From ‘Beaches’ to ‘Love Story’, everyone’s guilty of having had a good cry whilst watching a movie but what is it that makes us cry? Sky+HD and top psychologist, Professor Kim A. Bard, Ph.D, can now reveal the science behind the films that make us cry be it out of sadness, happiness, anger, fear or passion.
Kim also explains why watching movies in more detail in high definition will make us cry even more, and why ‘Beaches’ is officially the biggest tearjerker of all time.
Professor Bard, a psychologist at the Centre of the Study of Emotion at Portsmouth University who has written numerous articles on emotional and cognitive expression, analysed a selection of movies in both high definition and standard definition.
Through her analysis she identified four key triggers in movies that set our lips quivering and our eyes streaming. These include how often the characters wept, the overall sadness of the movie and the underlying positive message of the film, all moderated by the degree of happiness experienced.
She also reveals how, when used in the right combination, these elements can produce an intensive emotional experience, and that this is intensified even further when movies are watched in high definition.
Friendship favourite, Beaches, was crowned as the top movie tearjerker of all time, with the results revealing the following top ten as the ultimate emotional movies to watch in high definition:
Sky+HD Tearjerker Top Ten*1
2. The Colour Purple
3. Schindler’s List
5. Nights in Rodanthe
6. P.S. I love you
7. Meet Joe Black
8. Terms of Endearment
9. One True Thing
10. Love Story
From the elements highlighted by Professor Bard as being the key factors in movies that make us cry, the following equation was developed to reveal the ultimate weepy movies:
WEEPINESS = (TC x SI x II)
TC = Tear Count
II = Inspirational Index
SI = Sadness Index
HH = Happy Highs
This formula is comprised of the following constituent parts:
Tear Count (TC)
The first key factor for a movie tearjerker is the amount of tears seen on screen, this is analysed by a Tear Count. To score highly in this area there should be at least 15 instances of people crying throughout the film.
This is a key element in movies making the viewer cry due to two mechanisms of emotion transmission facial mimicry and emotion contagion.
When emotions are expressed in facial movements of someone we see, we tend to mimic those actions on our own face, creating facial mimicry.
When an individual watches a character expressing sadness and showing particular movements in the face, a brain system called the mirror neuron system is directly activated so that the observer matches and mimics those actions in the same way.
For example in ‘Beaches’ when we see Hilary collapse and eventually pass away at the beach house, with close ups of Bette Midler’s character CC crying, we are likely to mimic this action and cry too.
Seeing sadness and teariness in the face of others engenders sadness in us through the additional process of emotion contagion i.e. when a person adopts the actions associated with the emotion (e.g. mimicking a sad face), the person feels that emotion (sadness).
When viewed in high definition, the enhanced clarity of the image highlights even the smallest facial quiver meaning the process of facial mimicry and emotion contagion are even more likely to affect the viewer. Professor Bard explains:
"Watching tearjerkers in high definition is more emotive than standard viewing because with high definition the actions of the face associated with sadness and with teariness are much more clearly evident.
"This ranges from the very subtle drawing in and downward movements of the inner eyebrows and the glistening of tears, to the more obvious full crying face. In high definition, each teardrop as well the tracks of tears streaming down the face are more visible, engendering sadness and even tears in ourselves through the dual process of facial mimicry and emotion contagion."
Sadness Index (SI)
The second factor, sadness of the storyline, is analysed with the Sadness Index (SI). This is measured by the intensity and perceived sadness expressed by the characters, taking into consideration the extent to which the theme or topic of the movie is sad, even if the characters weren’t directly expressing it.
Here, for example, ‘Schindler’s List’ scores highly due to the high intensity grief of the Holocaust, with ‘Beaches’ and ‘Philadelphia’ both following closely behind due to the intense sadness surrounding the unfairness of characters dying young. So when looking to create the ultimate movie weepy, the plotline should feature the death of at least one key character to get tears flowing.
Music is also a key element to the Sadness Index by contributing to the overall viewer mood, but often in a way in which we are not consciously aware. This is again intensified further in high definition due to the enhanced sound quality.
In ‘Beaches’ for example, the melancholy rendition of ‘Under The Boardwalk’ at the beginning of the film sets the scene from the start and the same is experienced in ‘Love Story’ where the opening notes become an automatic signal of something very sad to come.
Inspirational Index (II)
The third element in identifying what makes us cry at movies is the Inspirational Index (II). This reflects the degree to which there is a positive underlying message, outcome or resolution to the movie. In order achieve a high Inspirational Index rating and to get into the top ten, a movie must have a character-building message for the viewer or a life-affirming message seen on screen.
Here again ‘Beaches’ scores highly as the emotional rollercoaster sees CC change her life as she puts aside her own need for attention to devote herself to Hilary during the last months of her life and ultimately taking on the care of Hilary’s daughter. In ‘Night in Rodanthe’, the romance of Paul and Adrienne transforms their lives, re-awakening her artistic expression and his joy of helping others.
Happy Highs (HH)
The balance between happy moments versus sad ones is also key when creating a weepy movie. Professor Bard took this final factor into account by analysing the Happy Highs (HH). This is the degree of happiness seen in the movie and acts as an underlying moderator. If there are many happy highs experienced in the film, it will make us less likely to cry. To be an ultimately sad movie, these ‘happy’ moments should be kept to a minimum.
All these factors combine perfectly in Beaches as it scores highly in the Tear Count, Sadness Index and Inspirational Index, with few Happy Highs to bring the overall rating down. The intensity of the film is increased even further in high definition with the main characters often being shown in close up, especially when filled with emotion.
The high Tear Count in The Colour Purple combined with its low ranking for Happy Highs sees the film follow a close second to Beaches. Schindler’s List comes in third place with its maximum ratings in the Sadness Index and Inspirational Index, but its low Tear Count reduces the opportunity for facial mimicry, lowering its final weepiness factor.
Michelle Golding from Sky+HD comments, ‘There’s no better way to watch a movie at home than in high definition. Sky+HD doesn’t just make images clearer, it makes the whole experience more intense.
Beaches, The Colour Purple, P.S I Love You and many others in the top 10 are screened on Sky Movies Drama HD as part of the Sky Movies Weepies Weekend, starting this Saturday 17th to Sunday 19th October with Nights in Rodanthe being showcased on Sky Movies Premiere HD.
tagged in Beaches