Proclaiming to have THE definitive list of the saddest films and the most tear-inducing moments within them is trickier than attempting to get toothpaste back into the tube. Some lists I agree with, some have me utterly baffled. An attempt to evoke the same emotional response in every human being via cinema is a task that’s inevitably, quite difficult.
My choices here are no exception. Things that make me blub like a lottery winner, might not make you blub. Regardless, here are five heartbreaking moments in movies I adore that get me every time. They resonate. They strike my tear ducts with the wrath of an angry god. They make me bawl, causing my fellow filmwatchers to regard me with a judgey side-eye.
Beware: if you’ve not seen the films listed, there may be spoilers!
5. JD’s Speech: Heathers
The final moments of Michael Lehmann’s jet black comedy Heathers include some of the film’s best dialogue. The entire feature is peppered with spiky exchanges, kickstarting a whole way of talking replicated in teen flick, Mean Girls.
It was Daniel Waters’ script that introduced an intelligent voice for teens whose quips and snipes are razor sharp enough to cut through any teenage bravado. No-one’s teenage years are without plight, we’ve all suffered and we’ve all shown moments of true character. For the kids in Heathers, it’s as if there are simply no options left, in particular for our heroine Veronica. You can’t escape life without being immortalised incorrectly. You can’t stay in life for the same reason.
When we reach the ending, JD (Christian Slater)’s final words to Veronica (Winona Ryder) don’t dwell in schmaltz but instead pose a question all teens wonder at some point. Twinned with a dated yet effective score, this moment never fails to make me shed a tear.
JD: The slate is clean… pretend I did blow up the school. All the schools. Now that you’re dead, what are you going to do with your life?
4. Lester’s Chat With Ricky: American Beauty
American Beauty won practically every Oscar going. That one year I actually agreed with the Academy, simply because the film in question is superb. Alan Ball’s script was taken to heart by director Sam Mendes who brought the everyday man qualities of our hero Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) to the brink with his mid-life crisis. In fact, it’s a crisis you could empathise with even if you’re not middle aged: what the hell am I doing with my existence?
The film’s ending is notable for its sheer poignancy we face after the fact. The fact being any experience in our lives we’re too busy being human to savour. It’s wonderfully realised.
The scene I am referring to however is one wherein Lester talks with the boy next door, Ricky Fitts. His final line in their dialogue is delivered with an aching nostalgia, a melancholy for the simple passage of time which we cannot reach back and grasp at again. Spacey’s delivery is perfectly tinged with yearning and sadness:
Lester Burnham: When I was your age, I flipped burgers all summer just to be able to buy an eight-track.
Ricky Fitts: That sucks.
Lester Burnham: No, actually it was great. All I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me.