Tragedy: embracing the ugly-cry

Lance De Leoz, Features and Entertainment Reporter

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Spoilers for “Griffin & Phoenix (2006).”

“Everyone loves the underdog” is a sentiment that is shared by many. The weakling who wins in the face of overwhelming adversity is a story that many people connect with, whether it be in an engaging story, in a game, or in one’s own life. It feels good to win even if it is only via rooting for the winner. But then, there are the stories where the hero does not win; perhaps the hero loses everything or just straight-up dies.

And if the audience is really invested in the characters, then the waterworks just flow down in full force because it can genuinely hurt. Yet, the audience still enjoys it; it can feel like a breath of fresh air. To explore why, the movie “Griffin & Phoenix (2006)” is used as an example.

In the film, Henry Griffin is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Knowing he does not have long, Griffin decides to spend his days more wisely and, frankly, more boldly: he asks Sarah Phoenix, a woman whom he’s never seen before, on a date out of nowhere during which they break-and-enter, evade arrest, and stay up past their bedtime (no, not like that; they walked around the city all night). Griffin doesn’t tell Phoenix of his illness and both enjoy their time in bliss.

Time moves on and the couple grows closer, but Phoenix holds a secret of her own. Their happiness is interrupted when Phoenix discovers Griffin’s illness, and reveals she too has a terminal illness. The two of them support each other emotionally by distracting themselves with the things they always wanted to do. Phoenix’s illness grows worse and Griffin breaks. So, Griffin makes sure to makes sure to grant Phoenix her last wish of celebrating Christmas before she passes. The credits roll over already-broken hearts and misty eyes.

It is apparent that the film’s story was intended to move the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions. Even after knowing that everything is going to end anyway, the couple tries to stay together for as long as they can. Watching it unfold on screen can rip a person to pieces. Yet, that same person can watch the credits fly by and still say “That was a good movie.”

It sounds like madness, but maybe not. Researchers at Oxford conducted a study involving the viewing of “Stuart: A Life Backwards,” an “emotionally intense made-for-TV film,” and a “back-to-back presentation” of two documentaries. Participants who viewed the sad film were found to have a higher pain tolerance than those than those who watched the documentaries. Backed by previous and extensive evidence, the higher pain tolerance indicated that endorphins were activated. Therefore, when audiences view sad movies, they are actually likely to feel happy. Perhaps, instead of rooting for that underdog who is almost guaranteed to win, audiences should cry for the protagonist guaranteed to lose. Who knows? It might make them feel better.

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