The goal of this series is to show that being “manly” and being disconnected with your emotions do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. While the approach to these articles is one of comedy and satire, the emotional core of these movies is very valid. Manly movies often times have the potential to make guys cry, for example:
“The Parents Die”
It would be easy to just fill this list with Disney films, because the big mouse loves killing parental units. Stirs the drama pot, they say. Gives kids motivation to grow as people, they say. Puts parents on notice for not visiting their parks, they say. But Disney doesn’t have a monopoly on movies where a parent dies at the top of the film, nor should it. Losing the person or people who raised you is cinematic shorthand for a great many things, often a manifestation of the child character’s greatest weakness or fear. And when used properly can be extremely powerful. Powerful enough to draw a tear from even the most stoic, macho man? Perhaps.
1. The Lion King
Honestly you can’t have a list of movies where the parents die and NOT list at least one Disney film. I opt for The Lion King for a few reasons. First, there’s no Disney Princess so to speak, which makes the film highly approachable and identifiable for young boys. Second, of all Disney’s parent-killing flicks, we get to know the soon-to-be parent corpse the most. Do you know Bambi’s mom? Do we even meet Cinderella’s parents? None of these dead custodians can even hold a candle to Darth Vader himself, Mufasa.
Mufasa is a just ruler, a loving dad, and we clearly see that Simba needs someone to teach him right from wrong. Boys can identify with the duality of respecting and fearing their father, so when the film ganks Mufasa and makes Simba think he did it, the feeling of loss is immense. Especially when the entire first act establishes how invincible and all-powerful the king is. Essentially, losing his father this way is Simba coming face to face with the one thing a king has no command over: mortality.
2. 28 Days Later
Cillian “Scarecrow” Murphy walks around England showing his dong and running away from not-zombies. As you do. Along the way he runs into a dad and his daughter, who we’re told are the only ones left of a once larger family unit. The dad is loving and funny, the daughter is plucky and resourceful. Everyone is super-careful and even a little lucky. Then the damn crows come and ruin everything.
A single drop of blood drips into the dad’s eye, for no reason. He wasn’t running from monsters, he hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Just a “screw you” to anyone who was starting to like this surrogate father figure. As he becomes aware of his humanity and sanity slipping (within a span of 30 seconds), he says his last goodbyes to his daughter. He barely has assurances that the two strangers he leaves his daughter with are good people but he does know he’s leaving his daughter in horrible danger, possibly from himself. So sad, especially when we find out the original ending had him being cured by a full blood transfusion.
It’s hard to spot through all the fast-paced horror imagery, but the most horrifying thing a father and child can fear is the unknown. Strangers taking care of your child? What might become of your father if this infection is left unchecked?
No, Uncle Ben was not Peter “ignore the third movie” Parker’s father. Ben was, however, a father figure so strong that losing him literally created Spider-Man as we know him. Peter even exclaims at the end of the film that he considers Ben Parker his true father.
Had Peter not experienced the impact of losing Uncle Ben, the first Sam Raimi film might have been about the creation of a super-villain a la Chronicle. You’ve got geek with no friends, no girl, and no respect. He’s picked on constantly, and just got the power to seek revenge. Raimi expertly portrayed some of the attitude and selfishness that Peter first gave into as being justified, even deserved. Who’s to say Peter shouldn’t take a little more of what he feels is owed to him? Uncle Ben says so.
It’s hard to remember how impactful this death was, because everyone expected it and saw it coming. But when viewed through the eyes of someone fresh to the Spider-Man franchise, you see Peter’s father figure and moral barometer shot at random due to Peter’s selfishness and it’s heartbreaking. Peter’s heroic sacrifices for his city and his loved ones comes from his pain at what he lost when he tried to use his powers for his own gain. Just don’t ask Peter to dance.
4. Batman Begins
Out of all the Batman films and TV shows, this was the first film to spend any significant amount of time on Bruce before the pivotal alleyway death. Christopher “IMAX” Nolan gifted us a window into who Thomas Wayne was as a man, a husband, and a father. We, the audience, learn to love him and to feel the warmth of his character, and to see in a brief moment his valor as he steps in front of the gun to protect his family.
Sure, you can’t have Batman without his parents dead, just like you can’t have Spider-Man without Uncle Ben dead. But while other Batman films simply rushed through this stage of Bruce’s life to get to the good punchy-punchy parts, this film played it nice and slow. Instead of a random act of violence, it is staged as the inevitable tragedy brought upon by Gotham’s decay and Bruce’s emotional vulnerability (which caused the Waynes to leave the theatre early). It’s only more tragic when Bruce becomes Batman to fight against both of these…Gotham’s crime, and his own limitations. Emotional, powerful, the best rendition of the Wayne family while it was still intact.
5. Edward Scissorhands
For those who only ever saw this film on TV, there’s a chance you’ve always missed the beginning where we learn of Edward’s origins. Despite Johnny Depp in crazy makeup, Edward is supposedly a robot built by Vincent “look me up you damn kids” Price. A lonely inventor on a hilltop mansion, Vincent slowly improves on one of his line-worker robots until a humanoid form takes shape. Each step replacing a robot part with a human equivalent.
In a childlike simplicity that Tim Burton long since lost the knack for, we watched with great excitement as Edward opened up a present, to find his last upgrade: Human hands. Vincent held them up, smiling in a way all parents do when they know they’ve made their children happy. Then, as the smile fades to grimace, and Edward’s blades slice through the hands he’ll never get, Vincent dies. The only thing that would make this worse is if Edward tried to embrace his dead father and cut him with his scissor-hands OH WAIT THAT HAPPENED TOO HOLY HELL I’M SAD NOW!
While a highly-stylized fairy tale of sorts, Edward’s story has at its heart a metaphor for how we view our parental figures. Edward can never be the complete, whole person his father wanted him to be. And when he is taken in by the creepily pastel-shaded folks in town he cannot blend with them either. He is alone in his adolescence, as we all are.
Like what you see? Secure enough in your masculinity for more? Check out more Guy Cry Cinema or watch Dan on No Right Answer, the weekly debate show that knows what’s really important: Pointlessly arguing about geek culture.