I’m a crier. No point in pretending otherwise. I’ve been caught unawares by Kodak and Hallmark commercials, by love songs on the radio, by Cliff Eberhard singing, “My Father’s Shoes,” and Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses” … a song I don’t even like. I’ve written here about crying both times I’ve had to fire a teacher. I am, as Valerie would say, “all emo and sh__” (I mean, of course, in the sappy, sentimental, weepy way, not in the cutting way).
My sister and I went to see Dances with Wolves the Saturday after it opened. On a frigid November morning we arrived early for the first show to beat the lines. We picked our favorite center-of-the-back-row seats, and we watched.
(If you haven’t seen this movie but think you might one day, there are spoilers here.)
My sister cried when the horse was killed, cried when the wolf was killed because those scenes were really wrong and sad and because she is ‘all emo’ about animals. I cried, too. And there were other crying moments for both of us.
As the film neared its end, I started crying. The Lakota have eluded the cavalry, Kostner and Mary McDonnell are riding off together, just about everyone has lived to fight another day. But I am crying. I am more than crying, I am melting down, sobbing just about uncontrollably.
Fox tried to stem the flood. “It has a kind of happy ending,” she said. “They got away.”
Yeah. They got away that day. We saw the cavalry two and a half steps behind them with their Pawnee trackers. We know it’s only a matter of time before they run their prey to ground.
But none of that was the point, anyway. I wasn’t crying about the movie.
When I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I read it in transit from my Brooklyn apartment to my job in Harlem and spent the long stretches of my commute raging and crying on the subway. I would arrive at school red-eyed, furious and impotent, wanting to lash out at someone, hold someone responsible for all the destruction I was reading. It’s a wonder I wasn’t picking fights with strangers on the street.
In that movie theater with Fox, I wasn’t crying about what we’d seen. I was crying about what had actually happened — to Sioux, to Cherokee, to Nez Percé, to Ute, to native peoples all over North America. Just as I had when I’d read Bury My Heart, I was crying about history.
… And I couldn’t stop. Fox didn’t know how to help me. I was a mess. She went to the concession stand and got me some napkins. She kept trying to explain how there were positive things to see in the ending, ways a continued storyline might not be wholly bleak. Nothing doing.
Yes, I’m a crier, and of course that means I’m a movie-crier, but never anything like that. Even in Gorillas in the Mist I was able to function post-movie. No, the Dances with Wolves experience was groundbreaking. Even as I was crying I was surprised.
Finally an usher came over. He and the rest of the crew had finished cleaning the theater. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, “but you’re going to have to move to the lobby. I have to seat the next show.”
Yeah, could I please go cry in the lobby? (But that isn’t fair because he was very nice about it, and he couldn’t hold up the day’s schedule for one hyper-sensitive woman.)
I mopped myself up a bit and Fox and I headed out to the lobby … which was full of the sold-out crowd for the next show. Full of people watching me — a complete basket case, still weeping quietly — walk out of the screening room they were about to enter. They looked horrified, surely all were wondering what they’d gotten themselves into, what exactly they were about to see.
They helped me. Seeing their faces made me laugh, broke the crying jag and let me get myself together.
Ah, but I said this was a two-fer, didn’t I? Yeah, that would be because that DWW experience wasn’t as much of an aberration as I would have liked to believe. Fast forward to 1994 and me walking alone and unsuspecting into the first-class second-run theater that only charged a dollar a show … There I was, cheap ticket in one hand, bag of over-priced popcorn in the other, strolling in to see Once Were Warriors. Clueless.
No spoilers here. See this movie. It’s painful, but worth it.
I watched it. As it ended, I was crying DWW-style. The theater emptied and the ushers came in. One passed me as he was sweeping a row. He looked at me and stopped.
“But don’t you think the movie had a kind of uplifting ending?”
(He went off, came back to offer me some tissues, went off and came back.)
“You’re still crying!”
“Yeah, I am.”
(Moment of silence in which he stood there watching me cry.)
“Well, we’re almost done. Would you like to sit through the movie again?”
(I had to stop crying then so I could stare at him in surprise.) “You trying to kill me? You see what one viewing did to me!”
“But maybe if you watched it again, you’d see it the way I do, see that there’s hope at the end.”
I declined, but I liked that. It made me laugh a little, made me feel a less like the world was a soulless void (yeah, now there’s a rave movie review if I ever heard one!).
I’m still not sure what it was about those two films … or about me going to see those films. I cry in the movies regularly (not like a plan or anything, it just happens), but I haven’t had another of those wrenching, oh-such-a-headache- the-next-day episodes since Once Were Warriors.
is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.