I remember how my father and I cried at the end of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) when the wide-eyed humans and big-headed aliens make contact for the first time. My dad and I sat in the dark theater, wiping big crocodile tears from our cheeks. We were still a little broken up as we walked out to the car after the movie. My mother rolled her eyes at us. “You two,” she said, shaking her head.
Not everything is sad to the same people.
The other day, I started thinking about how much I don’t like watching sad movies in the summertime. It just seems wrong, in a way, to be all mopey and teary-eyed when we’re in the happy days of summer. I mostly love watching sad movies on the dark and dreary late afternoons of winter.
I decided that maybe now is the time to plan ahead and start building my storehouse of sadness for winter (it’s not that far off, you know). Or was this an excuse to give in to my strange new obsession of scrolling through lists about movies? Either way, I happened upon a MovieFanFare blog list of “The 10 Saddest Movies That I’ve Watched,” written by Clara Fercovic.
I agree with a number of Ms. Fercovic’s selections: THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964) and THE WEDDING NIGHT (1935) with Gary Cooper. But Garbo’s CAMILLE (1936) never quite got to me. It’s all a matter of taste, as I learned from my mother.
Some of my all-time favorite movies would also find a place on my Saddest List: CINEMA PARADISO (1988), WEST SIDE STORY (1961), WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939), THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY (1956), and BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945). Yes, and oddly enough, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
What makes a movie sad to us? Certainly, my mother and I didn’t have the same emotional response to first contact with aliens. It turns out that scientists wondered about the emotional response to sad movies as well.
According to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, back in 1988, Robert Levenson, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and his graduate student, James Gross, “started soliciting movie recommendations from colleagues, film critics, video store employees and movie buffs. They were trying to identify short film clips that could reliably elicit a strong emotional response in laboratory settings.”
What they thought would be a research project of a few months ended up taking them years, and what they discovered is that “two-minute, 51-second clip of Schroder weeping over his father’s dead body in The Champ…produced more sadness in laboratory subjects than the death of Bambi’s mom.”
Sadder than the death of Bambi’s mom??? I cannot agree.
I’m compiling my own selection of deliciously sad movies to watch this winter on those cold, dark days coming up ahead. I’ll be watching these weepers all alone, just me in my pajamas…and absolutely loving every minute of it. And I’m not going to be watching THE CHAMP, even if scientists say it’s the saddest one there is.