Tonight, I watched The Descendants, an interesting film featuring George Clooney as the “back up Dad” trying to hold his family together as his wife lies dying in a hospital after a tragic boating accident. It’s a relatively strong film that’s well-acted and emotionally packed.
Except for one moment.
There’s a scene about one-third into the film where a family friend receives unexpectedly heartbreaking news… and she immediately bursts into open weeping. Immediately. Without hesitation. IMMEDIATELY.
I don’t buy it and I never will.
I just don’t buy that human emotion can swing that quickly. There are circumstances when the energy of a location, like a courtroom, is so charged that an emotional outburst holds ground. Generally, however, there must be a transient place between the receipt of shocking news and its interpretation. This can take the form of almost any other emotion: denial, bargaining, waiting for the punchline, ANYTHING. Anything but the open, guttural, ugly cry that usually involves at least one hand covering the mouth.
The interest for me, as an audience member, is in the conflict of the soul. The fight within. The desire to control the emotion, to remember the boundaries. To remember the OBSTACLE. The character wants to sob, yet the timing, the people, or the place are inappropriate. Or even more interesting – the tears won’t come.
A tear in the eye is worth ten on the cheek.
Unless you’re doing Chekhov. Then weep away. But only once.