"You're a pansy, a sissy, a mama's boy!" Friends, I've heard them all.
But then, I'm a crier.
Crying is often a response to frustration, to a recognized gap between how the world is and how the world ought to be. But the biggest frustration of all is that our culture frowns on men who let the tears flow, especially when the cause is just a movie.
That's a gap we aim to rectify. These films aren't just great — they're also great excuses to pass the Kleenex to the nearest dude. So let it out. We promise not to call you any names.
» The setup: Shane (Alan Ladd) rides into town to help a group of farmers stand up to the ranchers who want them off their land. It's inevitable that this lone drifter will win, of course, but it's not just that he defeats the bad guys (most notably Wilson, played by Jack Palance); it's that he does it while wearing a white hat. "As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary," Ernest Hemingway wrote. In young Joey (Brandon De Wilde), we see our own search for heroes, and when Shane ultimately leaves town, we mourn our inability to find them.
» The lesson: "There's no living with a killing."
» Starts getting "dusty" when: Wilson shoots Torrey, a local farmer.
» Turn on the waterworks when: The hero rides away. "Shane! Come back!"
» Also see: "The Champ"
"Old Yeller" (1957)
» The setup: Is there a more memorable movie ending than that of "Old Yeller"? Certainly there is none more shocking. After defending his adopted family against all manner of attacks, Old Yeller gets rabies and must be shot. But it's not just that young Travis (Tommy Kirk) has to kill his best friend that makes us cry; it's his realization that the world is an unfair place, that death comes to us all, that eventually everyone must grow up. Never was there a more abrupt loss of innocence. It is the child for whom we mourn.
» The lesson: The first cut is the deepest.
» Starts getting "dusty" when: Yeller saves the youngest child, Arliss, from a rabid bear.
» Turn on the waterworks when: Travis says he'll shoot Old Yeller himself.
» Also see: "Brian's Song"
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)
» The setup: Everybody remembers this film as some sort of corny paean to forgotten American values, but often lost is how low director Frank Capra and company let Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey sink. Most men live lives of soft resignation, the grand glories of this world beyond their reach, and few get to be like the kind of heroes we grew up idolizing. But to love, to care for, to protect? George's ultimate redemption shows us the honor, courage and heroism in doing these things, in living a quiet life with conviction.
» The lesson: The power of goodness can bring about change.
» Starts getting "dusty" when: George returns home after begging God to live again, with the wild ecstasy of a madman. "Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan!"
» Turn on the waterworks when: Harry Bailey toasts his older brother: "To George Bailey, the richest man in town."
» Also see: "Antwone Fisher"
» The setup: "You're 5-foot-nothin', 100-and-nothin', and you have barely a speck of athletic ability," the groundskeeper tells Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin), who longs to play football for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. But achieving his dream is only part of what makes Rudy a hero: By chasing his goals against all odds, the diminutive linebacker becomes an inspiration.
» The lesson: Follow your bliss and believe in yourself.
» Starts getting "dusty" when: The crowd at Notre Dame begins chanting Rudy's name.
» Turn on the waterworks when: Rudy runs out onto the field and sacks the opposing team's quarterback for the last play of his collegiate career.
» Also see: "Hoosiers"
"Field of Dreams" (1989)
The setup: If the ability to make men cry was, by itself, a sign of greatness, this film would be "Citizen Kane." Ease his pain? Ease our pain. Wounds can be passed on through generations, and when a father's dream is left unrealized, it's often left to the son to carry his torch. But it's an understanding more than a realization that makes this film so special: an understanding that parents are people too.
The lesson: If you build it, he will come.
Starts getting "dusty" when: James Earl Jones gives an extended monologue about the generational importance of baseball. "People will come, Ray."
Turn on the waterworks when: "Hey dad, you wanna have a catch?"
Also see: "Big Fish"
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