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  Written by
  Jack Katz, JD'69

  Imaging by
  Allen Carroll

  Text-only
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  FEATURES
  > > Minds at work
  > > The stuff of tears
  > > Native Chicago


 
image: "The stuff of tears" headlineContinued... In contemporary Western culture, among all the varieties of interpersonal love, parental love lacks a language. Parents often begin to recount iconic scenes that are intended to show others the lovable qualities of their children, only to find, in signs of their correspondents' labored listening, that the storytelling is impossibly inadequate. The parent's appreciation of the child's preciousness also acknowledges the child's existential distance from the adults.

image: One eye crying (Allen Carroll)Nostalgic cryings, such as hearing at middle age a song that brings recollections of one's youth, are examples of a similar gap between the generative periods of one's own life. That younger person, the one who was moved by those tunes 35 years ago, must still be around somewhere in one's experience, but the distance is now so great that that younger person cannot be addressed directly. One realizes that one must have had that past, but now it has moved out of reach.

Another and more mysterious variety of nostalgic cryings is of the type that evokes ties with a past that one never had. An example would be finding oneself moved to tears by an ethnic song in a language whose accents one recognizes but whose words one cannot understand.

image: Two eyes crying (Allen Carroll)Stories in which animals or, now, extraterrestrial creatures, develop protolinguistic means of "communicating" their care for people are effective movie conventions for touching viewers. Such events highlight ontological gaps even as they show extraordinary achievements in transcending them. The movie E.T. was famous for bringing grown men to tears. Two powerful moments come when the creature articulates the phrase "E.T. phone home" to explain his desire to build an interplanetary communication device, and when a glow appears at the end of E.T.'s finger as he seeks to heal the cut finger of his ailing Earth friend, the child Elliott. Both moments subtly exploit many traditional representations of heroic attempts to transcend ontological language gaps, such as "Lassie come home" and God's E.T.-like, elongated and relaxed finger as He reaches toward Adam's hand as they float over the Sistine Chapel.

Hindi movies regularly jerk tears from the audience by dramatizing existential struggles to overcome gaps in communication. A recurrent provocation is that of putting the audience in the position of trying to be a silent bridge between two personal worlds that cannot speak directly to each other. The moviegoer watches in a position of transcendent understanding, wanting to shout out clues as two brothers, separated at birth, move through situations in which they are repeatedly about to but never quite succeed in recognizing their common origin.

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