The Anti-Waterworks – My (Not So) Emotional Reactions to Fiction

Last week, Charles over at Beneath the Tangles asked “What scenes from an anime or which series have evoked a powerful (and perhaps unexpected) response within you? Why?” It’s an interesting question, but I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head. So I thought about it some more later in the day, and found that even if I broaden the question’s scope from anime to media in general I still couldn’t come up with much.

I can’t think of any fictional work that’s moved me in the sense of changing the way I think or behave, at least not in any way discernible to me. As for a simply emotional response, I’ve never been an emotional person; I’ve never cried over a novel or film, and never really get worked up over real-life events, either. During an election, for instance, my father commented that he wished he had my stoicism. Even if we broaden the question further still to non-fiction, the only such work to effect an almost-immediately discernible change in me is Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno.

After some reflection, though, I can name a small handful of works that, even if they didn’t move me to tears, did provoke a fairly strong emotion, whether that be sadness, fear, or just a great sense of satisfaction.

One I’ve written about elsewhere is seeing Evangelion 2.22 in theatre; specifically, I’m thinking of the climax where Shinji fights and defeats the film’s last angel and rescues Rei. On its own, it’s an excellent scene – great spectacle, especially in a theatrical setting, and a satisfying end to the film (albeit with a cliffhanger shortly afterward).

What made this so moving for me, though, was the context of the previous Evangelion TV show and films. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with them, and the weak-willed Shinji has always irritated me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown to appreciate why Shinji is portrayed the way he is, but I also believe that the greatest art should uplift the audience. The original series does this somewhat, though the film End of Evangelion does not. So, seeing this character that I want to like and have grown to sympathise with finally live up to his duty and capability was immensely satsifying.

Venturing into more visibly emotional territory, despite what I said above about never crying during a movie I’ll confess I did shed a couple tears near the end of Grave of the Fireflies, when Setsuko died. Even now, years after I saw it, every time someone mentions this film I sigh deeply. Though an emotional film experience, I didn’t think of this immediately when I read Charles’s question because there’s not really a personal connection for me; it’s just an especially sad story.

I can come up with a couple films to provoke another reaction – fear. For example, The Blair Witch Project really scared me when I first saw it. I was fairly young when it came out, and I could not sleep that night, but like Grave of the Fireflies it hasn’t really stuck with me much because there’s no personal connection – it’s just a scary movie. Besides, I’d avoid spending much time in the woods even without this film.

Blair Witch isn’t even close to my most terrifying film experience, though. That would be Jurassic Park, which my parents took me to see in theatre after much begging. Bad move on everyone’s part, as it turned out – keep in mind that I was fairly young, a middle school student, when Blair Witch came out, and Jurassic Park is about seven years older than that.

You know that scene when the storm hits, it’s dark and rainy, and the tyrannosaur first appears and attacks the car with the two children? That scene so frightened me that I literally began crawling up the back of the seat, and my parents had to take me home. Amazingly, I convinced them to take me again, and the second time I was able to sit through the whole thing, albeit with my eyes tightly closed and heart racing for some parts.

Sitting through Jurassic Park in theatre at six years old – there’s a profile in courage for you. When I revisited the film after several years it still held up as an excellent film, but honestly, I’m content with never experiencing this film, or any film, quite the same way as I did on my first viewing.

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