One of the most memorable times I've cried recently was at my mother's house. It was late one evening, summer had just started, and I was having trouble sleeping. I was already nervous about the summer-related worries of unproductivity, health, and my new job. I was lying on my bed, listening to a playlist of Leonard Cohen's best songs. My thoughts soon shifted to the issues I had continued to work through in therapy. Running themes of self-esteem, an inability to let others care about me, and issues with my family. Those issues bounced around, but for some reason, tonight I was thinking about my father. 'So Long, Marianne' came on and I suddenly started to sob. I thought about my connection to my dad, and how he is a great father, but how I don't feel as if I know him as well as I would like. I blubbered while my thoughts raced at 3 AM, all set to a soundtrack of Cohen.
Before 2019, I hadn't cried much in years. It's not like I wasn't sad, but I felt a new social standard of constant crying was upon us. Throughout middle school, friends of mine volunteered tidbits of revealing habits like crying every week. I brushed it aside, hardening myself. Towards the end of eighth grade, I hit a new emotional low. My life was solidly miserable for a few months at a time. I lashed out in anger at friends, acted awfully, and slowly removed myself from others with my actions. I distinctly remember a friend of mine saying that they cried every day for some reason or another and I brushed it off with a remark along the lines of "I can't even remember the last time I cried. I can't imagine crying every day." What an asshole.
Awkwafina & Shuzhen Zhao in The Farewell, courtesy of A24
In retrospect, that seems a little odd to me. For as long as I can remember, I have been comfortable with my masculinity and rejected the masculine ideals typically thrust upon men. I've always tried to reject this, making jokes to undermine and break down any toxic macho ideals that I've unconsciously inherited. Right around that time, I fell in love with movies. As I pushed my friends away, becoming more and more unknowingly angry at myself, my comfort was the indie theater down the block. I saw everything, from nature documentaries to each new Marvel film, usually on a Sunday afternoon.
I spend the end of 2016 enamored with Manchester by the Sea, a personal and striking film about depression, grief, being washed up, and several other emotions I was relating to, threw an immature, eighth-grade lense. I remember shuffling into the theater for my third viewing and sitting there during one of the dramatically climactic scenes ("I can't beat it."), thinking about how I feel as if I should be sobbing at the moment. A year or so later, there was a scene that ignited deep awe in me with the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. There's a scene where a racist cop drunkenly throws a man out a window and punches a woman in the face. The scene is set to a jaw-dropping song by the group Masters of Folk, eliciting a huge reaction out of me. I saw the film six times, but I didn't cry once.
There's a great, late period Leonard Cohen song that I started to adore this year. I play drums in my synagogues' monthly band, and my cantor had brought in the song 'Come Healing'. She had provided it as an intro to a prayer for healing, entitled 'Mi Shebeirach'. While she sang it without the bass and candor of Cohen, her sprawling version anchored its way into my heart. The song soundtracked many nights of sleeplessness over the last year, and it's beauty elevated many long religious services that I sat through. It means a lot to me in a unique way, albeit a slightly indescribable one.
2019 changed a lot of things for me. I was far from the misanthrope of middle school that ex-friends may remember. I was headed into the summer anxious, obsessing over Leonard Cohen, and afraid of Junior year around the corner - hell, I still am. I cried a few times throughout the summer, sometimes thinking about my family, sometimes about myself, sometimes about friends. I've had some emotional moments in the cinema this year. Nothing life-changing, but moments have brought out strong reactions in me since the beginning of the year. The final scene of the film Long Day's Journey Into Night hit me in a certain, frail spot that I had not anticipated. The final act of Diane gave me a warm, but melancholic emotion that's hard to articulate. The "Heaven" scene of Her Smell almost moved me to tears. Almost.
I wandered into The Farewell last Thursday in a poor mood. My plans for the day fell through, and I was still feeling anxiety about summer ending and productivity. I walked over to that four screen theater that was my source of comfort in middle school, and the one that I now work at. I've been meaning to see Lulu Wang's debut feature since it opened last Friday, but I had been lazy, spending the week being unproductive and doing everything wanted to avoid all summer.
The Farewell crept up on me in a delicate manner. The film unfolds slowly and naturally, revealing plot threads and relationships perfectly. It beautifully illuminates the magic of grandparents, and how they always will have a certain glow that no one else has. It's a perfect adaptation of a stranger than fiction story, with a deft directorial touch that involves us in the drama at the core. The awkward humor helps carry the film through the depressing topic, deftly weaving the two tones in a naturalistic way that feels far more grounded than many dramedies that have come before. It's a near-perfect film.
Awkwafina & Shuzhen Zhao in The Farewell, courtesy of A24
Nothing hit me harder than the titular scene, but the most crucial part of it had very little to do with the film itself. Right at the dramatic pinnacle of the film, a cover of 'Come Healing' starts, performed wonderfully by Elayna Boynton. At this moment, I started to cry harder than I had in ages. Boynton's gravelly and stunning voice cracked this certain, hard shell of mine. There's something beautiful about cinema, sitting with strangers taking in a piece of art together, but there's something scary about crying in a theater. You are vulnerable to strangers, the friend that you went with, and the movie theater employee that you have to see as you walk out. The elegance of The Farewell (and Leonard Cohen) shattered that fear for me.
That scene of The Farewell is a beautiful and moving one, but the reason I started crying has to be the song. I know 'Come Healing' as an intro to a prayer for healing, and it bookends a film about praying for a loved one, hoping they get better. The needle drop brought me to a religious place, recalling all of those times I had heard it in temple, but also recalling all of those late nights that it soundtracked. I sobbed until the movie was done, and half of the walk home.
Listen to The Farewell Soundtrack