A monkey made me cry the other day. Not even a real monkey, but an actor in a computer-generated chimpanzee suit. Try going to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and not feel your tear glands getting a little agitated.
Let’s be clear: I didn’t cry, per se, but I was undeniably “welling up”. Completely ignorant of the older Planet movies, I did not really know what to expect. I knew I would see plenty of action, stunning special effects, some freakishly hirsute apes, Freida Pinto looking gorgeous as usual, and Michele Bachmann somewhere in the back shaking her head and tutting: “There is no way we evolved from these brutes.” At no point did I consider that my tear glands might be treated to a workout. From John Lithgow’s poignant portrayal of James Franco’s Alzheimer-touched father to main monkey Caesar’s humanlike attachment to his adoptive family – and his springing to its defense in the face of harm – the film was unashamedly saturated with Disney moments.
“Disney moments” is the term I use for teary episodes during movies. I think I first coined this phrase after watching Cars at the theater with a couple of buddies. At the touching Disney moment, when simpleton truck Mater sensitively confesses to protagonist Lightning McQueen that he was his “beeeeeerst frieeeyend” (“best friend” in Larry the Cable Guy diction), the audience, caught in the Disney bubble of sentimentality, became as quiet as a mute person in a silence contest at a library. With the exception of one of my friends, who burst into inexplicable, uncontrollable laughter, assumingly embarrassed by the schmaltziness. “Great,” I whispered as disconcerted faces turned to him with scowling looks, their immersion into enchanting fairytale land shattered suddenly by his incongruous chuckling, “you just ruined the Disney moment.” The Disney moment should be cherished: it is the emotional turning point in a movie that will eventually drive the hero to accomplish whatever needs to be done. Disney moments should generate awe in an audience, and a couple of tears shed in the visceral detection of this awe is a natural and healthy reaction.
Or is it? For men, at least, is it acceptable to well up during a movie? Don’t get me wrong: it’s not as if I reach frantically for the Kleenexes in the middle of Die Hard or Terminator. But some movies do tug incessantly at the heartstrings, to the point that I feel that male viewers are secretly being jeered at and ridiculed by a panel of macho judges somewhere. I think Sly Stallone, Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are in an undisclosed location someplace, sitting in a room filled with guns, beer and pictures of Tom Selleck’s mustache, peeking at hundreds of little TV screens which show the reactions of men watching romantic comedies and bittersweet dramas, while these men are unaware of the fact that the ultramasculine trio have planted cameras in living rooms and theaters everywhere, as a means to mock those of us more susceptible to blubbering.
I’m ashamed to admit that it has gotten to the point where I started welling up during Click. Yes – the Adam Sandler flick about a remote control. A monkey is one thing. But tearing up because of a remote control? Tearing up in a movie whose ending was: “it was all a dream.” How pathetic is that? I’ll admit wholeheartedly that I am a sucker for formulaic, Sandler-esque comedies, but when it reaches the extent at which they are making me sob – that is something I would be less inclined to disclose. Still, I can attempt to rationalize this uncomfortable deed by explaining that, actually, Click does contain more than its fair share of Disney moments. There is the moment when his father, played affectionately by Henry Winkler, dies without Sandler having uttered a kind word to him for a long time; and then Sandler himself ends up on his deathbed, surrounded by his children and estranged wife. (No need to panic, I repeat: at the end, it’s all a dream). These are pretty profound issues for a man whose films have previously consisted of him teaching an adopted boy how to piss against a wall (Big Daddy, incidentally, is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ll explain another time). But here’s the thing: bring out your pretentious talons and claw at Sandler all you want; criticize and despise his motion picture template to your heart’s content, but the man is truly not a bad actor by any means. He’s believable and convincing – even in the laid-back, easygoing characters he usually plays, probably because they’re so similar to his own character – and that is the key to a great performance. If I can believe that he is dying; if I can believe that he deeply regrets the way in which he treated his father – which I can – then this is what turns me into a crybaby. Surely, good acting – breaking down the fourth wall and all that jazz – is supposed to provoke your senses and fire up your emotions. And what can I say: it works on me. This is why I have never brought myself to watch The Notebook: if I can’t control myself during Click, what chance do I have of holding it together during one of the most maudlin “weepies” of the past decade? Vin Diesel and co. would be pissing in their jockstraps.
I have been absorbed in ER reruns lately. I used to follow the show every Thursday night; it followed Friends, a childhood favorite of mine, and I began to get hooked by the effortlessly drawn storylines. I hate to repeat myself, but “effortless” is truly the best word to describe this legacy of television history. Revolutionary in being the first (and only true) hospital drama, it was a tearjerker, though not in the same sense of the word as the films mentioned earlier. It was never intentionally schmaltzy or sappy, rather painfully accurate and staggeringly realistic. The writing was flawless, the dialogue never being contrived nor clichéd, and the main characters’ plotlines were weaved so naturally around the chaos and energy of the emergency room. In its heyday, even the seemingly lackluster episodes would, in the space of a second, take a 180-degree turn and things would start to spiral out of control, and in the aftermath of patients spontaneously combusting and doctors getting arms severed by helicopter propellers, the writers would make you hate yourself for ever doubting them.
“Aren’t “spontaneous combustion” and “realistic writing” ingredients for an oxymoron?” you might ask. Quite the opposite, I think. The writers would follow scenes of blood, vomit and general pandemonium with the most pacified, restrained scenes, and it was this obvious juxtaposition that – just like in real life – felt so stupefyingly moving, and that’s exactly the point at which you would feel that embarrassing choking sensation at the back of your throat. It was only a few hours ago, incidentally, that I watched the episode in which the amiable, wise mentor, Dr. Green (not too amiable, not too wise, and not too mentoring, though: remember – the characters were painted without clichés) learns that he has an inoperable brain tumor; a frenzied scene where Dr. Carter attempts to suppress a sudden, violent seizure induced by the tumor is juxtaposed with the poignant scene when Green has to inform his fiancée, Elizabeth, of the devastating news. ER is so realistic that although it chokes viewers up continually, its Disney moments are distinctively produced through – here it is again – its effortless study and depiction of human nature and life.
So, in these cases, where the writing and acting are so strong that you can’t help but shed a tear or two, does “welling up” become permissible for men? I say: have no shame. This is why they personify the vehicles in Cars, and why they get an actor (Andy Serkis) to play the chimp in Apes – so that we can see and feel the human emotion. And it’s no coincidence, Michele Bachmann, that the animals rising are apes and not octopuses or Komodo dragons – because apes are so similar to us that we can relate to their feelings. Call me a crybaby, but it is the job of writers and actors to move us and to stir in us some sort of reaction, and if this reaction happens to be a little watery, then so be it. Otherwise I feel as if I’m doing a disservice to the people in show business, and it’s evident that they care an awful lot about what I think. Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, all this talking about emotions has got me a little worked up so I need to go and break open that Costco-sized crate of Kleenexes that I bought the other day. Excuse me, but I think I’m about to have a Disney moment.
Hey, Dwayne Johnson, stop judging. You were in a movie called Tooth Fairy so you can shut up.
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