Films are vehicles of empathy and understanding. Because of this, crying while watching one is the ultimate sign of a filmmaker fulfilling their role as a storyteller. These are the scenes that made our writers cry, be it from happiness, sadness or everything in between.
Spoiler caution is advised for all the following films.
The Farewell (2019)
From A24 and director Lulu Wang comes The Farewell. The story follows a family who learns that their grandma, Nai Nai, has a terminal illness but rather than tell her they stage a fake wedding in order to say their goodbyes. While the premise alone may sound quite tearful, the movie plays out mostly like a comedy, celebrating the life of Nai Nai as well as Chinese culture as a whole. We get to see how loved and important this person is in their lives, and we can’t but fall in love as well thanks to a great performance by Zhao Shuzen. That is of course until the final scene. Throughout the movie, we follow Awkwafina’s character Billi who is particularly close to Nai Nai and struggles to hide the truth from her. So, after the wedding and Billi and her family begin their departure back to the US, we have to sit through a tearful goodbye between the characters. The granddaughter can’t explain the truth to her sadness and the harsh reality being that this is likely the last time the two will see each other. The final scene lingers on a tearful Nai Nai as she waves Billi’s taxi away with her getting smaller and smaller, making us wonder, did she know all along? It’s enough to make the most cold-hearted feel melancholy and is all too close to the reality of losing a loved one.
Based on the true story of Saroo Brierly’s attempt to find his family 25 years after being separated from them, it was difficult to choose just one tear-jerking scene from Lion. After an accident leaves five-year-old Saroo on the wrong side of India, Lion follows Saroo’s fight for survival as he tries to find his way back home, eventually being adopted by an Australian couple. As an adult, portrayed by Dev Patel, Saroo is still haunted by his past as a lost child, using Google Earth to locate his hometown in India. Although the storyline is enough of an emotional rollercoaster in itself, it is the end of the film which packs the biggest punch. When Saroo returns to his hometown, he is reunited with his biological mother and little sister, who never gave up hope that he would return home. Saroo also learns that his brother Guddu was killed in a train accident. Eventually the entire village surround Saroo and his family, who reveal that they have been awaiting his safe return. The film ends with footage of the real-life Saroo and his adoptive mother visiting India to meet his biological mother.
Billy Elliot (2000)
The connection between parent and child is complex. It’s often a battle, sometimes fun and occasionally heart-breaking. This film is full of scenes that show all the elements of this relationship.
The scene I’ve chosen is between Tony, the elder brother (Jamie Draven), and Dad (Gary Lewis). Dad makes the ultimate sacrifice for Billy and his dream of dancing by returning to work during the miner strike. Something both him and his son Tony have fought so hard for and lost so much for. Tony, having seen this begs his father to return to the strike. “Give the boy a chance” is repeatedly yelled viscerally. Tony and Dad embrace and cry at the futility of all they’ve fought for and all they are willing to give up for Billy.
I felt this scene. I really felt every ounce of emotion that the actors poured into it. It’s a scene unlike any other in this film. It’s the sacrifice made by Billy’s father that gets me, him truly showing that love by giving up everything for his son. “Give the boy a chance” is the one line from this film that will forever ring in my ears.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Gandalf gives four great speeches in the ‘The Lord of the Rings’/’Hobbit’ films, but his speech to Pippin during the Battle of Pelennor fields is my favourite. It always makes my heart ache, and the best thing is, that there’s so much to unpack here. The words are taken directly from the end of the book, and describes Tolkien’s view of heaven, and they are quite frankly transcendent. But my love for this scene is far deeper than the writing.
During this scene, a young man is seeking help from an older man, a father figure, who has always been harsh, a friend looking for moral help from another friend, and receiving it in bulk. However, a mortal is also seeking help from a Jesus figure, and a Jesus figure is anticipating his return home. It hits home on every emotional level. The scene does what the Lord of the Rings films and books does best. Every time we begin to think that we’re just watching a fantasy romp, lulled into a false sense of security, we are reminded that we couldn’t be more wrong. Scenes elevate the us beyond the bloody action, transcends the film to something greater. Something more deserving of its eleven Academy Awards.
Life is Beautiful (1997)
It is hard to place what exactly makes this scene so gut wrenching. From the sense of relief felt at the sight of the tank, to the wink accompanying Guido’s inevitable death. This ode to life, set during one of the darkest moments in history, rings incredibly relevant in the immortal gesture of a father succeeding in protecting his son.
Many feel that this movie dismisses the horrors of the Holocaust, by introducing comedy in such a tragic situation. However, comedy can be a vehicle of gaining a deeper understanding of pain. Life is Beautiful follows the struggle of a father who embodies what it truly means to be a parent: sacrificing yourself, in service of your children. This concept is taken to the extreme during the horrors of the Holocaust, as he is tasked with both preserving his son’s childhood, while simultaneously keeping him alive.
This scene validates the efforts Guido undertakes throughout the movie. Despite the scepticism the audience might have felt in some of the more over the top comedic scenes, the cathartic reunion between mother and son makes it all fall into place. The image of innocence, as Giosuè smiles seeing the tank, is almost surreal, existing in an environment which wouldn’t have allowed for any. We feel Guido’s presence, even after his death, fulfilling his duty as a father.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
When it comes to emotional movies, you will most definitely see me shedding a few tears. My eyes love to leak tears for films; whether it’s so beautifully made, it’s emotional to watch (pst. Lady Bird. I’m talking to you). Alternatively, if it’s a character death or sad ending (let’s not talk about ANY Pixar film please and don’t even talk to me about La La Land), I am an emotional mess.
Dead Poets Society is that ONE film that makes me sob like a little baby every single time I watch it. Even when I know what’s coming. The first time I watched this film, I remember sitting in my bed curled up into a ball, crying for a solid 30 minutes. Those white boys sure got me good.
Dead Poets Society is the inspiring story of a group of students whose teacher (Robin Williams) inspires them to seize the day and just hearing the score makes me well up. It’s beautiful from start to finish and I always feel SO bad for Neil with each re-watch. My favourite scene has got to be when Todd gets up and reads his poem in front of everyone – the way Keating pushes him to embrace his imagination. It truly is one of the most beautiful scenes in cinematic history. This was the movie that made me fall in love with literature and poetry and I recommend everyone go and watch it if they’re craving a beautifully crafted work of art. Beware, though, it will make you weep. But it’s 100% worth it.
20th Century Women (2016)
I am usually un-phased by stereo-typically emotive scenes in cinema; but that being said, by the end of the final scene of Mills’ coming of age drama, 20th Century Women, I am always a shameless and sobbing mess. With clever use of narration from the protagonists, a dreamy montage of passing time and the use of wistful background melodies, this scene provokes an intense feeling of nostalgia for a time that I have never and will never experience.
This scene is more or less guaranteed to break your heart as much as it always breaks mine, as you are positioned to live vicariously through the characters I have empathised with throughout the film to witness their growth, failures, successes and losses unravel in this tear-wrenching final scene. The use of the 1930’s song, ‘As Time Goes By’, as dying protagonist, Dorothea, rides a mini-jet, especially breaks my heart as it really makes you think of the wonderful times we will never get back. And as the protagonists narrate the progression of their lives beyond the movie; marking their ever-changing relationships, their life choices and even their final years of life, we are gently reminded that nothing in life is eternal and that we should live life to the fullest before it is too late.
Lady Bird (2017)
As a general rule with Lady Bird, if the characters get in a car, be prepared for waterworks of any kind. The very first scenes establishes the mother-daughter relationship: they share a tender moment after listening to an audiobook of Of Mice and Men, which develops into an argument about culture, college, and ends up with Lady Bird throwing herself out of the car. It’s so ridiculously over-the-top, and yet it speaks to the ever-changing nature of some mother-daughter relationships that, well, I cried a fair bit. Some scenes are emotionally underlined with humour: “Did you know Alanis Morissette wrote this song [Hand In My Pocket] in ten minutes?” Lady Bird asks her father. “I believe it!” he replies, laughing at her new discovery, and you sense that for a minute, he’s forgotten about the instability of his job and finances. Cue a few more tears. The film ends how it started – but this time Lady Bird is (literally and metaphorically) in the drivers’ seat: “I wanted to tell you, I love you. Thank you. I’m… thank you” in a voicemail to her mum, brilliantly edited so that shots of Laurie Metcalf and Saorise Ronan overlap one-another, and Jon Brion’s piano score so subtly present. It’s enough to make anyone who’s ever missed their family well up a little. In the words of a hat Taika Waititi was wearing on Instagram the other day, “Make America Greta Again”. I think she’s making the world amazing with her films – even if they do make me cry.
The scene that really make me sob is the climax towards the end of the film, the realisation that Héctor wrote Ernesto de la Cruz’s famous ‘Remember Me’ for his daughter, Coco, whilst he was away on tour. The visuals show Hector’s skeleton body glowing as he starts to get weaker and weaker, making aware to the audience that soon Hector will disappear because no one remembers him in the living world anymore. At this point, Miguel realises that the reason Héctor was helping him to get back to the living world was so that he could see his daughter one more time after never having closure with his family before his death. Miguel realises that Héctor is his relative, the one that apparently abandoned his family and has subsequently been taken out of their family photos and memories.
The film then goes into a flashback of Héctor singing ‘Remember Me’ to a very young Coco, and when Coco sings along it literally makes me bawl. Hector has been ridiculed throughout the land of the dead for his death being caused by food poisoning, but Ernesto de la Cruz actually poisoned him because Héctor wanted to leave the music industry to spend time with his family. Ernesto removed all credit from Héctor, and became famous because of Héctor’s songs. Now, no one remembers Héctor- not even his daughter.
The use of this song is extremely emotional and is pivotal for the resolution of the narrative. Miguel goes back to the human world and sings ‘Remember Me’ to Coco and she remembers her father, and his picture is restored in the household so that people can remember, him and he doesn’t fade away. What’s more beautiful is that Coco passes away and her photo is placed amongst the family shrine, and we know as an audience that Héctor and Coco are finally reunited.
There are many moments in the carefully crafted film directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven that make the tip of your nose prickle and tears start to brew, but it is the final scene that particularly makes my heart ache. This scene pulls on my heart strings with such force as I can imagine exactly how the hug that the film ends on feels. It is a poignant moment of intense sadness and pain, coupled with relief and comfort.
Named after the power of wild horses the sisters are reminiscent of, Mustang tells the story of five orphaned sisters living with their grandmother in rural Turkey. Their freedom becomes increasingly limited until it is nonexistent: they are imprisoned in their own home and forced to marry. The dreamy quality to the film and predominantly female cast is reminiscent of Sophia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) and the shots have an aspect of Francis Lee’s God’s own Country (2017) to it. The film’s score by Warren Ellis enchantedly amplifies and compliments David Chizallet and Ersin Gok’s cinematography.
While the older sisters mostly comply with the oppressive restrictions, the youngest sister, Lale, demonstrates admirable courage and repeatedly pushes against the constraints imposed. It is she, who is the final scene hugs her female teacher, Miss Dilek, after making the perilous journey with her sister Nur to the safety of Miss Dilek’s Istanbul apartment. These are the only two sisters who haven’t been married off or committed suicide. In the clutches of the film’s final moment, it is the duality of thinking back to the torment Lale and her sisters have suffered and the emergence of hope for a brighter future that makes me cry. Lale could finally let go, at least in part, of the tension and pain that she had been carrying. The blessing of relief especially moves me.
Ergüven comments: “At the bottom of this film is the desire to tell what it is to be a girl and a woman in Turkey”.
Last modified: 14th April 2020