I nearly died of Stage 4 tongue cancer two years ago and, ever since, I have needed to have the Big Cry. I shared my need with my minister, but to no avail. I then spoke with another minister, but no tears there either. I warned my nutritionist that I just might break down and cry on her watch — but nah, it never happened. I am just too blocked.
But, when I was younger, I had two particularly Big Cries — at movies — that marked significant moments in my relationships:
In “The Remains of the Day,” Anthony Hopkins plays a butler in a great English home. He is a lifelong bachelor consigned to serving a master with fascistic leanings. He is given a week off. He rents a car to go and propose to a long-lost love. During the trip, he gets a bit tipsy at a bar — although he is a man of few words, he strikes up a conversation, which leads to his identity being exposed: He is not a “gentleman,” but a servant. His later attempt to find a wife ends in tatters.
I was single until well into my 40s. I placed scores of Washingtonian magazine ISO ads but nothing panned out. I could never find Ms. Right. Until I met her, when she attended our book club for the only time. She was a lawyer — pretty, well-read and age appropriate. I pursued her with zest. Although I was a bureaucrat, 40 pounds overweight, I now would test my theory that I could always “win the girl” if I ever found the right one.
We went to “The Remains of the Day” on our third date.
Two-thirds of the way through the film, I put my arms around her. After a moment, she pulled away and whispered, “I don’t think of you that way.” I said, “Yes, but. . .” She said, “No, please don’t.”
The congruence between the doomed romantic fates of the butler on the screen and the bureaucrat (me) in the cinema got to me. I spent the rest of the film sobbing quietly, while she sat next to me uncomfortably. It’s odd, isn’t it, that neither of us left the theater — was the film so good?
I never saw her again. But, a year or so later, she left a message for me at work — I was engaged by then. I called her back but did not ask her why she had called. We wished each other well — and that was the end of that.
Years later, I saw “Truly Madly Deeply,” in which Nina (Juliet Stevenson) has lost her lover, Jamie (Alan Rickman), who died young of a cold. There is a scene where Nina shares her anguish with her therapist. It’s the most amazing performance — Stevenson totally loses it. It is a wrenching, snot-everywhere, devastating scene.
I saw it on my fourth date with my future wife, Carolyn. I had shared with her the movie “Women in Love,” which she enjoyed. She then shared “Truly Madly Deeply,” her favorite film, which we watched on DVD on my couch.
In the film, Jamie comes back as a ghost to Nina. He moves back into her apartment with a bunch of his buddy ghosts, who spend most of their time watching old movies. Nina gradually gets on with her life —without Jamie. She finds a new boyfriend. As she gets ready for a date with the new guy, she reluctantly tells Jamie that it’s time he moved on. He agrees but with reluctance.
Cut to a scene of Nina coming out the front door, down the steps, to get into her new boyfriend’s car. We see, over her head, Jamie and his buddies coming to the window to see her off. There is a bemused sorrow in Jamie’s eyes. We hear Bach’s Cello Sonata in G Minor — Jamie was a cellist.
At this point, lying on the couch, in Carolyn’s arms, I bawled and bawled and bawled. Carolyn kept holding me close.
We were married shortly thereafter. We both inscribed the words “Truly Madly Deeply” on the interior of our wedding rings.
I later told my wife that I had never shared a work of art with someone with as overpowering an effect as when she reached me with “Truly Madly Deeply.” I told her I envied her in that regard. She asked me why I thought I found the film so moving. I told her the sight of Jamie looking out that window at his lover going out with another man encapsulated my entire love life — until I met her.
Carolyn said that I had completely misread the film: It was the story of a woman who, after much effort, had finally freed herself from an over-controlling man.