I cry every single time that I watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame. . .
and it is not because it is the most underrated Disney movie of all time. What truly gets me in the film is the scene during the festival of fools. My main man Quasi is stoked to finally be accepted by his peers. He even gets crowned KING – but unlike most movies, this is not an altruistic act from the crowd. He is only crowned because they believe that he has the most hideous mask; however, one guard in the crowd thinks it is a good idea to throw a tomato at Quasimodo. Apparently, everyone attending the festival is an asshole and joins in on the humiliation. And although I know what will happen each and every time I watch this scene, the tears remain consistent.
I used to always be a bit embarrassed by my reaction. After all, I was crying over a fictional character going through a fictitious experience – yet now I know there is a deeper reason. It is not Quasimodo that causes me to cry (for he really doesn’t want to hurt me, he really doesn’t want to see me cry) – it is a testament to the animators’ ability to tell a story, and my own character. To quote the man behind my tears, Victor Hugo once said, “Those who do not weep, do not see.” I suppose that while watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I submerge myself into the film – I am not watching, I am seeing. Although the two seem similar, they are actually quite different:
Watching – look at or observe attentively, typically over a period of time.
Seeing – be or become aware of something from observation or from a written or other visual source.
Unlike watching, seeing involves more activity. While watching, information stops once retained. Watching is a passive act. With seeing, information that is retained becomes processed, and it is through this process that connections can be made, allowing for empathy.
Up until recently, The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be the only time anything on screen would move me to tears. I did not cry as Mufasa died nor did I shed a single tear in Titanic – only Quasimodo resonated with me, he not only rang the bells of Notre Dame, but the bells of my heart. However, within the past two years, this was no longer the case. My eyes were like dynamites, ready to go off at any second. Here are some recent examples:
- Inside Out – as Bing Bong acts as a martyr and instructs Joy to “take Riley to the moon for him.”
- Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” in which Abed envisions the entire study group as stop motion to cope with his absent mother.
- Queer Eye – every single time one of the participants revealed their new transformation and then said goodbye to the Fab Five.
- Forrest Gump – Forrest discovers that he has a son and immediately asks if he is “smart.”
These tears are not always a result of sadness. They stem from compassion (and typically cartoons). Yet this epiphany did not enter my mind until recently (ironically, this involved real people).
During my visit to the Georgia Aquarium, I watched a Dolphin Show. There was a segment in which one of the trainers had a child from the audience perform in the show. A crowd of 200+ people watched as a ten year old boy “trained” a dolphin. As the boy instructed the dolphin, we all saw the trainer discretely send signals to the dolphin – however, the entire crowd cheered for the boy. In that moment, all of us became united under a single cause: to make the boy believe. Yes, this is incredibly corny, but against my better judgement, I found myself tearing. I immediately tried to hide my tears – what was I crying for? When did I become such a baby?
After wracking my brain for some odd moments, a new question emerged: Why was I criticizing myself for experiencing the most heightened form of compassion?
In that moment, I was moved at how the entire crowd was able to function as a collective just to make one little boy – that none of us knew – believe that he was able to control dolphins. How absurd. How spectacular. How magical.
We are constantly told that there is no use in crying over spilled milk, and let’s not forget that it is banned from basseball as well. Big girls don’t cry (thanks Fergie). Boys don’t cry. However, to fully invest yourself into the life of someone else, real or imagined, is an incredible gift. So I say, crybabies, rejoiceth! In those tear-jerking moments, we stop watching, and we tear down the wall that we build to separate ourselves from others – after all, take it from Laverne, “Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’ is all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without ya.”