When Boys Cry

I’m man enough to admit it . . .

I cry at the movies.

Set some mawkish scene before me with all the right dramatic elements, insert several well-timed bathetic lines of dialogue, cue the magnanimous, maudlin swell of a Hans Zimmer or James Newton Howard score, and in seconds flat – Reason, be damned! – I’m that blubbering fool Charly McClain sang about all those years ago.

Time and experience can leave us calloused in many ways. We’re more cynical. Not as easily swayed by spurious displays of sentiment. But movies invite us to deliberately suspend judgment in exchange for a couple hours of willful emotional exploitation.

When life fails to move us, we turn to the movies.

The evening before I went back to work I pulled The Green Mile off the shelf. For emotional manipulation, Stephen King is my drug of choice. And Frank Darabont’s adaptation of this mesmerizing tale of forgiveness and compassion is a personal favorite. I’ve seen The Green Mile maybe ten times and the subtle way in which the supernatural elements illuminate the grittiness of life never fails to draw me in.

And I always end up crying.

Several times.

Watching John Coffey, “like the drink, only not spelt the same,” take back the tumor destroying the warden’s wife. Hearing Arlen Bitterbuck pensively contemplate what heaven will be like. As Paul Edgecombe shakes an innocent man’s hand before they roll on two. I get these scenes. They resonate with me in ways that are familiar. Like an old friend sharing some pithy anecdote. Nuggets of grace given to shed a smidgen of light and hope upon the rocky road called life.

I am moved. And I cry.

But this time, I didn’t cry alone.

My nine year old son Ethan got drawn in as well. When it became obvious that John Coffey wasn’t going to escape his date with ol’ Sparky, Ethan got off the couch and wandered over to the computer to play a game. He’s an astute observer when it comes to movies, has a way of discerning when bad things are about to happen, and like most children will seek to avoid those moments however possible. But he kept glancing over his shoulder. While the game repeated its monotonous soundtrack, he ignored the noise and watched intently as the story revealed Coffey’s innocence. It made no sense to him. How could they execute a man who had done nothing wrong? He made his way back to the couch for the final scenes. And as Coffey walked the green mile, I heard him sniff. I watched as he hid his face behind a blanket and wiped his eyes. I reached over and drew him close. Rested his head on my lap. And we cried. Shook with grief as an innocent man, “one of God’s perfect creatures,” died.

As is our custom, when the movie ended we watched some of the extra features where they show how the movie was made. We talked about how Michael Clarke Duncan is only an actor portraying a part, and he’s still very much alive. He knows all this. But none of that mattered when John Coffey died. John had become an amazing friend with a heart as large as his biceps. And we hated to see him suffer.

I’d done this all before, many years ago at the end of Titanic with my oldest son Ty. And I had the same chat with him then as I did with Ethan last Sunday night. We talked about how it’s alright to be moved. To feel compassion. To care about others so much that our throats tighten, our breath catches, and we shed a tear.

Maybe movies are more than just an escape from reality. Perhaps they usher us into a place where we can experience empathy safely. And from there we can engage life with a small amount of that most glorious of emotions still intact.

And we won’t be afraid to cry . . .

19 thoughts on “When Boys Cry

  1. “Maybe movies are more than just an escape from reality. Perhaps they usher us into a place where we can experience empathy safely.”

    Very astute. My daughter picks out very emotional movies when she’s nearing her ‘time’. She knows they’ll make her cry and she needs to safely release all that pent up emotion she knows there is no other reasons for.

  2. One my absolute favorite movies, Brian. Glad to know that there are men besides my husband who teach their sons that it’s ok to cry sometimes.

  3. Hey! You know how you once said that your writing meandered?

    No more.

    This was fabulous.

    (PS. What’s this new comment requirement? name, email, website, etc. Also, tell photochild to rise to the new challenge, “Top Drawer”.

  4. You took the time to talk to your son about the movie. That will stay with him for a long time. My children and I have cried through “The Green Mile” a few times. I’m glad to see there are others who aren’t embarrassed to cry.

    This is a great post!

  5. This post was lovely.

  6. Brian,
    I frequently plagiarize parenting skills from your post. The last four paragraphs of this post will be referenced in years to come.

    Just like when you and your oldest stole away to the Dream Theater show, I love that you find ways to live with your children. I hope to do the same! I see the Iron Giant with my boy Malachi in my near future.

    Thanks for this glimpse into our life.

  7. I saw GM when it was in the theaters and thought that it would be the role for which Duncan would always be known.

    Another flick that hits me in a similar way is Mr. Roberts. It’s a standard WWII flick that has a good balance of comedy, drama, and most of all, redemption. You can’t go wrong with Fonda, Lemmon, and Cagney in the same flick.

    As for your earlier post (Ritual de lo Habitual), you pull cr@p like that again and I will make the thousand mile trip to see you and set you straight (that’s the Southerner in me talking).

    You’ve got way too much talent to check out on something like that.

    Love you ‘cuz!

  8. I come from a long line of criers, men and women both. My grandfather cried like a baby, my dad cries, my husband cries. We all cry. It’s healthy, although I have to say I cry way too easily at movies. Kung Fu Panda, case in point. Even my 9-year-old didn’t cry at that one.

    Good for you to cry and to show your son that it’s fine to own all his emotions.

  9. Beautifully written, Brian. I also cry at movies, but I think women are somewhat expected to do so. One of the only times it embarrassed me was when two friends and I went to see Cold Mountain. I had tears streaming down my face when Jude Law stumbled and it was obvious he was going to die. My friends were dry-eyed and never asked me to another movie (but then again, they aren’t really movie people anyway). My husband knows to expect me to cry at movies, and I tend to think a good cry is therapeutic. One of the most beautiful things about art is that when it is good, it moves us. To resist that is to become a little less human, IMHO.

    When I took my son to see My Dog Skip when it first came out, we both were blubbering when Skip died. He leaned over to me as I put my arm around him. He whispered, “Mom? I never want to watch this movie again, okay?” He’s a sensitive guy who has a cat and treats her like a baby. He pays for her vet visits and anything she needs. He’ll be a great dad someday.

    Thanks for a great post. I’m glad you’re a guy who cries. The world needs more of you.

    Peace – D

  10. When boys cry – and so do men – loved the post, I guess I’m glad when I go to the Movies – because it’s soooo dark!!! But then I should also shed my tears in the light.

  11. Brian,

    My summer vacation starts in a week. I’m going to watch this movie. Always meant too, but knowing how it ended, have avoided it. A little afraid of those emotions I guess. Maybe I like to go to the movies for happy endings. Maybe I was scarred for life when I saw Old Yeller at the age of way-too-young.


  12. Sounds like you’re raising a sensitive son. He’ll make a wonderful husband some day. The most amazing men are those who are sensitive and caring. Great post and great blog too. ~Karen

  13. I loved every word of this.

    I cry at movies all the time (and at music, too, but that’s another story). It makes more sense to me to let it out, than to try not to cry (which never works anyway).

    This was beautifully written.

  14. This was lovely stuff.

    Oddly enough, movies never really do it for me, (except for ‘The Champ’) but music can really hit me in the guts at the right moment.

  15. Very nice post. Wonderful insight. Thanks!

  16. Wow, I couldn’t agree more re safe empathy, movies and music are dangerous like that with me – I still cry just thinking about My Girl (yeah ok I’m a girl and I am a soppy one). Some therapists recommend “sad” movies to the patients that find it hard to cry, it is a release mechanism for them. Thanks for sharing this one, its fab!

  17. I stumbled here through sphere and by accident… your post nearly moved me to tears, first for picking out some of the most poignant moments of that film – on my top ten – and second for the beautiful scene of father and son. THank you for sharing that with the world, congratulations on your insightful/inbtuitive parenting, and for making one reluctant though diehard cynic sniffle unexpectedly.

  18. your post is so beautiful. and it had me crying. i am a guy that is a crier at movies. so good to see another man teaching his son nothing wrong with tears. this made me remember watching MY GIRL with my family the wife and my two stepsons we layed on floor together, we all were bawling like babies together. after movie we all cried ourselfs to sleep that night. just wanted to let you know you not alone . and thankks for the good cry from this post. oh yeah i always bawl my eyes out with the green mile too.

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