A movie made me cry tonight.
It wasn’t the out-and-out sobbing sort. It was just the kind when tears well up in your eyes and your chest shudders a little. Mostly, it was the sort of experience that made my heart feel full, as though some sort of emotion inside was overflowing.
It’s not a great movie, but I enjoyed it. It’s certainly not a serious film. It just pushed my buttons in emotional ways. It made me feel things I’d been trying not to feel. And I realized afterward that I’ve been needing that. It felt like a release of pent-up feelings.
The movie is a 2005 romantic comedy called “Just Like Heaven.” Reese Witherspoon stars as a hyper-successful physician who doesn’t allow herself time for a personal life. After Elizabeth leaves her hospital — following a 26-hour shift — she has a traffic accident that leaves her in a coma. Close to death.
Mark Ruffalo plays a man named David who’s trying to get over the loss of his dead wife. He rents a furnished apartment on a month-to-month lease — and it turns out to be Elizabeth’s apartment while she’s in the coma. Before long, her spirit shows up at the apartment, but he’s the only one who can see her.
I won’t tell you the whole story, but the ending is pretty predictable for a romantic comedy.
I’d seen this movie before, but I don’t recall when. I’ve been desperately looking for something to watch lately that I could enjoy. I’ve been unhappy enough that I’d quit feeling enjoyment for anything. This isn’t a new thing for me. It’s happened fairly often over the last decade or so.
I found out years ago that there’s a word for this. In psychology, it’s called anhedonia. It’s the state of no longer feeling pleasure at things that would have given you pleasure before. It’s common for people going through some types of depression.
When it happens to me, I don’t realize it’s going on at first. For weeks now, I haven’t been able to enjoy anything. I’ve felt unable to concentrate on any creative work or anything to improve my world, and I couldn’t distract myself enough to stop ruminating.
I’ve tried watching movies and listening to music. I’ve read books and tried to write. I’ve done all sorts of things that would normally make me happy in some way, but I’ve just felt oddly annoyed with myself. I felt nothing. I’ve been pretty numb.
I saw this movie on a list of underrated romantic comedies and I recalled having seen it before. I watched a trailer and decided to give it a try again. I haven’t enjoyed anything else lately, but this was another way of trying to distract myself.
I don’t know why this movie pushed my buttons and touched my heart. Nothing about the specific plot has ever been true for me — and the idea of meeting the disembodied spirit of a dying woman certainly isn’t something I think is likely to happen to me. Or anyone else.
But I identified with these two people. The depressed David — convenient name for the character — was having trouble getting over the loss of a woman who was dead to him. That felt familiar to me. The focused and hardworking Elizabeth was losing her life — by cutting herself off from her feelings through her drive to succeed — and this reminded me of someone I used to know.
The two couldn’t touch one another. He was flesh and she was a spirit, but they — predictably — fell in love through the course of her nearly dying. It turns out — surprise, surprise — that they had been meant to meet. They didn’t fall in love based on sexual chemistry or simple physical attraction. Each fell in love with something more fundamental about the other.
There were various points during the movie when I felt like crying. It’s hard to recount the moments. It just felt like the experience of falling in love — in real life. And I’ve been without that for so long — without the feeling of being loved or of being able to say, “I love you,” to someone — that it hurt my heart.
But it hurt me in a good way. My heart overflowed. And for the first time in a long time — weeks? months? — I felt pleasure and happiness. It was happiness for a relationship that never really existed, of course, but my suspension of disbelief was good enough — in those moments — that it gave me pleasure.
And it brought those tears I mentioned.
Life isn’t the way it is in a movie. Lives aren’t saved in 90 minutes. Hearts don’t become unbroken so quickly. People don’t get over long-standing issues and allow themselves to live happily ever after.
But it’s cathartic to feel those emotions. It’s life-giving to put yourself into the position of someone who finds what you need in real life. It feels like redemption to see two people accept each other in love and to find your heart feeling a sense of, “What if…?”
The movie didn’t solve my problem. I don’t even know if I’ll feel any better tomorrow. But for now, I’m grateful for the fact that my heart overflowed — and that I could at least imagine once more being able to say, “I love you.”