In mid-January, on the day the Oscars were announced, I wrote a piece about the Oscar nominations. In response to a comment on that piece, I listed Inside Out as my #6 film of the year. A month and a half later, when I published my Year in Film, it was listed at #3 for the year. What happened in between? Well, Starz happened in between, as it started airing Inside Out the weekend of the Oscars. Since it kept coming on and it’s something we’re definitely okay with Thomas watching, we kept putting it on. The more I watched it, the more I found myself moved by it. It wasn’t the moment that everyone talks about either, the moment when Bing-Bong sacrifices himself so that Joy can make it back, so that Riley can be saved. It’s the end of the film, when the emotions can’t seem to bring Riley back, when she’s losing the capacity to feel anything at all.
I would think about that moment as Mad Max was airing on HBO and again, at the end of the weekend, when it was winning Oscar after Oscar. What I disliked so much about that film was that it evoked no feelings in me at all. There were no characters, there was no story – there was nothing that made me feel. I wondered how it was nominated for Best Picture and a film that delved so deeply into emotional truth had not.
When they realize that they might be losing Riley, that she can’t feel anything, well that’s the most tragic moment in the film. But that’s not the point of this post. It’s what comes afterwards, after Joy and Sadness make it back inside and restore Riley’s ability to feel. Joy realizes that Sadness needs to be a part of the core memories. And that reminded me of a line that has been going through my head a lot lately.
“Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness and love.” That’s Sarah Jane talking to the Doctor in “School Reunion“, one of the best Doctor Who episodes. She is reminding him, during a moment where he has a chance to change reality and wipe away the horrible things that have happened, that those things are a part of him. In Batman Begins, Alfred reminds Bruce that we fall so that we can learn how to pick ourselves back up. We cry, so that we remember how to feel.
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” That’s what Westley says in The Princess Bride, a film that always makes me laugh and sometimes can make me cry. Because when the Grandfather says “as you wish” at the end of the film, it reminds us of love, that love is the binding force of the universe. And sometimes love will makes us cry.
There have been a few different things that keep cycling through for me lately, all of which make me cry, all of which remind me that I can feel. To feel is to be alive, and as Bruce says, “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”
I cry during Inside Out, because of the tragedy that a child Riley’s age could become so lost that she would lose the capacity to feel. But I also cry because I know what she is going through – I moved when I was six and it took me years to cope with a completely different reality. I even moved to California like Riley and I left behind the snow that I loved so much and I was in this strange new world where it was just hot all the time. I understand that moment when you feel so different (I was put in speech therapy because they felt my inability to pronounce the letter “r” constituted a speech impediment rather than a New York accent). But I hope I don’t ever end up like Riley was heading at the end of the film, because I do watch these films and I do read these books and listen to these songs and let them make me cry.
I cry when I listen to Hamilton. Oh, not during the same song as Veronica, when they start to sing “It’s Quiet Uptown” and the Hamiltons cope with the unimaginable. I cry during “Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story” because I know what it’s like to write like you’re running out of time. I’ve spent my whole life feeling like I was running out of time. I cry because Eliza lived another 50 years after burying her son after one duel and her husband after another. I cry because Eliza is right, that in spite of raising funds for the Washington Monument, in spite of telling her husband’s story, in spite of speaking out against slavery, she is right to be proudest of the orphanage. I saw one comment online where the person said “Come on, tell me what you’re proudest of, after this show I can take anything, ORPHANS? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? uncontrollable sobbing.” I agree. Those two lines – “You write like you’re running out of time” and “Can I tell you what I’m proudest of” make me cry every time I listen to them. It reminds me that our capacity to care for other human beings, to reach out, to feel, is our greatest gift.
I cry for loss, for loss I thankfully haven’t had to cope with, for loss I hope I won’t have to deal with for a very long time. I cry in Into the Woods, when the Baker’s Wife suddenly appears and says “Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood / Do not let it grieve you, no one leaves for good.” I cry for the same reason that I cry every time I watch In America. Hell, I cry when talking about In America, and when I wrote a full review of it here, I cried when writing about it. I cry because of the words “Say goodbye to Frankie,” perhaps the saddest words I have ever heard in a film, and it never stops me from watching it. Those two moments are flip sides of the same coin – the pain and loss the define us. The Baker is reminded that his wife may be gone, but he has his memories of her. People are never gone so long as we remember them. I was reminded of that powerfully in January. At the same time that one family member was having severe health problems, I was sent a music file. For most people, an old cassette tape of an older man singing converted to MP3 wouldn’t make them cry. But that was my grandfather, who died 20 years ago, singing “Danny Boy”, his favorite song. Then, an added touch, in the background was my uncle talking, my uncle who died 17 years ago. And there they both were – as alive in my memory as they had once been in the flesh.
But In America is the other side of that. You can’t just live in the past. There is a time when you have to let things go and remember how to live. That’s what is so beautiful about Eliza’s song at the end of Hamilton. She looks back, she helps to build the monument, she tells his story. But what she is proudest of are those orphans. She is looking forward.
After all, that’s another play that makes me cry, those final moments of Angels in America when we are reminded that the world only spins forward. And the reason we cry is because of our capacity to feel. “More life.” That’s what we’re told at the end of Angels.
That is life: the ability to feel. The capacity for love. The tragedy of pain and sorrow. That is why we cry. For the same reason that Joy has Sadness touch all of those core memories. Because of exactly what Sarah Jane says: “Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness and love.” We cry to remind us that we are alive.