Judging from the record-breaking number of times the trailer for the upcoming film The Fault in Our Stars has been “liked” on YouTube, a lot of people are very excited to watch this movie as they cry their faces off.
Which is kind of weird, if you think about it. Why would anyone anxiously anticipate two hours of sobbing in a dark theater? And yet we seem deeply drawn to tragedy, as the ancient Greeks could have told you. It’s no accident that the all-time highest-grossing film in the U.S. is the not-too-cheery Gone With the Wind. But the why factor is something that’s stumped psychologists for decades.
One theory, brought to you by an analysis of 361 surveys completed after people watched the sob story Atonement: People like watching sad movies because the huge and life-altering problems they encounter onscreen cause them to see their own issues in a new light. So there’s a subtle difference here from pure catharsis; it’s not exactly that sad films help us purge our emotions. It might be that tearjerkers trigger new ways of thinking about our own lives, which in turn enhances happiness, study author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, who teaches media studies at Ohio State University, said in an email. Gus and Hazel, in other words, remind us how good we’ve got it, comparatively speaking. Feels faces, activate.
(Oh, and thanks to Mary Beth Oliver, a media studies professor at Penn State, for explaining some of this stuff.)