Last weekend during the reception dinner that followed the wedding of some friends, our table got around to talking about weddings and the people who cry at them. There were quite a few (happy) tears at this particular wedding and so it was a natural course for the conversation. Kelly pointed out that she didn’t cry at weddings, and of course, neither do I. But then the conversation shifted from crying at weddings to crying at movies. A few of the people at the table admitted to crying at movies. Kelly pointed out that she rarely cried at movies (although I can remember her crying when she watched Jack the Bear a few years about–such a rare event that even the movie title sticks out in my memory.) She then gleefully said to the table:
“Jamie cries at Lord of the Rings.”
This seemed to amuse the people at the table, although I pointed out that I only cried at one specific point, toward the very end of The Return of the King when Aragorn says to the hobbits, “My friends, you bow to no one.” (Even now, just typing that my eyes have watered up.)
But there is one type of movie that is almost guaranteed to bring tears to my eyes every time, no matter how many times I’ve seen them: baseball movies.
I don’t know what it is about baseball movies, but when they are well-done, there is an elegance to them and an emotional buildup that I can’t seem to conjure for any other type of movie. Three baseball movies in particular have this strange effect upon me.
Field of Dreams is based on W. P. Kinsella’s outstanding novel, Shoeless Joe, which remains one of the top novels of any kind that I’ve ever read. The movie, though not quite as good as the book, always brings tears to my eyes. Who can possibly resist bursting into tears when Ray (Kevin Costner’s character) turns to Shoeless Joe towards the end and calls, “Dad?”
The Natural is another elegant and moving baseball movie that can bring me to tears. It is also based on a novel, Bernard Malmud’s The Natural, which is also a rather outstanding read. There is more detail and backstory in the novel than in the movie, but this is one of those rare instances when I look at them on equal footing. Perhaps I give the movie a slight edge only because it ends happier than the novel.
Each time I watch the movie, and see the scene where Roy learns that Iris’ son is his own, I get the chills. And then, when Roy comes to the plate and with Randy Newman’s excellent score playing in the background, crushes the ball that wins the game–well, there’s no way I can hold back the tears there either.
Last night, I once again watched the third baseball movie that brings tears to my eyes: For Love of the Game. This is also based on a novella of the same title by Michael Shaara. It is the story of an old pitcher out to throw his last game and who ends up throwing the ultimate achievement in baseball: the perfect game. The movie is very well constructed and the tension builds to a requisite pitch. And despite the fact that I know how the game will turn out, I am on the edge of my seat each time. Interestingly, it is not Billy Chapel’s win that brings tears to my eyes in this movie, it is an earlier scene, when he is on the mound, unsure of himself, and he sees his parents (who are long dead) sitting in the stands watching over him.
It has not gone unobserved that all three of these baseball movies are based on novels (or novellas). And at least in the case of Shoeless Joe, just reading the book can at times bring tears to my eyes. The truth is that I think it has more to do with baseball than anything else. I love stories about baseball and I have a secret desire to write a baseball story. I try, at least, to sneak baseball references into the stories that I do write. There is something magical (to me) about the game and that magic comes through in the stories and movies told about the game.
There are other baseball movies that I enjoy: 61*, A League of Their Own, Bull Durham, and Stealing Home are a few that come to mind. There are comedic baseball movies as well like The Bad News Bears, Fever Pitch, Major League. However, only the first two, 61*, and A League of Their Own come into the same emotional neighborhood as Field of Dreams, The Natural, or For Love of the Game.
Subject of interest+emotional impact=a movie where the tears can flow.
In Return of the King, its the departure of Gandalf, Bilbo and the Elves from Middle Earth, and the sense of what the world is losing that brings tears to my eyes.
There are two other baseball movies you should add to your list – Bang the Drum Slowly and Damn Yankees. Both of them are also based on novels and are likely to bring tears to your eyes for different reasons.