Three surprising pop culture tearjerkers

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I have never been averse to a good tearjerker, whether in film, television, or another medium, partly because they happen so rarely for me. Doing a minor in film studies will open your mind to a lot of incredible things, but it will also ruin a lot of movies for you; big orchestral swells or sobbing lead actresses will leave you unmoved, even as your mother sits beside you and weeps into her knitting (true story). But even though I roll my eyes through some of my friends’ favourite chick flicks, I’ve come to truly appreciate when a story does bring me to tears, and the emotional release is far more meaningful and cathartic.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m a monster; I sobbed at the end of Toy Story 3 just like everyone else, but there are some pieces of pop culture that unexpectedly made me cry, and they hit out of nowhere like mascara-ruining bombs. So if you’ve been eyeing that tub of Ben and Jerry’s lately and need a new way to let the crying come, here are three surprising things that left me reaching for the tissues. Obviously spoilers are ahead, but I’ve tried to avoid spilling all the details.

Futurama – “Meanwhile”

Futurama aired its series finale this year, again, because apparently Comedy Central is allergic to money. The sci-fi cartoon—created by Matt Groening of Simpsons fame and often far more clever than its Springfield counterpart—died its first death when Fox cancelled it in 2003; it was revived in 2008, and weathered near-cancellation in 2009 and 2011. However, it seems that this might be the true end to the adventures of Philip J. Fry, the pizza boy who was cryogenically frozen at the end of 1999 and woke up 1 000 years later in an insane futuristic version of New York. Earlier Futurama finales typically focused on tying up the central romance subplot between Fry and cyclopian ship captain Leela, and the plot of “Meanwhile” concerns Fry’s proposal and their marriage; he takes kooky Professor Farnsworth’s latest time manipulation device, intending to stretch out the moment a little, but inadvertently ends up freezing everyone in the universe except for himself and Leela.

While it was beautiful to see the two characters grow old together, the episode also managed to celebrate the spirit of Futurama itself, as a show, which was reborn on the basis of being highly successful in syndicated reruns. It lived in repetition for many years before having the chance to tell new stories, and several episodes of the Comedy Central era—particularly “The Late Philip J. Fry” and “Bender’s Big Score”—played with the notion of criss-crossing timelines and cyclical, repeating universes. The final words of the series—“What do you say? Wanna go around again?”—were the perfect way to say goodbye—for the fourth time.

Gone Home

I don’t want to spoil this game, because absolutely everyone should go buy it from Steam and play it. We need way more video games like this. Gone Home is a first-person, adventure-type game in which you play Kaitlin Greenbriar, a college student who’s spent a year in Europe and arrives home only to find her family’s gigantic mansion completely deserted. As you explore each room, trying to figure out what happened to your family, you uncover a series of journal entries from Kaitlin’s younger sister Samantha, which start to explain the situation.

The thing about Gone Home is that it tells a fairly simple story, but it does so with immensely strong writing and voice acting, and conveys a great deal solely with the visuals: a letter crumpled up in a garbage can, a brochure in the greenhouse, or a photo inside a locker all contribute to the narrative while still leaving you to connect the dots. Gone Home is also significant for being one of the few video games out there right now which include LGBT themes. While the ending isn’t tragic, I still cried at the final journal entry, because over the course of just a few hours I’d come to connect with the characters and felt both saddened and overjoyed at Samantha’s fate. Video games can tell monumentally powerful stories, and Gone Home is proof.

The End Credits to Wall-e

Let me be clear on this: I think Wall-e is absolutely brilliant, possibly the best Pixar film ever made, and I’ve re-watched it more times than I can count. Wall-e is the tale of the titular robot, the last of a series designed to clean up a trash-ridden, post-apocalyptic Earth, while humanity took a millennia-long pleasure cruise in space. He ends up hitching a ride back to the space ship in pursuit of a female robot named EVE and the living plant she’s discovered, and he plays a significant role in bringing the humans home.

Now, I held it together throughout most of the story—which is essentially a Charlie Chaplin romance, except with robots—but the ending credits were another thing entirely. Wall-e ends with the humans—who haven’t known anything but the fully-automated ship for thousands of years—coming back to Earth and attempting a fresh start on their junk-covered home planet. The end titles are a set of illustrated scenes which show what happens to them next, and each scene follows the history of art—from cave paintings, to hieroglyphics, to pointillism to Impressionism—all scored by Peter Gabriel’s Oscar-nominated song “Down to Earth.” It was such a profoundly beautiful epilogue to an already gorgeous movie, showing that everyone truly did live happily ever after, and it made me burst into tears. I sat in the empty theatre and sobbed until the reel went blank, and I still cry to this day. It’s one thing to make a beautiful-looking CGI movie; however, it takes a set of geniuses like the minds at Pixar to bring you to tears with nothing but a credits sequence.