Re read the screenwriter post and have the elements in mind. It will help you in this post to recognize how the elements played out in the stories being compared. It will allow you to see how writing for the movies can be so important for following the story. The most powerful moments in cinema are when we see the characters feel the emotion. If we cannot see the characters showing their grief, then it is hard for us to share that grief alongside.
Up, The Green Mile, and Interstellar. These three films have one thing in common: they could make an audience cry. Let’s analyze why these films can deliver such powerful emotion, to help you apply their traits into your own works.
The opening sequence of “Up” pretty much makes everyone cry.The director manages to bring an audience to tears using nothing but the camera and music. An example of how the camera is used to convey emotion, is in the brief sequence where the audience is shown that the two characters are expecting a baby, but for some reason the child dies. The first shot is wide, bright, and full of colour, but the second shot, where the tragic news is conveyed, is narrow with the harsh, white light, only taking up a small sliver of the screen. The color palette also being far less vibrant, this all in stark contrast with the first shot. The narrow framing of the second shot makes the viewers’ subconscious feel uneasy and claustrophobic. This helps us to empathize with the characters, as the use of the lens is making us feel emotion without us even realizing. There is also a consistency between most of the short transitions, as whenever a shot is changed, the focus of the viewers’ eyes does not move or, if it does, it moves only by a little.
This essentially makes viewing a far more fluid experience and makes it just that little bit easier for the viewer to understand what’s going on. A confused viewer is never going to cry. This technique isn’t just essential in good montage, but also to film in general. Truly, the most powerful shot of the montage is the last one, where he is alone at his wife’s funeral, holding a balloon. Now, why is this such a powerful shot? First, it is a direct call-back to the first shot of the montage — their wedding. The contrast between the two shots is a large part of why it is such a good one. The first is full of color and light. The second is a deep, dark, red. In the second shot, the subject is much smaller in the frame than in the first one. This makes him feel tiny and alone.
If you look beyond the lens and into the actual context, there is also a powerful contrast — In the first shot, Carl has his youth; a large family and a loving wife to live for. And in the second shot, he has nothing. Absolutely… nothing to live for and give his life purpose. It isn’t a coincidence that the montage opens and closes in the exact, same church. And from a very similar angle too. The fact that these two shots are polar opposites, brings the sequence full circle.
To summarize in one word why the sequence is such a sad one, it would be… Injustice. How Carl has been a good person, lived the life without sin. Yet, despite all that, he has had everything taken away from him. And now, through no fault of his own has nothing left to live for.
Now let’s look at “Interstellar”. Midway through the film’s runtime, is a particularly powerful scene.Cooper has been out in space for what is for him only a few months, but due to time dilation, has been 23 years for his family back home. He sits down to watch decade’s worth of videos from his children, as they have grown up without him and both, in their own ways, comes to hate their dad for leaving them.
In terms of cinematography, there is only one thing worth mentioning — how as the emotion in the scene grows. The camera also comes closer to the subject’s face. This is to give the connection between the audience and the subject; much more intimacy. The real tragedy of this scene is not just in how his children (whom he loves), completely have grown to hate him — but because they are justified in doing so. Cooper left Earth to protect his children, but in leaving Earth he has caused a tremendous harm upon them.
In this scene it finally dawns on him how much so. You once told me that when you came back we might be the same age. Today I’m the age you were when you left. So it would be a real good time for you to come back. This right here is the most powerful part. When his daughter, whose face is that of a stranger, reminds him that he just broke the only promise he ever made to his scared and vulnerable daughter. Not only there, but there is also a strong sense of injustice; how the character has been denied the right to ever even see his children grow up. Unfortunately, a large amount of people can empathize with. And all of that, the injustice, the broken promises, how we completely and utterly empathize with the character, all of that adds together to create a powerful scene.
Finally we have “The Green Mile”. One of the characters (John Coffey), has been sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. The guards know that he is innocent, as does the audience; but with no choice, the guards have to execute him anyway. The real kicker in this scene, it’s how John is an extremely likable character. He is kind to everyone around him and despite his massive size is incredibly gentle. Without doubt, the biggest reason why this is such a sad scene is the injustice. The fact an innocent man, who the audience likes immensely is wrongly executed, is the most powerful example of injustice you will ever find on film.
Also, what plays a large role in making this such an emotional scene, is the fact that up until this point it has been a happy film. While there were some sad moments, the vast majority of the movie is lighthearted, dealing with troubles and prisoners in funny ways. The characters finding joy in a simple amuse that comes in and start doing tricks. If you ask me the fact that so much of the film is so happy, is what makes it such a sad one; because the contrast from extremely happy to immensely sad, give so much more of an emotional fall for the viewer. So, the sad moments have a great deal more potency.
Now that we’ve analyzed the three examples, let’s compare them and ask what traits do they all share. Well, it’s a simple one — Injustice. Injustice is an integral part to any sad scene, as if the characters are happy or in any way shape or form, get what they deserve it compromises the sadness that you might be trying to convey. Of course, injustice is only a one small part of what makes a sad moment. A lot of people would argue that you need to be sympathetic towards the characters. But I respectfully disagree. In “Interstellar” Cooper is crying because he has been robbed of his relationship with his daughter. You might be saying I don’t have a daughter.
How can I be sympathetic towards him? And enough, it is sad because Carl has lost his wife. How am I supposed to feel sympathetic towards Carl? Rather than being sympathetic, I would argue it’s far more important to be empathetic towards the character. Creating a sad moment is not easy. There is no formula or single trick you can use to make the audience cry. But, there is one integral thing you need to know before you make that scene a tragic one.
In each of the examples, what is the singular, most powerful shot? The one moment that makes the audience burst out into tears. In “Up” it is this one — Carl mourning over his dead wife alone. In “Interstellar” it is this one — The moment Cooper breaks down crying. In “The Green Mile” it is this one — Please, boss… don’t put that thing over my face. – Don’t put me in the dark. – I’s afraid of the dark. The moment the guard cries giving the final order to kill John Coffey.
The most powerful moments in cinema are when we see the characters feel the emotion. If we cannot see the characters showing their grief, then it is hard for us to share that grief alongside.