Since I’ve never used a Rockwell scale on my tears, I actually have no idea as to their relative hardness from one movie to the next. Maybe I should start capturing this hard data using charts and graphs.
Maybe I could just guestimate that some movies makes me more sad than other movies based on the way they touch personal experience? Sure. Let’s do that:
Everything is Illuminated (2005)
What personal experiences could a movie about a neurotic Jewish writer from America wandering the former Soviet Union with an interpreter who doesn’t really speak English and his blind driver of a grandfather grant some dude in Minnesota? It isn’t “Jonfen”‘s search for the lost town where his own grandfather fled from the Nazis and it’s final beautiful resolution. It’s instead in the pairing of the grandson and grandfather that I am caused “distress” (as Eugene Hutz’s character would say). My own grandfather and I weren’t just separated by a generation but by language and culture. He was a Colonel in the Army of El Salvador before becoming a Mover for Bekins in Los Angeles. I was a mix Latino/Anglo who was cuddled in the arms of American pop culture. When I was almost 18, my grandfather made a trip to El Salvador to see his mother before she passed away. I didn’t go. A trip to Central America, in a country that I didn’t speak the language without all the “benefits” of civilization? I was a selfish, stupid kid.
There is a moment in Everything is Illuminated when the grandson looks at his grandfather and sees a whole new person. He doesn’t even recognize this old man as the very same old man who smacked him up the head for hitting the dog, Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. It was close to my grandfather’s death, almost ten years ago, that brought that same sense of “who is this person I’ve known all my life?” It was a slow burn, the dawning realization that I owed everything that I had become to him, by virtue of the fact that he instilled values of strength, love of family, and (ultimately) a faith in what is right into his children.
This movie is a meditation on love, on family, and on the way that “the past casts a glow of understanding onto the present” ( ¹ ). I understand my family, and myself, much more when looking on the life of my grandfather.
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
No major heartbreaking story here. I went through a pretty bad “breakup” in 2006. I got drunk and depressed. I watched this movie in the interim of our first goodbye and our last reunion.Two years later, I bought this in a used DVD bin for $5 after she moved out for the last time. It’s still sealed.