Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
This week’s question comes from senior video producer at The Onion, Nick Moore:
“Last Friday, I saw A Wrinkle In Time and they played this trailer for Christopher Robin beforehand. I was briefly off my meds at the time (insurance issue that’s been fixed, don’t worry) and when Winnie The Pooh showed up, I started to cry. So I wanted to know: What are your stories of having strong emotional reactions to pieces of art that don’t really deserve it?”
The Dark Knight Rises is certainly the worst of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, and one of his worst films overall. It has its charms—mostly involving Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy—but it’s confused in a way few of the director’s other films are. That did not stop me from shedding tears at the end of film, as the Hans Zimmer strings pummeled me into submission, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s real name is revealed to be “Robin,” and he begins to ascend in the film’s final moments to presumably launch a new crime-fighting saga. There’s a neatness to the film’s recurrent themes of verticality, and the way its title clicks into place in that moment, that was all a little much for me; also, I was drunk. The next day, still not in my right mind, I got a cat and named him Batman. The movie did not deserve any of these honors, but Batman’s still a good cat.
Man, I’ll get teared up at just about anything these days. Sure, I’m a softie for the usual stuff—Pixar movies, tear-jerking historical dramas, incredible pro wrestling matches that end with the performers showing mutual respect (nope, that’s not my answer, and if you were as deep into this wrestling hole as I am, you’d understand)—but I’ve realized the weirder thing that gets me misty is just witnessing an ambitious, well executed labor of love. The strangest example I can think of is the time I saw Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Children Of Men was a revelatory experience for teenage me, so I had been keeping close tabs on this follow up, hearing about how complex, lengthy, and troubled its production was. When I finally got to see the result on screen, something broke inside me and I spent at least half the movie fighting back tears, not because of anything Sandra Bullock was going through, but because this audacious vision had been pulled off so masterfully.
I don’t cry at movies very often—something I say not to brag about my incredible ability to not feel things, but by way of explaining how odd it is that, one of the few movies I do remember getting choked up over is Cocoon: The Return. Not the original Cocoon, mind, but rather its unnecessary, Brian Dennehy-deficient 1988 sequel. Also, I didn’t get weepy at the death of one of the film’s lovable, senior citizen, human characters, but rather at the suffering of one of the Antareans, a cheap hominid alien who resembles a cross between the Greendale Human Being and a glow-in-the-dark condom. There was just something about the big rescue scene, I guess, where the dying alien is wheezing, helpless in Wilford Brimley’s arms—and definitely something about Wilford Brimley’s burly, sad walrus voice as he explains to a young Courteney Cox, “Well, you see, he’s my friend, and we’re gonna take him home.” Why must mankind behave so selfishly and cruelly? my tender little 10-year-old brain must have thought as I wept. And so began the slow hardening of my soul.
Every morning my final semester of college, I woke up with a stomachache. I had no idea where I’d go after graduation, and the anxiety of imminent, permanent adulthood reduced me to a bundle of nerves. I was a total wreck, which explains why I had a near-breakdown when I heard Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want To Wait” in a grocery store. It’s hard to forget something so utterly mortifying: I was standing next to the pasta sauce in the Schnuck’s on Stadium Boulevard in Columbia, Missouri. This being spring 1998, Cole’s wistful hit was enjoying a long run on Billboard’s Hot 100, buoyed by a recent performance on Saturday Night Live. The song was everywhere, including the PAs of regional Midwestern supermarkets. I stood frozen, the jars of pasta sauce blurring together. It took an amazing amount of effort not to sob uncontrollably right next to the Ragu. After a minute, I wiped my eyes and pulled myself together enough to quickly pay for my groceries and cringe all the way back to my apartment.
I cry at so many things, it’s hard to pin down my over-the-top responses. But for absolutely unreasonableness, I have to go with my reaction to the Sex And The City finale. Sure, I watched for many years with my girlfriends on Sunday nights, drinking our Midwestern version of the Cosmopolitan (Woodchuck cider), but I had no idea I was going to have such a strong response to the show ending. I started crying when Miranda takes care of her senile mother-in-law, and her longtime maid/nanny Magda tells her, “You have love.” I didn’t stop for the rest of the episode, all the way through to the anticlimactic reveal of Big’s name as John. Even my friends looked alarmed; I think I yelled out something like, “What, are you all made of bronze?” (There might have been a few ciders involved.) So although that reaction was a bit extreme, I was also surprised by how much I liked the SATC movie a few years later. Then the heinous sequel SATC2 showed up to wipe out nearly much every good feeling that show had left me with.
I’ve written about this for the site before, but I watched Guardians Of The Galaxy at a very weird time in my life. Back in August of 2014, I was coming off of the worst six months of my life, a stretch in which I’d watched two people I love die in rapid succession—one slow, lingering, and expected, and one so savagely out-of-nowhere that the thought of it can still knock the wind from my lungs. I was looking to get away from myself for an afternoon and just enjoy the silly dumb space dancing movie, so imagine my slowly dawning horror when I realized that the film was going to begin with a weepy parental deathbed scene between young Peter Quill and his ailing mom, mimicking several of the ugly recurring scenes I’d been struggling to excise from my brain for months. I broke down crying in the middle of a semi-crowded theater, and although I stayed through the rest of the picture, it’s always contributed to the nasty taste that movie, and those characters, consistently leave in my mouth. (Although, as a movie snob, I do also think the Guardians are legitimately overrated and not as funny as they think they are; fight me, nerds.) Looking back, I can acknowledge that my reaction wasn’t really the movie’s fault—a lot of my takes from that year were outsize and a little deranged—but it’s always stood out for how unexpected it was to get slapped like that by a lighthearted superhero flick.
I’ve already written how becoming a father has turned me into an easily manipulated mound of sentimental garbage. I haven’t lost my discernment of pop culture, but I have lost all ability to protect myself from emotional manipulation. And to my surprise, what happened with children is also applicable with chickens. My wife got three of those chubby little dinosaurs for our backyard and I’ve become really fond of the ridiculous creatures. I’ve been watching the Lost In Space reboot and the second episode has Don West saving a chicken from a shattered spaceship about to crash into a ravine. And of all the dramatic arcs on the show, I’ve been most concerned about the fate of Debbie. As Erik Adams points out in his series recap, it’s obvious that nothing is going to happen to the kids. But the chicken? Lord, who knows what could happen to that chicken? I still eat chicken, so my concern is obviously worthless. But when I see one of those dumb, confused little creatures stranded on an alien planet, completely at the mercy of external forces, I get really worked up.
Show me the most artistically pure and genius creation of human drama, and I will sit stone-faced like an Easter Island statue. But give me the cheapest, most gratuitously button-pushing emotional manipulation imaginable, and I will start crying in an ugly, ugly way. This has happened time and again throughout my life, but it began in earnest when I was a teenager. Which is how I found myself shedding tears after renting the Harrison Ford movie Air Force One. Yes, the film about the American president single-handedly beating up Russian criminals who hijack his plane got me all choked up, thanks to a fleeting scene in which William H. Macy’s military advisor tells Ford’s commander-in-chief to get off the plane before it crashes. It’s a brief moment, but it’s also an acknowledgment that Macy’s serviceman is willing to die for his president without a second thought. I started quietly weeping at this hokey nonsense; thank god there were a bunch of spicy jalapeños in the dip on the table in front of me at the time, allowing for a plausible excuse.