On the Edge

I’m a damn sap.

Sometimes it’s the television ads. There are some that get me every time. “Aw, they’re getting a new kitten!” (Never mind what the ad is selling.) Or if a character in a movie—at any point in the movie—says something about wanting to “go home,” and at the end of the movie they walk through their front door and say they’re “home,” and the music swells and the credits start rolling, I’m a goner.

In almost every movie, the emotional climax comes with a montage of clips from earlier in the film, bringing us up to date and sending us along with the hero towards the repercussions of their fateful decision that will save the world, or their relationship, or their job. Or the emotional climax comes when the hero, who has felt apart from the world for so long, at least the first half of the movie, walks down a crowded street and espies happy couples and children and watches all the little things of life that he or she has been missing out on for so long.

Here’s that precise scene in the movie, A Thousand Words, an Eddie Murphy vehicle that did rather poorly at the box office:

I may hate the film, I may despise the performances, I may have been on the edge of my seat about to walk out from the very first minutes, but these predictable, tear-jerking scenes will always do their work on me and jerk me some tears.

Ceremonies get me, too. Graduations. Weddings. Funerals. Thus if a movie would depict a new graduate going home after a funeral, that might be the most teary-eyed you will ever find me.

So I guess if one would could combine these elements: advertisement and newly minted graduate going home after graduation, that would really get to me. That should be the topper, right?

Worse, I tear up at the ends of things, whether or not they are tear-worthy. It could be a goofball comedy, but once the credits start rolling, I feel like I am about to lose it. Maybe I feel like we, the audience, are now graduating together from the experience of watching this movie together. Maybe it’s just me.

I possess a big, bright red EMPATHY button in my psyche, and most everything in the culture seems to stomp on it like it’s a cockroach at a square dance.

I had not cried for over a decade by the time I got sober in 2010. For years, I did not cry over anything that happened to me; neither professional, personal, or romantic success or personal, professional, or romantic failure moved me. I claimed, for the sake of getting dates, to be “in touch” with my emotions and “easily moved,” because I read somewhere that one ought to be and I thought that getting teary-eyed every so often counted as possessing emotions. (Like many humans, I, too, possess ocular salt water in my head, and it has to leave somehow at least once a year or so.) Usually, when a famous ballplayer would retire, that would move me to tear up, especially when he was from my generation.

That Eddie Murphy vehicle that I showed a clip from, that bomb of a movie, A Thousand Words, broke my streak and my shell. The premise of the film is clever enough: a typical rattle-mouthed Eddie Murphy character is cursed and learns that he has precisely 1000 words left to speak before he dies. The longer it takes him to not get to words 999 and 1000, the longer he will stay alive. A tree grows in his yard with 1000 leaves on it and one leaf will drop for each word he speaks. When he speaks the last words, the tree and he will both die.

The movie flopped because of the misfire of casting speed-talking Eddie Murphy in an essentially silent-movie role, as his character continuously avoids speaking, but that question resonated with me: What will my final thousand words be? (Uh oh, gonna tear up now.) When one is an emotional kindergartner, as I was in early sobriety and still am sometimes now, this is the kind of question that is going to feel vital and deep, even though it is neither vital nor deep. Once upon a time, I thought, my last words were going to be, “I’ll have another” or “Can I crash here?” What will they be now?

I watched the movie with my girlfriend in 2012. (You’ve met her.) I will not spoil the movie’s ending, even though it is easy enough to guess. But Murphy’s character’s last few words (of course the filmmaker frequently cuts to shots of leaves falling from an ever-barer tree branch) got me; I was gone. Tears successfully jerked from my eye-holes, I was bawling like a kid. In front of my girlfriend. (She remains my partner to this day.)

Sometimes, even a movie that you do not think will, can, or should push you over the edge will treat you like a jerk and push you.

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This first appeared in September 2014 and in 2016.

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