You know the feeling. The one that comes on when you’re watching a movie and something emotional happens on the screen. The one that starts in your cheeks, flushing them up a little bit like you just got hit with a blast of heat. The one that shoots down your torso real quick, like a lightning strike, tingling-up various nerve endings for a second before bouncing back up to your face. You blink. You blink again. This time your eyes are a little damp. Blink. Oh god, everything is blurry. Sniff. Blink. Sniff. Liquid is trying to escape most of the holes in your head. Sniff. Blinkblinkblink. Yup, there’s no way around it now. This is happening. A little salty droplet escapes and makes its way toward your chin. You are crying in this movie theater.
What’s your move now, hotshot? Are you going to try to hide it? Play it off like your allergies are acting up, inside a building, 75 minutes after you sat down, out of nowhere and at the exact moment something tear-inducing happened on the screen? No, that won’t work. Maybe pull the old “No, I just, uh, rubbed my eye and I had salt from the popcorn on my fingers and…”? Nope, that won’t fly either because you got Junior Mints instead of popcorn back before the movie started, satisfying your sweet tooth but closing this particular escape hatch. Options are limited and running out quickly. What are you going to do? What’s the plan, tough guy?
Well, how about this: Accept it. Lean into it. Let yourself feel those feelings. Come on. It’s nice. It’s nice. Let the tears trickle down. You’re not fooling anyone anyway.
When was the last time you cried in a movie theater? It’s okay, you can be honest. You can just come out and say it. I won’t judge you. Lord in heaven knows I, of all people, won’t judge you. I cry in the movie theater all the time. Once I went to see a movie with my parents and teared up three separate times before the credits rolled. I remember it like it was yesterday. It wasn’t yesterday, though. It was two days ago, when I saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
But that one was inevitable. Between Tom Hanks becoming Mr. Rogers and Matthew Rhys making a feature-length Philip Jennings face, I never stood a chance. I knew that going in. Let’s look at some other examples. Paddington 2, tears, more than once. Creed. (Most other Rocky movies, really.) When Dobby dies in Harry Potter. The first 10 minutes of Up, obviously. The end of Finding Nemo. Pretty much every Pixar movie, now that I think about it, including Coco, which I watched both in the theater and again at home with my friend’s 8-year-old son, tearing up both times. Click, surprisingly. The end of Furious 7 when Paul Walker’s character literally drives off into the sunset. (I still get a little misty just hearing “See You Again.”) Any movie where a dog dies or is reunited with its owner. Most sports movies. If a dog dies in a sports movie, I’m toast.
I used to get a little embarrassed about how easily I cried in movies. It’s a tough thing to reconcile when you’re, say, 19 years old and filled with testosterone and anxiety. It doesn’t help that there are a million lists online with titles like “Movies That Men Are Allowed To Cry While Watching” and most of the entries are war movies from before 1990, like it’s a) shameful to feel things while watching something designed to make you feel things, and b) only okay to feel things when other big strong men are bleeding out on a battlefield. Show me someone who doesn’t get moist eyes at the end of Paddington 2 and I’ll show you a broken soul who needs a hug more than oxygen. He just wanted a present for Aunt Lucy. Come on!
I care less as I’ve gotten older, and I’m happy about it. It’s still a little weird to find yourself dripping snot in a room filled with strangers, and it’s still weird that I’m about 100 percent more likely to cry in a movie than I am about real-life events. There’s science behind all of this, though, if you’re the type of person who needs to see facts on paper, with numbers and long Latin words and various receptors and glands and chemicals firing this way and that in your brain. I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. All I need to know is that it feels great to experience a movie — or anything — in that way, to be moved to an involuntary emotional reaction by something you’re watching. No one thinks twice about erupting in a big belly laugh when a character gets whomped in the jimmies (I do this, too, lest you think I’m just a one-dimensional reactor), and that’s basically the flip-side of the same involuntary reaction coin. And a movie that makes you do both… well, that’s a pretty great movie. I love those movies.
So, go ahead. Next time you feel the tears starting to well-up a little inside your eyes, right around the second or third blinksniffblink, just make the conscious decision to let them go. Don’t even wipe them away. Just let them run down your cheeks and onto your shirt collar. You’re feeling things. Feeling things is great. It’s what makes you a person, you know? What’s the point of anything if you’re not going to feel something about it?
Yeah. Cry away, buddy. I’ll hand you a tissue for the snot, if you need it. I probably have a few in my pocket, anyway.