. Remember that thing I said before about wish fulfillment being a great weakness. Well watching the perfect day and then watching Angel decide to give all of that up to protect Buffy was almost too much for young Brooke (and present Brooke, if I’m honest). And knowing that he has to remember that day forever, devastating. And the suggestion that Buffy might remember too, even though she’s not meant to, double devastating.
12. Downton Abbey: Christmas / Sybil Dies — Here we go again with happy moments that can’t last. I think I cried at some point in every single Christmas episode of Downton Abbey, but the worst, by far, was any time that found the Crawley’s singing to the assembled staff before a roaring fire and an idyllic tree. There was always so much wrong, but they still always found a way to find a moment of peace. There were many, many tragic deaths over the course of this story, but by far the most heart wrenching was Sybil’s untimely passing. Not only did it come at a moment that should have been joyful, it leads to a seemingly irreparable rift between her parents, and a melancholy reckoning between her sisters, who stand in a room together and morosely observe that it’s the last time they’ll all be together on this earth. *slowly exhales and waves hand in front of eyes.*
12. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Benjamin’s Letters — File this one under moments of sobbing that I didn’t see coming. Near the end of Benjamin Button, Benjamin’s daughter Caroline is given a stack of letters her father wrote to her from afar. These letters are filled with advice like “I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” It’s such a beautiful sentiment and it left me a hot mess.
12. Brokeback Mountain: “Jack, I swear.” — I saw Brokeback Mountain on New Year’s Day 2006 in an indie theater with squeaky seats. I was newly 18-years-old and finding myself knocked flat and brought to tears in theaters was a relatively new sensation for me. Whatever I expected, I couldn’t have known that I was in for such an emotional juggernaut. At that point in time, it was Jack’s death and Ennis’ shameful flight from the awkward Thanksgiving that most got to me. But in the years since, it’s been watching Ennis learn of his oldest daughter’s wedding and grapple with the emotions that’s taken the crown for the supreme tearjerker moment. His sad smile and subsequent trip to his closet to clutch his lover’s shirt before uttering “Jack, I swear,” is so beautiful, it never fails to tear me to pieces. Heath Ledger was a master of quiet devastation. Though it doesn’t make this list, his sweet rendition of “Maggie May” in Lords of Dogtown always sneaks up on me.
13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Basically all of it — Okay, so here’s the thing. Harry Potter is unspeakably important in the landscape of my childhood. The final novel came out the summer I graduated from high school and the final film was released the summer I graduated from college. Talk about the symbolic death of childhood, amirite? Anyway, when the book came in the mail, I devoured it and wept from Hedwig’s death on through to the end. It was brutal and magnificent. When the films rolled around, I had little trouble with Part I (minus Hedwig and Dobby tearing holes in my heart), but Part II was positively full of landmines. And there was one I didn’t see coming. The dance Harry and Hermione share. It’s a moment that’s not in the books, of course, but it is a brilliant addition. For a few moments, we can see the pair of them think the all-too-human thought: “What if we stopped fighting? What if we ran? What if it was like this, always?” They’re too heroic for that, of course, but seeing that brief glimpse makes the path they choose all the more powerful. And then there came the end game. Harry’s sacrifice was devastating on the page, but watching him make the choice was wrenching. And when you have a somber walk with no dialogue, there’s room to think back over everything, to ask if you yourself could be so brave, and all of that flood of emotion from the book comes back into sharp relief. Yeah, something in my eye over here.
Okay, I cheated, but that last one was next level.
Anyway, to play us out, here’s Kesha with her new track, Praying, that absolutely devastates both of us. But in the best way. Get it, gurl.