In the first part of ‘relationships in films’ we talked about rom coms: their flaws, their qualities and the way they affect our expectations in romantic relationships. In this part, I’d like to talk about the tear-jerkers. These films touch a part of your soul that ordinary films do not quite reach, so it’s worth having a deeper look into a few of them. 

If we think of love as the Greeks did, then there are six types:

  • Eros: the love that regards passions and sexuality
  • Agape: unconditional love, brotherly love and charity
  • Philia: love through friendship
  • Storge: familial love
  • Philautia: self-love
  • Xenia: hospitality

The first part of this series looked at Eros, romantic and passionate love, whereas in this installment I want to look at other types of love: agape, philia and storge. These types of love are often classed as secondary and are less exciting than Eros, they don’t have enough spark and fire, but it is exactly these kinds that touch your soul at a deeper level. So where can we find these kinds of love in films? 

Let’s dive right in. The film Steel Magnolias (a 1989 American comedy-drama film directed by Herbert Ross) perfectly portrays philia. The casting alone is almost enough to bring you to tears, but further than that, the beautiful friendship and trust between the women shows a level of love that many of us aspire to have in life. Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton) hires the shy beauty school graduate, Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah), who has just moved to town. She does this without probing Annelle with questions, truly showing a level of trust that, realistically, no modern-day employer would have. Another truly touching scene of this film is when Shelby (Julia Roberts), who has Type 1 diabetes, has a hypoglycemic attack, but recovers quickly with the women’s help. M’Lynn (Sally Field) reveals that due to Shelby’s medical condition, her doctor advises against her having children which is why Shelby considered ending her engagement to her fiancé, Jackson (Dylan McDermott), so he would not be deprived of children. The women all console her and support her decision, and similarly later on when she gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, once again they all support her – except for M’Lynn who is worried about the risks. In the end, spoiler alert, Shelby does pass away, but once again all the women are right there to console the family. That is what philia is all about, supporting your friends through everything, even if you are scared of losing them because of it, even if you know that perhaps it is not the best idea. If they are happy, your job is to support them and to give them a hand to pull them back up if they fall down. 

Next up is My Sister’s Keeper (a 2009 American drama film directed by Nick Cassavetes). In Los Angeles, an eleven year old seeks legal help in order to earn medical emancipation from her mother who wants her to donate her kidney to her sister. The young girl (Abigail Breslin) tells a lawyer the story of her family after her discovery that her older sister has leukemia. She details the fact that she was conceived by in vitro fertilization to become a donor, and the medical procedures she has been subject to since she was five years old as a donor to her sister (Sofia Vassilieva). At first, we are shocked to see that the young girl is content for her ill sister to die, only to learn later on that it was actually the older sister herself who wanted medical emancipation for her sister. This was in order for her to stop suffer and also so that she could die peacefully without having any other medical procedure. The kind of love we see here is the one of storge. The fact that the young sister is willing to take the judgment to give her sister the peaceful death she wants and needs, is a type of self-sacrifice that many would struggle to summon themselves. Throughout the film, we see the family tearing apart from the grief, the anger, and the struggle of their helplessness in the face of illness, and yet they persist and hold fast. This goes back to the idea that storge is the kind of protective love that can withstand hardships and trials. At times we forget to appreciate our own families, or loved ones who feel like family. But ultimately, they are there for you no matter what, and if they were to be taken away from you because of a horrid thing such as cancer as seen in My Sister’s Keeper, you too would be distraught. This film reminds us to hold on to those we love and to let them know it. 

Now we can move to the kind of film which one can never truly recover from, a film portraying one of the darkest parts of all history: Schindler’s List (a 1993 American historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg). There are many movies which encompass the idea of agape, but this is perhaps one of the most memorable ones. Aside from the amazing cinematic work (particularly the black and white colour palette which is disrupted only by a little girl’s red coat) the pure emotion we feel whilst watching this masterpiece reaches levels beyond any film I have ever seen. Businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrives in Krakow ready to make money from the beginning of the Second World War; he joins the Nazi party mainly for political expediency and staffs his factory with Jewish workers because it was more economical. However, when the SS begins exterminating Jews, Schindler protects his workers, keeping them in the factory and even letting them practice on the Sabbath. In the end, Schindler saved over 1100 lives. You may be thinking, yes, this is a touching story, but how does it apply to me? Well, it is easy to say that you will stand up for what you believe in, and it is easy to say that you are willing to give your life for it. But when it comes to someone else’s beliefs… will you stand up for them too? It is easy to say that you will, in theory, but in truth a lot of the time as humans we are happy to sit on the sidelines. Perhaps because we are afraid of what will happen to us, or perhaps because we have our own worries to think about. Often, we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. This is why this story stands out so much. Schindler could have stayed on the sidelines and let the SS exterminate his factory just as they had done to thousands of other establishments, but he didn’t; he gave up his safety, his status, and his money to make sure that they all lived. 

In our world today, especially here on our little island, in our comfortable homes, it is easy to forget about all the pain and struggles of others and focus on more superficial problems. I’m not just talking about people in war-torn countries like Ukraine and Syria, or the oncology wing of our hospitals. I’m talking about your neighbour down the street who is struggling to make ends meet, and the thousands that cannot stand up for themselves because they have been beaten down just one too many times. It is easy to get caught up in our own problems and our own lives, but if you take a look around, you can see that there is always the chance to show love and compassion to a fellow human, this is not something that only happens in films.

One reply on “Relationships in films: the tear-jerkers  ”

Comments are closed.