Why Do You People Like Depressing Movies?

I don’t like to whip out the “you people” phrase very often, but this is a self-selecting category (I believe)–and one that I’m most definitely not a part of. Denisa and I watched the Great Expectations mini-series (really just a three hour movie) the last couple of days, and while it’s far from the most depressing film I’ve seen (arguably not really depressing at all), it had plenty of depressing elements to it.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t watch it. There’s some solid performances in it–especially Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham. The first and third episodes are extremely strong, although the second is a fair letdown. Definitely the weakest of the three. Still, it’s a 7.5/10 for me. And that’s even with my distaste of depressing movies.

But back to that topic. Tear jerkers. I completely, 100% do not understand their appeal. This is a conundrum that goes back to high school. I remember going on a date with my girlfriend to see Circle of Friends, a movie I have somehow managed to completely block from my memory, even if the date itself still is memorable. Memorable, because I can still remember looking over at my date toward the end of the movie to see her sitting there sobbing. And then I looked around the theater and saw another guy there with his date, and she was sobbing too. And that guy and I exchanged a look that said “Do you have any idea why in the world they’re enjoying this?”

And the answer was clear: no. No we did not. (Jaimey, do you happen to remember this movie? Care to offer me an explanation almost twenty years after the fact? I really should have just asked you at the time . . .)

If it’s a movie based on a true story–Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan, to name two Spielberg samples–then I get the idea behind it. Present history as accurately as drama will allow. But what about made up dramas? I simply don’t get how watching (or reading) something that turns out to be nothing but a downer . . . can be entertaining.

It’s why I stopped watching Mad Men. The show was about awful people doing awful things to each other, and I never really saw any signs that things were ever going to get any better. I have enough awful in my life without inviting it in through the television screen. Is it because if you watch a movie about people who have worse lives than you do, suddenly your own life seems brighter in contrast?

I’m not trying to be pithy–I really would like to know.

Of course, I’m not sure why I want to know. I have no real desire to change–to become the sort of person who likes depressing movies. But I’m usually all for understanding where other people are coming from, and this is one area that I could really use some pointers on. So please enlighten me.

3 thoughts on “Why Do You People Like Depressing Movies?”

  1. Jessica Albert

    I don’t watch depressing movies often, and never with my husband (he’s still scarred from a similar high school date to Legends of the Fall). My reason: sometimes it just feels good to cry, to have an outlet, and the be able to let it go and move on without any personal baggage attached. I recall an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where his wife would occasionally take her alone time to have a good cry–Ray, of course, didn’t get it and zaniness ensued. Its a rare situation where I’m allowed to be an emotional puddle.

  2. brian a. clements

    In those of use who feel emotion strongly, emotion provoking film or art it is a cathartic experience. It helps us to put more meaning to the emotions we experience in every day life. It is enjoyable to cry my eyes out. After having one of the most difficult periods of my life I went to a theater alone and watch Les Miserables and cried for hours. When it was over I felt better. I know I’m admitting to being female on some level here. If I remember the origins of theater and the arts I believe this is why they were originally created.

  3. Jess–I remember hearing horror stories of that date for years. YEARS. 🙂 Interesting to hear about people wanting to turn into puddles. It’s not something I’ve ever felt the desire for. I don’t doubt the desire, but I have to admit it’s one human emotion I don’t understand.

    Brian–I don’t think crying your eyes out is a female thing, though society portrays it as such. In the past ten years, I’ve probably cried two or three times. Each time for maybe 2-3 minutes, tops. I’m sure I’m having the same emotions as those people who cry more, and I think it’s probably damaging my psyche on some level to bottle them up, but I can’t get over the knee-jerk “Guys Shouldn’t Cry” maxim that’s been drilled into me. Either which way, the “catharsis” argument is a strong one, and Jess gives it a further boost in her first comment.

    Maybe I should look into it . . .

    But I probably won’t.

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