The Emotional Release of Crying Over Sad Movies or Books


Breeanna Pham, Staff Writer

What is the phenomenon that causes people to cry while watching a depressing movie or reading a sad book? This phenomenon is evident in the movie Me Before You, where 70% of viewers cried at least once during the film. 

To summarize, a woman named Louisa Clark tries to stop William (Will) Traynor from committing assisted suicide unknowingly (because she is initially hired as a caregiver for him). Although at first, their relationship dynamic was very tense, and professional, it progressively began to transform into friendship when Louisa (nicknamed “Clark” by Will) slowly gains his trust by proving to him that she is someone who is willing to stay in his life regardless of how horribly he treats her. When on her way out of work, she overhears a conversation about Will’s plan for assisted suicide at a place in Switzerland. From then, she is determined to make him want to live, but in that journey, their friendship begins to turn into romantic feelings. However, those attempts were unsuccessful and at the end of the film, Will does end up committing suicide with Clark his side, creating a huge tear-jerking moment for many viewers. 

But why is this most prevalent in sad movies rather than happy ones where there’s a happy ending? Well, this phenomenon is contributed to something called catharsis. Catharsis, as defined by Merriam-Webster,  is the “purification or purgation of emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art.”

According to an article from Very Well Mind, there is a psychoanalytic theory that states that the reason for being emotional in books is linked to the need to relieve unconscious conflicts like family troubles, anxiety, stress, inadequacy, etc. It also talks about how many individuals release these feelings through literature, rather than venting them to someone else.

This definition is especially prevalent when analyzing pieces of literature like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This book depicts the daily struggles of living with trauma, chronic pain, and disability intertwining them to make a masterpiece of a book. 

According to TikTok user @tayrosen, he describes in a TikTok how it is the “magnum opus of sadness” and how “it sucks you in with its amazing writing and then you fall deeply in love with the characters.” 

This reaction however is not just from this TikTok user but from many others like @thebooksiveloved and @femalestephenasmith

“Sometimes I feel better after crying at sad movies/books, but other times there persists a painful sense of loneliness or emptiness,” stated Arcadia High School sophomore Sophia Lin. “Usually what evokes tears are poignant depictions of human connection.” 

Everyone has to cry at one point or another. It is human nature, and how that emotion is invoked however is dependent from person to person. Whether you watch sad movies or read sad books to cry or as a coping mechanism, it is not something you should be embarrassed about and is a really healthy coping mechanism! 


Photo courtesy of PIXABAY