I know, blogs (including this one) are always asking what movies make you cry. But I'm curious about what kinds of films make you cry, and whether a true story is more apt to have you reaching for the tissue box. And is it worse if the film is a documentary?

This weekend I finally got around to watching Cinematical favorite Dear Zachary, a personal documentary by Kurt Kuenne about the tragic murder of his childhood friend. It's a very heartbreaking story, and Kuenne was certainly intent on squeezing out as many tears as his audience is able to spill. My girlfriend, who tends to weep during movies both tragic and happy (though never as much as the infamous crying wife), was a mess by the end of Dear Zachary, admitting that it's the saddest movie she's ever seen. Possibly because it was so real.

I, on the other hand, was dry-eyed. Not that I'm a heartless or cold individual. I was plenty upset by the story in Dear Zachary. I just tend not to cry during documentaries, no matter how gut-wrenching they may be. Is it because I accept that people die and bad things happen in real life every day? Maybe. But then why do I cry occasionally during non-documentaries? Specifically, the only movie I recall bringing me to a bawling wreck is the Japanese animated film Grave of Fireflies. And the last time I really cried during a movie was in the first part of Pixar's Up.
It may seem strange that I cry for "cartoon characters" but not for real people in non-fiction films, but I think it may have something to do with how animation puts me in a more wide-eyed, childlike state, allowing for things to more easily affect my emotions. There are plenty of live-action fiction films, such as Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves, that at least make my eyes water up and glisten for a moment. But I can't think of any docs that have made me well up. Put a lump in my throat, maybe, but not tears in my eyes.

Of course, a lot of it does have to do with the filmmaker's interest in the audience's tear ducts in the first place. Directors of dramas go for the gut and the glands purposefully, particularly with their use of music cues. Documentarians have traditionally been more journalistic and therefore less targeted at the emotions (this has been changing in recent years, I think). Such intent may cause a viewer to cry more when Harvey Milk is assassinated in the drama Milkthan in the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk.

And Kuenne uses dramatic tools to his advantage in provoking a tearful reaction to his story. I wonder how often a movie not meant to be a hankie-fest actually becomes one (for normal folk, not the crying wife). I certainly don't mean to dismiss the tragedy of Dear Zachary, but had it been presented in a tone and format closer to any number of television shows focused on similar cases of murder, would it have felt as tragic? Still, if the story were remade as a dramatic film, I honestly can't imagine it being so effective.

To bring the issue more up to date, hasThe Cove's employment of dramatic tools caused more tears in viewers, particularly during the climactic, blood-soaked montage?

What kind of movie makes you weep? Are you more likely to be cry in a documentary or a fiction film?
categories Cinematical