Movies that kicked my heart’s ass

I have been somewhat keeping tack of the films I’ve been watching that have left me feeling particularly tender and reflective. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there was some profound message in each of them; sometimes you just see things at just the right time in your life and it triggers an emotional response you might have not seen coming. Sometimes movies are just really good at making you cry (and also make it hard to recognize your puffy face in the mirror.) All of my picks so far are pretty recent, but I also have an extensive, almost never-ending “to watch” list, so don’t write me off yet if nothing. Here’s my list so far:

1. Moonlight (2016)

You the only man that’s ever touched me. You’re the only one. I haven’t really touched anyone since.

Winning 3 Academy Awards at the 2017 Oscars, including Best Picture (suck it, La La Land), Moonlight follows Chiron through 3 influential stages of his life as a child (his identity as Little), a teenager (here going by his name, Chiron), and a young man (his persona as Black). He grapples with his attraction and then love for another man, his best friend Kevin, growing up with a elusive, drug-addicted mother, being bullied, finding family and mentorship with his neighborhood drug kingpin, and more. This movie was really beautiful not only in the acting performed by all three of the Chiron characters, but also in how just pretty of a movie it was visually. When Vi and I saw it in theatres, there was only one other couple present, and the controlled emotion of the film + accompanying soundtrack really brought a story that isn’t often allowed to be told to life. Moonlight deserved every reward it’s received, and seeing a gay, black boy’s story told with such raw authenticity was truly rewarding to be able to experience.

2. The Handmaiden (2016)

My savior who came to ruin my life. My Tamako, my Sook-hee.

Do you love a good lesbian, gothic, Korean psychological thriller? Who doesn’t! The Handmaiden (not to be confused with The Handmaid’s Tale) is a film based on the book Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but changes the setting to create an exciting story of twists and aching. In Japanese-occupied Korea, an orphan pickpocket Sook-hee teams up with a con-man to get close to and steal the inheritance of a Japanese heiress. This is a film you don’t want to blink watching. Love, sex, mystery, deception, revenge- everything that makes an engaging thriller PLUS LESBIANS!!! Which, of course, makes this thrill-seeking bisexual all but foam at the mouth. I promise you’ll be hanging off the edge of your seat, rooting for the heroines by the end of this one.

3. Amorous (2014) (Previously titled Hide & Seek)


Amorous is a film that I found by accident, not knowing much about the plot or premise. And honestly, it had a bit of a slow build up before I became too invested in the characters. A quick internet search showed me that this movie is pretty low profile and also on the mediocre side when it comes to critic reviews. SO why is it included on this list, you ask? Great question! In general, I don’t judge a movie based on its professional reviews- I’ve loved some TERRIBLE movies and not been too keen to some high-rated major motion pictures as well (I’m looking at you, The Shape of Water). In Amorous, 4 friends, 2 couples, retreat to an isolated house to leave behind societal constructs surrounding their relationships, in hopes of finding community and warmth in each other. Bluntly, the 4 have scheduled partner swaps each night, between hanging out as a group. That means each of the 4 (2 men and 2 women) spends intimate time with each single other person. It might be the polyamorous bisexual in me, but the dreamy, open sexual intimacy between the friends was so admirable to me, I just couldn’t keep from following along.

4. Before I Disappear (2014)

Dear Vista,

I have stumbled upon a part of me that wants to see the sun rise tomorrow. A part of me that has been buried deep inside for so many years.

Before I continue, know that this movie had heavy suggestion of suicidal and self-harming tendencies. It was raw, it was tough to watch sometimes, but as someone who has and still sometimes struggles with depression and not always wanting to see the sun rise, it was also really relatable and even darkly funny at times. Before I Disappear hit so close to home, in fact, that I had to pause it a few times and come back to watching it after emotionally grounding myself. The movie follows self-medicating Richie, who writes letters to his missing girlfriend Vista. During a suicide attempt, Richie gets a call from his sister, asking him to watch her daughter Sophia while she handles a problem. The rest of the movie follows Richie and Sophia as they adventure through a night in the city, with the two finding solace the longer they spend time together. I like this movie because it doesn’t shy away from the reality of sadness and hopelessness, but it also has a realistically uplifting message of  redemption.

5. Train to Busan (2016)

Seok-Woo gazes lovingly at his daughter Soo-An.

Okay, I didn’t think a zombie movie would make me cry as hard as this movie has all 5 times I’ve watched it so far. Another deserving award-winner, Train to Busan shows the expanse of a father’s love for his daughter amidst a fast-paced race to safety. Although you get introduced to the supporting characters fairly quickly, you become so emotionally invested in their fight and the sacrifices they face on the journey towards towards the city of Busan. I’ve pushed for most everyone I spend more than a few hours with at a time to watch this movie; I love it so much. I can’t help but be amazed also at the acting of all the zombies in this film- the snarls, the body contortions, the make up is all amazing. This is no average monster flick. Plus, the leading man Gong Yoo? A gorgeous, gorgeous man.

6. Holding the Man (2015)

You are a hole in my life – a black hole.
Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly.

Holding the Man is another happy accident, that I found while housesitting for a professor this past winter. An Australian film based on a memoir of the same name, this heart wrenching true story follows the relationship of Timothy and John in the 80s, from high school sweethearts to dedicated lovers as young men. Break-ups, homophobia, HIV, and overall fear trouble Tim and John through their relationship, but their love holds binds them to each other through to the bitter end. Could you watch the love of your life fall apart right in front of your eyes? The chemistry between the two leads is not only electric, its tender in a way that chokes you up long after the credits roll.

7. Wind River (2017)

It is here, in the cradle of all I hold dear, I guard every memory of you.

Wind River was recommend to me by my friend Selena a while ago, but she warned me it would emotionally destroy me so I kept putting off watching it until recently, when I could give it the attention it deserved. The film is a murder mystery that takes place on Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, written in reference to the thousands of indigenous women who are sexually assaulted, missing, and murdered all across North America. As an indigenous women, I know that our stories are rarely told and this one was brutal. While I appreciated and enjoyed the attention of a film so focused on finding some sort of justice for Native women and commenting on injustices of reservation life, there was still a lot about this movie that picked at me. The two white leads (although Jeremy Renner exemplified a good ally to his character’s indigenous children’s family) were given a romantic sublimity that I feel was unnecessary and distracted from the point, Native boys were shown as primarily criminals, and sexual assault against the Native victim in the film was explicit in a way that echoed the pain-porn that black and brown folks are often the main subjects for. It does feel a bit like this was more a film for white people to feel sad over, but it still struck my heart in a way that feels like the heavy hand of intergenerational trauma.

Those are some of the recent movies that have been keeping me up at night. Have you seen any of them and had similar emotional responses? What are some of your favorite movies to watch when you’re in the mood to feel?

If you’re missing your high school best friend a little bit more than other people in their 20s:

Sometimes, it is your fault.

Sometimes, you’re the one who’s toxic.

Sometimes, you’ll get left behind not because you necessarily deserve to be, but because other people deserve to move on from something that just isn’t what they want anymore.

Sometimes you’re not always the version of yourself that you think you are- good, just, right.

Sometimes, things really are your fault.

When people wrong me or hurt me, the most important thing to me, even more than an apology, is accountability. Acknowledging that you were wrong goes a long way with me and is the most straightforward path to forgiveness and redemption. Without accountability, it’s easy for me to hold a grudge or lack respect for others. How am I expected to forgive someone who not only isn’t sorry, but won’t even admit they did anything wrong? People will never learn how to treat you well if you excuse every trespass against you with a shrug. I know this brands me as stubborn, but I don’t think its so ridiculous.

Feeling so strongly this way, it was pretty jolting to find myself so clearly on the other end of this kind of situation. Here’s what I mean:

For the past 3 years or so I’ve been estranged from a close friend that I had in middle school and most of high school. It’s an odd situation, one where I didn’t really know how to move forward because there was no big fight, no reason for me to dislike her- we had just stopped being friends (albeit at a sensitive, transitionary time of high school). Beginning a few months ago, her presence (or lack thereof) had been weighing heavy on my heart. I found myself being reminded of her, thinking more and more about the conditions that led to us not being in each others lives after being so close for what was an impactful time during my teenage years. Not to say that I never thought of her before then, but I felt like I was being hit, hard and constant, by her absence. I was having dreams, flashbacks.

I tried reaching out, maybe once a month or so, to try and gauge her general reaction towards me. Was she upset with me? Did she hate me? Had I done something forgotten but unforgivable? Our separation was vague and confusing at the time, so looking back to try and decipher the past on my own was proving to be a frustrating task. Our communication was limited, polite, far and in between. Still though, I could never bring myself to just be direct and ask her to help me understand. Confessing my feelings was easy enough- I’m not ashamed to tell someone I miss them, that I hold them in my heart. The problem I was having was voluntarily choosing to open a box that I let shut a long time ago, not knowing what would be left inside. Did I really want to know what she thought of me? My mind was already convinced she thought the worst of me, and was just being polite in responding to me. Bringing up the past would give me answers, but was I ready to hear what she really had to say about me, about what I contributed in shaping her perspective of what our friendship was, and if it could ever exist again?

We made plans to meet. I drove hours to see her, sweating the whole way. I asked her if we could finally talk about what happened, and we did. At the end of the conversation, I felt relief, I felt happiness for being allowed that space with her and some sort of clarity. But I also continued to have an anxious tension in my chest, and a sadness that bugged me. We did it, we talked, she didn’t hate me, she wasn’t rejecting me expressing a desire to know her again. But I still just felt bad when I got in my car to drive home. Why? It was because, sitting there, listening, I realized that not only did we not have similar value in our past friendship (which is understandable and no one’s fault), but I also realized that I wasn’t always as great of a best friend as I thought I was. The one thing that actually broke my heart a little was when she said, as delicately as she could I could tell, “I wish you would have appreciated me a little more before instead of after”.

And she’s right. It really hurt me when I lost her, or rather, when I let her go. But I did make that decision to let her go, to not show her how much I valued her when I had her in my life. Like with a lot of people, high school is mostly a blur to me now, moreso the more time that passes. But I do remember my some of my more self-destructive faults that were rampant at that time because they’re things that I’ve been working on ever since I left. I was confrontational, a control freak, self-absorbed. All this time I have been priding myself on how much I love and value my friends, the people who don’t have to be there for me but are. Yet there I was, with maybe the most significant friend of my young years, not having talked to her in years because I didn’t act on that love in the way that I always want to actively love people important to me I can’t, and I don’t, resent her for moving on from me when it’s my fault for not appreciating what I had when I had it. Plainly, I took our friendship for granted. I made her feel less than what she really was to me.

I give myself some slack, just because we drifted apart at a time in my life when I was dealing with a lot of other manifesting fears and insecurities. But ultimately, I know that I have to take accountability for my part in losing a great friend. I have to do what I always think others should. I have to realize that I’m not always a passive victim, things don’t always “happen to” me in a vacuum. Sometimes, yeah, people will treat you how they will because of who they are, with little to do with you. But those important relationships, they’re connections between you and someone else. You give and take from each other. When things get hard or messy, you have to be clear about who you are and what you want and what’s worth fighting for. I was too young and selfish and afraid to fight for a friend that meant so much to me.

But this isn’t a self-pitying post. This is a post about self-reflection, about what drives us towards redemption. To move forward, I have to accept accountability. From there, I can do the work. I can practice patience and appreciation and active love. We’ve already talked about it, but if you’re reading this, Becca, I love you and I miss you, and I’m dedicated to this process of getting to know you again. While I was sad that I let you down, I also still felt that familiar warmth talking with you again. Hearing about your life again, even for just a few hours, was comforting and reassuring for me. I know you think we’re strangers now, but I know there’s more between us than a few years apart can completely erase. I still smile and think of you whenever I hear Green Day come on the radio, have a .99 cent bowl of kimchi-flavored ramen, or catch a rerun of Vampire Diaries. I’m sorry I messed up. Maybe I’ll get it right this time around and show you just how much you’ve touched my life.