children, empathy, love, motherhood, movie scenes, movies, pain, parenthood, Sophie's choice, tears
So, there we are, having a nice evening together watching a documentary on Hollywood and the way it has presented the Holocaust. We found it on Netflix, which has a wealth of fascinating documentaries which we are slowly going through, because we are GIANT DORKS.
Anyway, we’re watching and it’s all well and good until they go and spring this on me:
A scene from Sophie’s Choice. Specifically, THE scene from Sophie’s Choice.
YES. THAT SCENE. Come on, even people like me, who have never seen Sophie’s Choice, have an idea about what her choice is. I wish to all things holy I still only had a vague idea.
I didn’t know details. Friends had told me not to watch the movie, and I listened to them. And then they went and sprang it on me anyway and now I feel like I can never get my brain clean again.
Have you ever watched a movie scene like that? Something that makes you wish with your whole heart and soul that you could do a complete Eternal Sunlight Of The Spotless Mind on yourself so you would no longer have that memory adding pain to your existence?
When I was a kid, most of those moments were to do with death and gore:
The dead body from Stand By Me, who shocked me with his open eyes.
A tv movie about Jack The Ripper, which only showed blood-spattered walls and a vomiting policeman, but which played on my imagination with all of the sinister genius of Hitchcock.
A shot of a dead soldier from the Gulf War, burned beyond recognition, who haunted me (especially in dark stairwells, where my imagination always placed him walking up behind me) for years afterwards.
Thankfully, I am getting better about my dead body phobia. I went through the Catacombs in Paris (terrified, but I did it). I only shudder slightly when I open the freezer at work. PH still can’t convince me to attend a Bodies exhibition, but that movie last night did spring a charred body in a crematorium oven and while I screamed, it did not haunt me.
But there is another kind of scene that has always tended to bother me, and that usually has to do with the death or a parent or the death of a parent’s child. You’d think it would be the death of animals, and it’s true that I will cry over Old Yeller far more than I will cry over Jack Dawson, and that the inevitable death of a German Shepherd is often the most bothersome scene in your standard thriller movie. But my real soft spot is children.
There’s something about the parent-child bond which has always triggered my emotions strongly.
I consider the parent-child relationship to be the “romance” of children’s literature, and I will weep over a child’s reunion with his parent in a way that I rarely do in adult romances.
I sobbed when I watched Juno and heard the words “would you like to meet your son?”
I burst into tears reading a For Better of For Worse compendium, when April is drowning and John is reaching for his daughter and thinks “if I do one more thing in life, please let me do this”.
Tears like that – they’re good. They’re healing.
But there are other scenes…
Like the scene from The Pianist, where the woman sobs over a baby she accidentally smothered when hiding from the Nazis. That one tormented me, and came flooding back years later when Owl was a newborn Babby.
Like the part of Schindler’s List (the book, not the movie) where a baby is dashed against a wall.
And just recently, a scene from a documentary on Hiroshima (yes, I know, I should probably stop watching war documentaries) where a woman retells the death of her child, and how she wasn’t brave enough to stay with her as she died. That scene broke both PH and me, and for days afterwards one of us would shout “OH, NO! THAT SCENE IS IN MY HEAD” and the other would come swooping in with a distraction as quickly as possible.
Well. I thought that Hiroshima scene was the ultimate in empathetic suffering. For a bit I felt as though my heart could never be whole again. That kind of scene tortures me in a way that a hundred charred soldiers never could. But thankfully time is kind, and the memory has faded a bit.
And then they went and sprang that AWFUL SCENE FROM SOPHIE’S CHOICE on me.
Guys, I know it sounds stupid, because it’s just a movie and it’s fiction, but I am in a lot of mental anguish right now. I can’t really explain why I find it SO BAD. I can’t blame motherhood, either, because I know it would have hurt me every bit as much if I had seen this years ago.
I keep alternately suffering the unspeakable horror of the moral dilemma, the unendurable guilt of the choice, and the heartbroken and terrified betrayal of the child as she is given to death and carried from the person whom we trust above all others to cherish and protect us – Mother.
To try and keep myself from falling into the mother’s place and then the child’s again and again and again, I read last night until I started falling asleep over my book (which NEVER happens). I spent all night dreaming up reunions between mother and child in which I was both the overjoyed mother and the unforgiving and traumatised daughter. I spent hours of dream time trying to inject a dog with morphine who, in my dream, was the little girl – I needed to numb her pain.
The pain of it is messing up my mind.
In driving between dog training appointments today, I ended up on the wrong road – and have NO MEMORY of how I got there. I WAS on the correct road, but I must have turned right at a stop light and continued up a totally different street COMPLETELY UNAWARE OF WHAT I HAD DONE. I didn’t realize my mistake for a good 2 kilometres, and how the mistake even happened will forever be a mystery. I can see making a wrong turn, but how do you make a completely unnecessary turn and not even know about it?
Then, during the appointment, I was supposed to go out, get something from my car, and then knock and ring the doorbell, to help accustom the dog to people coming and going from the house. I just walked right back in again, with no knock. I had totally forgotten the purpose of my being outside at all.
When I got home and reported all of this, PH took away my right to drive for the day. He’s a little concerned about me.
I’m pretty my reaction to the scene is not normal, otherwise there would be big disclaimers on the scene warning people not to operate heavy machinery after watching.
I mean, it’s a famous scene and it won Streep an Oscar, but when I google it, it is casually mentioned as a powerful and moving scene by people who rate the movie highly and “love” it. It is a powerful scene. Streep deserved her award. But I wish the movie had never been made, because then I wouldn’t be hurting so much right now.
I told you that PH has been trying to convince me to go to the Bodies exhibition in Vegas on our summer vacation, and my attitude has been HELL NO. But if I could wipe my mind clean of that scene… if Meryl Streep’s words and if that little girl’s scream of hurt and fear could be wiped from my brain… I would attend that exhibition joyfully.
What movie scene has affected you the most? What’s your achilles heel?
Karyn @ kloppenmum said:
I could never watch *that* movie before I had the boys – no way in hell I could now. I hear your pain. I feel your pain. Go scrub your brain with something.
Yes, don’t do it. The problem is that it’s hard to anticipate HOW awful it is if you haven’t seen it. I should had left the room he moment the movie was mentioned, but I was curious about this famous movie and I thought I could handle it. I knew it would be sad. Everyone had told me that it’s sad. But it’s not sad. Cancer is sad. Death is sad. This is not sad. It’s TORTURE.
I wish sometimes that I wasn’t so affected by movies and books too. I sobbed through the beginning of “Up” like I knew those characters personally – and I do mean sobbed, loudly. I unintentionally saw the worst scene in Clockwork Orange once. I had nightmares for almost a year after that. I wanted to leave during War of the Worlds, and though my PH loves that movie I won’t let him watch it while I’m in the house because I found the kids being in danger too much to handle, especially with crazy Tom Cruise protecting him because I don’t trust him to do the right thing. Anyway, you’re not alone.
I haven’t seen Clockwork orange and I’m okay with that.
Up definitely makes me tear up and ph tends to “get emotion in his eye”. But those tears are okay. They’re an emotional release. I don’t lie in bed at night wishing I could rip the memory of Ellie out of my soul. I love it.
Sophie’s Choice oddly dodn’t make me shed a single tear. Instead it seems it activate my sympathetic nervous system, making me feel hot and flushed and simultaneously weak and on the offensive. I want to fight. I want to run. I want to destroy everything. I keep trying to change the scene, fight the guy, snag the child, throw myself in front of the guns… It’s a frightening response that I am entirely unused to.
So, if I javen’t been clear DO NOT ever watch Sophie’s Choice.
Yeah, that’s pretty much how I spent War of the World. I wanted to jump in to the movie and stop what was happening. Very irrational.
YES. I don’t remember if we saw War of the Worlds together. I was sitting between Kat and Sarah, and sarah spent the movie gripping my hand and chanting “please don’t hurt the baby” with tears running down her face. Kat and I agreed afterwards that by halfway through the movie, we would have actually chosen to kill our own children and ourselves to spare them the hopelessness and torture. Consider how traumatizing something has to be to make that thought possible.
Wow. Yes, I have hit that point in considering both of the recent upsetting movie scenes. But boy they must have really embellished on hg wells. I can’t think of anything in the book having that effect on me.
Oh, this is a time when I bless my rotten memory. These days, if I’m ambushed by something like that, I suffer for a time, but in the back of my mind is the awareness, “I’m going to forget this!” I watched Sophie’s Choice when it first came out. I sobbed like a baby.. no, worse, like an anguished adult … as I watched that scene. In fact, I think I hid my eyes as I sobbed, because I couldn’t bear the pain. But you know? I can’t remember it now. In fact, until you identified the child as “she”, I couldn’t remember if it was the boy or the girl.
Could I remember, if I tried? Maybe. I’m not going to. These days, I just don’t watch movies. Maybe two a year, and they’re usually comedies, or based on books I’ve read, so I know what’s coming. (And I don’t read tragic books any more. Because I CAN’T STAND THE TRAGEDY!)
I’m sincerely wishing you a dose of Mary’s Memory for a week or so. Just till you get over the worst of the trauma.
I am praying for your memory. It’s hard to picture living in a world where that scene exists and still finding joy in life. But I know that time heals and hopefully the screams will fade.
Yeah, saw *that* scene once as part of a documentary. Traumatized me for months, and I still don’t like to think about it if I can help it.
If it makes you feel any better, I have a hard time watching pro baseball, because they may be big tough dudes making assloads of money but all I see are their mothers. Friday night a 21 year old pitcher made his major-league debut and he had a tough inning. His mom was in the stands and the cameraman kept cutting to her face, which was such a stew of emotions as she watched her baby trying his very best and having a hard time… GAAAA CHANGE THE CHANNEL.
It’s one of those things that gets much worse after you’ve had children, even if you aren’t predisposed to empathy (which you are). Time will make it better. Probably you should avoid depressing documentaries for a while. (Seriously).
I only watch screwball comedies and superhero movies these days. I can’t handle anything else.
I always think about the mothers when I watch sports too!
They should never play that scene for people who don’t know what they’re getting into. It’s not just some well acted sad scene. It’s psychological TORTURE.
I can’t even watch screwball comedies bad action flicks any more. I’m getting increasingly sensitive to the underlying messages which I often have problems with. Only some children’s movies are still trustworthy. I’m looking forward to the new Pixar.
Well, we started watching the remake of The Planet of the Apes movie a couple of weeks ago, but had to turn it off almost immediately when a chimp was murdered. Even though ot was a CGI chimp and just moments before I had been thinking that they didn’t look *that* realistic.
I really only like watching comedies, and it’s because there are too many things in the world that I immediately want to unsee.
That reminds me of another movie that haunted me as a kid. I think it was called project x or something? Anyway. Dead chimps were involved. We tend to like Children’s movies because they often address the important issues on life but with enough emotional padding.
Watership Down is not a childrens movie. I know you know this. Unfortunately, the nice father of my childhood friend only knew it contained cartoon bunnies and thought it would be a great treat for us five-year-olds. I’m pretty sure he figured it out when he heard me scream and then had to coax me out from behind the couch, where i was hiding, sobbing.
Grace Goldragon said:
Growing up, Watership Down was our annual Easter movie in my agnostic family. Because of the bunnies. And all of the blood.
I loved waters hip down as a kid but it IS really scary.
Grace Goldragon said:
It is. But, strangely enough, I think I am way more affected by this stuff as an adult than I ever was as a kid.
VIolence and blood affect me less, although I think I have a bloodthirsty streak because I always really LOVED the blood in Watership, and I do appreciate Watchmen, although I think that it because I have a crush on Dr Manhatten.
The War Zone is the movie that affected me the most. It is just absolutely horrible, and even thinking about it now (I watched it four years ago) makes me ache. On the one hand, YES, I would love to get that movie wiped from my memory, but on the other hand I think I’ve become even more empathic from watching it. It feels as though I might be able to begin to understand the pain that incest victims must be carrying with them.
(Oh, and hi! I’ve been following your blog for months now, but this is my first comment.)
Thanks for commenting! I love comments. Also thanks for the tip – war zone added to the DO NOT WATCH list!
Although I think that you have landed on a good point. I think that’s why we do watch war documentaries: they help us see beyond our loving room and think about those who are less fortunate.
Wombat Central (@wombatcentral) said:
First, I think disturbing scenes from movies *should* disturb people. By this I mean that so many people have been desensitized to horrific things these days, that NOT reacting to them is far more disturbing to me. Harm to kids, elderly people or dogs, get to me in a big way.
Second, I’m with Grammar Geek. I’ve never seen Sophie’s Choice (now I know for certain I never will). I tend to gravitate toward all things happy in movie land. With the exception of some documentaries (not about war!), I always prefer a comedy or romance flick. I watch movies to visit happy places. 🙂 Perhaps you should join us in lala land the next time you’re searching for a movie. 😉
Most of our movies are children’s movies. We like movies like Up and Wall E and Meet The Robinsons. But we do have a fascination for what Netflicks dubs “historical emotional” documentaries. But springing that scene in a documentary just ist fair! I never would have watched that movie voluntarily.
But you’re right. It should disturb people. I think what really disturbs me is that someone was able to conceive this scene, and write it, and someone else actually had the idea of having people act it out. They were clearly not disturbed enough. Or a little too disturbed, if you catch my drift, because it’s just sick.
I’m another one who bawled through the beginning of Up. …And the Notebook. …And even PS I Love You. Pretty much anything that involves couples in love and the loss of one partner is far and away my sore spot.
I also have a soft spot for parents and children, though that one is more hit or miss. I think there’s a particular kind of interaction that tends to get me, while others don’t so much.
And yes, the scene you’re referring to is beyond that and then some. It’s awful. A truly brilliant and terrible piece of writing. I’m so sorry you’ve been haunted by it.
I can’t even call it brilliant. It’s so insanely sick to me that I feel like the kind of person who could conceive this scene must have some kind of callous evil residing in his soul… Such a mind makes Stephen King’s mind seem like a heartwarming and heavenly dreamworld.
Oh… And don’t get me started on animals.
Same here. Last half-hour or so of “Marley & Me” had me sobbing uncontrollably, and that was because I realised how the film would probably end, before they had even made that clear. 😦
Grace Goldragon said:
I saw that scene many years ago when Merryl Streep was on Oprah. I can remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. Even before you mentioned it, since I now have two kids, a boy and a girl no less, I’ve thought of it. Unbidden, I put myself in her place, what would I do? What the hell would I do?? And I come to pieces.
Other than the ones already mentioned, I refuse to watch war movies. I can’t watch any ultra-realistic movies that involve guns and swearing (you know, MOST Quentin Tarantino movies). Scenes involving pre-teen boys crying kill me.
Scenes in which the main character experiences extreme embarrassment, make me react the way that you are describing, where I play the scene out over and over, trying to fix it somehow, and it makes me want to run away, or hit something.
Betrayal scenes really get to me too. I’ve been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, and the character I was playing had to make a choice. I knew what the character would do, but it involved betraying NPCs that I, myself, had become quite fond of. I made the choice that stayed true to the character, but it bothered me a LOT. I was up all night, worrying about it, replaying it in my head. Talk about taking fiction way too seriously!
You remember how much I liked Sin City 😛
Ugh, Tarantino, yes. Some I don’t mind – Pulp Fiction is all in good fun, for example, but several scenes from Kill Bill (notably children watching their mothers die) upset me deeply.
Oddly, Watchmen was okay for me, possibly because there were no scenes with children. Living children, anyway.
Guns and swearing don’t bother me, although I don’t like them because they also don’t do anything for me. But I wholeheartedly agree about betrayal. I think the betrayal is the part that stings the most for me in That Scene – if both children had been taken away and killed, it would have bothered me LESS. Then it would have just been a Sad Scene. Whenever I fall into that scenario as the mother, they either end up taking away both my children, or I end up pulling a Lily Potter and throwing myself over them, begging to be taken instead…. because I can’t stomach the betrayal. That was what hurt in the Hiroshima memoir, as well – the mother was forced by the heat of the flames to betray her child.
Grace Goldragon said:
See, I HATE Pulp Fiction, but I find Kill Bill to be very comic book-like in nature, so it doesn’t bother me, and I actually quite like it. I find it very hard to convey to others what my dislike of guns and swearing actually involves. Guns, fine. Swearing, fine. But somehow the combination + realism sets me on edge, and I can’t watch it. The guns are too loud, final, and real, and someone who is swearing and waving a gun around creates a tension that I can’t deal with.
I dislike swearing and I dislike guns, so anything starring both tends to fall in my “why would I watch that” list. But kill bill really bothered me. Comic bookiness doesn’t seem to impede my empathy receptors at all (since FBOFW makes me cry) and the two scenes where daighters watched their mothers beig murdered tortured me. Nothing on Sophie’s Choice though.
Oh my word, you should have seen my sister and I in War Horse. We’re both in our 20s and we grew up with horses. Frickin’-a, the combination of strategically composed strings, young boys in war, the relationship between the boy and the horse, and the barbed wire scene (which was the biggest misrepresentation of how that would have actually played out. And we knew how that really would have gone down, and it made it worse)… We sobbed for almost two hours. I made a joke to my sister about watching it again and she said, “No way, that’s like Passion of the Christ. I’m never watching that again.”
Also, Skin is a great movie, but be prepared to ugly cry for two hours.
Thanks for the heads up! I had War Horse on my to be watched lost because of the horses.
Grace Goldragon said:
Oh, I thought I should add, the scene in The Incredibles where Syndrome is kidnapping Jack-Jack, was just another scene until I had my own little Jack-Jack. Now, I only need to think of the timber in Elasticgirl’s voice when she yells, “Bob! Throw ME!” and I get panicky. I’m blinking the tears out of my eyes as I’m typing this!
Grace Goldragon said:
I don’t think I have rewatched The Incredibles since we had Owl, which actually surprises me a little bit, since PH and I have always secretly identified with the main characters. I think of Jack Jack when Owl makes that contented “mam” noise
I haven’t seen Sophie’s Choice, and like other commenters I won’t now. I completely can’t deal with anything sad involving children. My husband has this way of always telling me when there’s some terrible thing in the news (the Baby P case, for example, which he felt obliged to relay to me in great detail even though I carefully wasn’t reading any of the coverage – this was a case in England a few years ago and you may have been spared it), and I WISH HE WOULDN’T. Though he says he has to read these things because they remind us how precious our children are and how we have to protect them.
He made me watch Goodnight Mr Tom (I’d managed to miss the book somehow). Actually that wasn’t as bad as it might have been because it has a healing ending. But I couldn’t get it out of my head. And the other night I had to stop reading Call The Midwife (which I’d been given because my family know I’m interested in midwifery and childbirth) and read a travel book about Chile for a bit because there were dreadfully sad stories that I wanted to clean out of my mind before I went to sleep.
Glad I’m not the only one…
Goodnight Mr Tom is actually one of my favourite books. It exemplifies “children’s romance” – the growing relationship, the separation, and then the reunion with Mr Tom is classic romance.
I didn’t know there was a movie, but the book is very healing. There IS child abuse, but there is a lot more healing. Also, it doesn’t affect me the same way because there is no trust between Will and his mother – he fears and hates his mother. I’m not affected by bodily harm to children as much as psychological harm, specifically betrayal by someone he loves and trusts. Will trusts Mr Tom, and Mr Tom never lets him down, and that’s what really matters to me.
The Case of Baby P bothers me because he was let down not only by his parents, but by the entire system, right down to the justice system in the end. Disgusting.
Do. NOT. Watch. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I saw it over two years ago, as part of a movie series at my temple. I had to *train* myself to not think about it, because the ending scarred me so much. Even just writing this my stomach feels weird and i want to cry. *shudders* especially as a parent. Just don’t do it.
Titanic. Not really Jack Dawson, though. Try the OTHER 1500 people, like the ones who didn’t even get a fair chance, like those locked-in third class passengers. Similar thing with the recent ITV miniseries.
And the Croke Park scene in “Michael Collins”, where the Brits basically go “okay, so you hit a few of our political/military targets, and we’re not okay with that, so now we’re going to lock the gates of a sporting arena and open fire on a bunch of civilians, because that’s a perfectly FAIR AND REASONABLE RETALIATION”. Ugh.
Animals suffering … I can’t cope with that. Saw a documentary once about a British guy running a religious boarding school in France where he was going to teach the boys to be “real men”, by slaughtering a couple of rabbits. Keeping rabbits for food is common in the French countryside, but the people who do the slaughtering know how to do it, and do it quickly and humanely. These rabbits were SCREAMING. Quiet, fluffy, lovely rabbits who never make a sound normally. Screaming in terror and agony. It still makes me cry just thinking about it.
Ugh. I heard a rabbit doing that, when a dog caught it. Terrible. And yes, I get hindu when people dismiss Titanic as a soppy love movie because for me the real brilliance was its historical accuracy. It’s awful to think that it actually happened, but worse to think that all people take out of that movie is “lol Leonardo is hot”
Agreed. It’s beautifully portrayed and well-researched. They took some liberties for dramatic purposes, but all in all, it’s a whole lot more than just fangirling DiCaprio. First saw the film when I was about 14, and groaned when similar-aged girls around me in the cinema went all *happysigh* at Jack’s first appearance … heh.
Wow, did I seriously write “I get hindu when people dismiss Titanic”?? DAMN YOU AUTOCORRECT. I meant HIFFY. I GET HIFFY!
(I thought “get hindu” sounded strange, but what do I know? It could be a colloquialism!)
It is now. Hopefully my friend @suminycricket won’t be offended
Not a single movie, but a trilogy, which I saw in a theater, one after the other after the other: the Red Riding trilogy. Two words: Stay. Away.
Themes: police corruption; child abuse; child torture; child murder. Cover up of same. Murder of those who stick their noses in. Murder, and attempted murder, of the victims. And, not to spoil anything for you, but nothing gets better.
The opening credits of the 3rd movie in the trilogy are a gentle young man’s voice singing a capella against a black screen: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven….” I had the wild hope that he had just gotten it wrong from “A Chorus Line”,” you know, “”Five, six, seven, eight!” Nope. “All good children go to heaven…..” I almost choked. And yet I stayed, because I’d already invested two nights in the prior two movies.
I was reading a wonderful book a while ago (“Island of Wings,” by Karin Altenburg, I think her name was) and an image in it took me directly back to the Red Riding trilogy. I had to put the book down while I cried for a good 15-20 minutes.
I loved “Island of Wings,” once I got through it. Will read it again. I wish I’d never seen the Red Rider trilogy. I will say on its behalf that it is wonderfully well acted by a variety of actors, all of whom deserved Oscar nominations (if not the Oscar itself) for their performances. That is, unfortunately, part of the problem.
Do. Not. Watch.
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