Undoubtedly, the most depressing movie ever was Terms of Endearment, directed by James L. Brooks. There are certain movies that no matter how many times you see them, as you try to hold back tears, you feel them welling up inside. Even though you know the uncomfortable emotions it will bring on, you watch it anyway! Why do we torture ourselves with movies like this?
The Movies that Make Us Cry
I can admit there are times when I want to see a depressing movie, such as Terms of Endearment. At different times during the year I need my laugh, my inspiration, and yes, even my cry. Even the word endearment warns you that there is going to be some strong emotions in store. This movie involves Emma (Debra Winger) and Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) going through life confiding in each other as best friends more than mother and daughter. Quoted in the Seattle Times, MacLaine, who won an Oscar for the role, said Aurora was her favorite role and that she, “modeled a lot of ‘Terms of Endearment’ on my relationship with Martha Mitchell.” After we connect with the characters, we go with them on their journey through life, encountering heart ache and pain. Emma, while thinking she has the perfect family, is devastated time and again by her promiscuous husband (Flap Horton played by Jeff Daniels). In the end, Flap realizes the treasures that his wife and children are, only to discover Emma is dying of cancer. The rest of the movie is Aurora and Flap dealing with the regrets of life, while explaining to Emma’s children why mom can’t be with them anymore.
There are many movies that rank as “most depressing,” such as The Grapes of Wrath and Steel Magnolias. However, to me Terms of Endearment takes the lead because it constantly picks you up and knocks you back down. As we all know life is full of “ups and downs,” and Emma seems to have big downs! At the conclusion of the movie, we are smack down the hardest of all with her death.
Why Torture Ourselves with Sad Movies?
The answer to this question is that it makes us feel human. We all know that in the back of our minds looms the inevitable end of life on Earth as we know it. Sad movies give us a way to deal with issues we refuse to think about in our daily lives. You begin to place yourself in the characters shoes and wonder, “What if that was my son or daughter dying of cancer?” I often hear the phrase, “Why did God do this?” I believe two of the greatest gifts bestowed upon us is free will and empathy. As beautiful as the gift of free will is, anything can be bad if used the wrong way. This, I believe, is what leads us to things such as hatred and wars. People sometimes forget to use empathy with free will and perhaps depressing movies teach us what an awesome responsibility it is to possess such gifts.
Moira Macdonald, Shirley MacLaine on life, showbiz and finding contentment, Seattle Times
Roger Ebert, Terms of Endearment/Review, Chicago Sun-Times