Friday, January 13, 2012

Movie Ratings for Widow/ers

Enough already! I’m tired of being blind-sided by movies that are themed around the death of a spouse, especially when I (or my social planners) think that the movie is a feel-good, pick-me-up. There’s nothing quite like crying your way through a Disney movie while the 10 year old kid beside you stares. Why, you ask, am I all worked up? Well let me tell you about New Year’s Day.

A good (and very sweet) female friend of mine and her girlfriends have a New Year’s Day tradition which they invited me to participate. They like to dress in their pjs and camp out at the local movie house for the whole day, moving from one movie to the next, carelessly wasting away the day in big-screen fantasy world. It’s a nice, gentle way to usher in the New Year. Ya gotta love a good plan, right?

(WARNING: The following is a complete plot spoiler. If you want to see the movie “We Bought a Zoo” with no knowledge of what you are walking into, skip the next two paragraphs.)

So I joined the crew of all women for the movie “Girl With a Dragon Tattoo.” It was a shocking but good flick. I definitely enjoyed it. To release the tension of such an edgy flick, the plan was to wrap up with a feel-good flick about animals. How can you go wrong with animal comedy? So right from one theater to the next, we headed to watch “We Bought a Zoo.” The previews were all fun animal foibles and full of cuteness. Laughter and “awww!” abound. Then the feature film started. Oh, it wasn’t five minutes into the film when the words “…because my mom died six months ago” spat out of the 14-year-old main character’s mouth. Despite my instant butt pucker, I could feel the entire row of movie seats jiggle as the rest of my crew locked down for a surprise emotional maelstrom. And it got worse, a LOT worse from there.

And thus began the emotional jack-hammering. The writers spared no heart-wrenching cliché that a long, losing battle with cancer affords. There was the putting-the-young-daughter-to-bed scene when she asked “Was Mommy hurting?” There were the various scenes with the heartbroken widower looking at the laptop computer that held an endless supply of lovely pictures of his beautiful wife (who, in my mind, looked a heck of a lot like my Maggie) while gratuitous emotional music dripped. Scene after scene, it was like someone took my life, added a zoo and some kids, and played it out on the big screen before me. Well, sort of. At least it felt that way. So I cried. A lot. In the movies. With a 10 year old boy staring at me. The whole movie. The WHOLE movie.

It didn’t take long for my entire crew to join in the tear parade. So much for the feel-good, fun flick to wrap up a relaxing day.

So enough! We’ve all said it before, usually with cursing involved, that there should be a list of movies that widows and widowers should be warned not to see (or at least be warned BEFORE they see them.) Let’s get this started right now.

Here’s how this is going to work. If you’ve seen or heard of a movie that widows and widowers need to be warned about before they see it, add a comment below with: A) The name of the movie, B) a rating from 1 to 5 of how bad the reference is (‘1’ being not so bad and ‘5’ being terrible), and C) a basic description of why we should avoid the movie. I’ll take care of the rest. After we’ve come up with a list together, I’ll make a web page or a Google document that includes them all so we can get this out to the widow world. I’m tired of being blind-sided by movies. Let’s help others avoid the same train wreck.

I’ll start (Warning! Spoilers abound):

  • “Up” Rating: 4 Reason: The basic premise is about a sad guy who lost his dear best friend and wife and hasn’t been able to let go and move on.
  • “We Bought a Zoo” Rating: 5 Reason: The whole movie is about a guy who’s wife died of cancer and his grief while he tries to move on and help his kids cope with grief.
  • “Star Trek” (The 2009 version) Rating: 3 Reason: The opening scene depicts a wife losing her husband in an explosion while she’s talking to him and giving birth to their child. (Yes, I am so much of a sad dork I cried at the open scene of the Star Trek movie.)
  • “Contagion” Rating: 2 Reason: Very early in the movie, the main character watches his wife die of some type of contagious disease. The worst is watching the doctor tell him that his wife has died and he can’t seem to comprehend the depth of what has happened.

Please add yours in the comments.


  1. "The Descendants" 5 Reason: The wife suffers a boating accident and is removed from life support. The husband deals with his grief complicated by some revelations about their relationship. (I am far enough along in my "grief journey" that I enjoyed this movie, it shows how grief is never simple and situations and emotions vary, but I could see this as very disturbing to someone dealing with death of a spouse)

  2. Magnolia (1999) Rating 5+++++ I saw this early on and it was DEVASTATING. There is a long drawn out cancer death where the widow-to-be has to choose between administering morphine and having her husband be conscious. Avoid at all costs!

  3. "The Descendants" - Rating: 5 Reason: Now I would go to any movie to just stare at George for 2 hours, but this was horrible....for me. I thought he plays a divorced man, struggling with his relationship with his 2 teenage daughters. Instead, I was STUNNED to find out he's married, his wife is on life support, brain dead, and the movie is spent waiting for her to die. And then there's the scene where they spread her ashes, which brought back sobbing memories. I saw this movie alone. Huge mistake. Huge.

  4. War Horse 2. the horse is torured and then it's best friend dies.

  5. I agree, Janine! Ditto to what you said above. I had the same experience with "The Descendants!"

  6. I understand the desire to create a list like this. And I hope that it will hope those (widows/widowers) who want to decide for themselves what movies to watch. My pet peeve since my husband's death (4 yrs next month) has been people who feel it is their right to refuse me the right to see whatever movie I want because they have pre-determined that it will be too hard for me. I actually found "We Bought A Zoo" very cathartic and relevant to me. And I have been counting the weeks for months now for my local theaters to get "The Desendants" next Friday. I guess I am different and the oddity to find these movies welcome opportunities to show the world what grief is like as well as relate them to my own experiences. For the record, I never go to a movie unless I know exactly what the movie is about and I have read the books for "The Descendants," "We Bought A Zoo," and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." (And I loved them.) So I haven't been blind-sided by them and I mean no disrespect to anyone who was caught off guard. I just want people to understand that I can make my own decisions and don't need to be "protected." And I have "enjoyed" these movies and many more like them despite the taboo subject matter of death and grief in true-to-life situations. They have in fact spoken to me all in their own way.

  7. Some well-meaning friends took me out to watch some live theater when I was about 4 months out. The play was about an aging writer that is haunted by the memory of his wife that died 10 years earlier as he was trying to date another woman. I don't think they even realized what the play was about when they talked me into going.

    For movies and TV, I just can't watch anymore. My TV broke, and I never replaced it. I've only been to the movie theaters a couple times in the last 3+ years.

    I can't say that I've missed any of it.
    Great list idea though!

  8. One Day. Rating: 5. For people who haven't read the book (like myself) it's billed as a sweet romance. After years and years of almost getting together the guy and girl FINALLY come together and have the happiness they had always been searching for and you assume they are going to live happily ever after. Then, literally out of nowhere (no lead up in the script or anything), the girl is hit by a bus and killed. I rate it as a 5 for the shock value, especially for widows of accidents like myself.

  9. My thoughts are more aligned with Stacey's above posting. Reading the books first is usually what I do. And in instances cited, this is definitely what I would do. The plus of reading is you can take a break from a book if you wish, put it down, and decide to continue later. The "Descendants" was a good read. I am not sure I desire to see the movie, but not for any reason noted in any postings. It's simply my experience that books are better than movies modeled from books.

    Recently I saw a foreign film which included a sudden, unexpected death which I found unsettling. My spouse was ill before he died and his death wasn't sudden. I was surprised at my momentary discomfort when the scene occurred but I wouldn't have avoided the movie and count it as a good movie.

    We are all at different places on this walk and have different tastes and likes. I am not sure a list is needed. What is needed I think is sensitivity in inviting people and understanding what they would prefer and having that sensitivity and understanding extended to ourselves as well.

  10. OMG Chris! I took my daughter (8) to see this movie during Christmas break. And man, I was pissed when I realized the basic concept of the movie! I have already had to explain to her that I can't simply pick up the phone and ask daddy where he stored one particular box of Christmas decorations-so we sent up a prayer instead. Then I arranged for a very special email message from Santa at the North Pole to be sent to her. I picked her up from school and said a very special person sent you an email today-HER FIRST THOUGHT was "DADDY!"
    Then after seeeing We Bought A Zoo-you know the scene at the end where they are actually seeing and talking to their mother? I had to f*cking explain THAT!!!
    I agree, a list by those who have been here, done it would be nice. The movie industry can rate for language, sex, violence, maybe it could go as far as a giant W on it for WIDOW OR WIDOWER


  11. P.S I Love You. Definitely a 5. The story is about a young couple in NYC who are going through ups and downs, and the husband dies of a brain tumor, pretty early on in the movie. Before he died, he wrote letters to his wife so she can read them after he died, to help her cope with her devastating grief and move on with her life.

    I saw it with my fiance when he started his chemotherapy and we cried and held each other long after the dvd ended. And even though he never wrote me letters, he would always tell me that if he dies, to live my life, to make my dreams and goals come true, to find happiness, to not be afraid to fall in love again. He's died four months ago and his words will always replay in my head and I feel like my life is playing out like the movie.

  12. hehe. this is such a cute post. But the odd thing is....
    if you tell me NOT to see a movie because of a storyline about death... I'll SEE it.

    My friends had told me to avoid "P.S. I love you" at all costs. They said on several occassions, DO NOT SEE IT."
    So... I instantly added it to my Netflix queue.
    The crying can be so helpful at times. ( but I agree that crying in the theatre can be a bit awkward...)

    looking forward to seeing the list you come up with! :-)

  13. THANK YOU for the Magnolia rating! I can't even imagine watching that right now - I had to go through that exact same thing with my husband =/
    I agree with PS I Love You. I have to add to the reason above is it's just unrealistic. I read the book and loved it, and then saw the movie many, many years ago. Knowing my husband was terminally ill I had it in the back of my mind that since he knew he was going to die - he'd do something really special for me, maybe not identical to the movie - but similar. Well he's been gone for a month now and I sometimes find myself thinking "why couldn't he have done that... have been like that" and I just desperately find myself wondering if he did and I just haven't found it yet (though I KNOW he didn't do anything like that for me). It just got my hopes up when I knew it shouldn't have. But ya can't help it!

  14. I noticed this very early in widowhood - the fact that so much tv/movie is built around plots that involve loss/death.

    For my husband (also widowed) and I, it's becoming something of a running (and very morbid) joke. Whenever a character in a film seems a bit off, one of us will say "Bet he/she is widowed." And sure enough not too much more narrative goes by without the big widow reveal.

    I wonder if it doesn't stem from the fact that we try to deal with the big traumas in life through story? Books, tv, movies and even song tend to tip towards events that rip our souls away and force us to start over again and work our way back from pain and sadness.

    We just watched a film this last wknd that ended up being filled with death. Short of giving up on movies and tv, I don't know how to completely avoid it. It gets easier - like everything else - as you get farther out.

  15. Watching a movie at home alone and watching a move in the theater with friends are two completely different experiences when it comes to death/dying scenes.
    I find them somewhat cathartic at home alone, but awkward for everybody when you're watching with friends.

    I would definitely want to know the premise of any movie before watching it - to avoid the blindside when out with friends. At the very least I'd like to be prepared for the tears!
    But I have no problem watching those movies at home alone.

    On a different but similar note - does anybody go to the theater alone? I'm considering going to watch a movie alone this weekend. (It's at an Art/International theater in town and I don't know if my friends would be into going to see it.) Not sure how sad or pathetic that will make me feel? Or maybe it will be totally OK?

  16. One Day.

    So not a good idea to watch this when your husband was hit by a truck riding his bike. :(
    Had no idea and cried for a day after that movie.

    1. TOTALLY agree. My daughter and I were watching the movie at home a couple of weeks ago. Didn't know much about it, except they meet every year on one day. We both beyond shocked, stunned, speechless and that creakingly horrific bus scene. And then pissed. Really, really pissed.
      And as I'm writing this I can feel my blood pressure rising and my stomach starting to hurt.
      HATED IT!!!!!!!! And I think I may hate the people who made it.

  17. Super 8 - Great Movie, but... 3 This is mostly a WW for those of you with kids who lost a parent. (wife/mom died - she does not appear in the movie itself, but is referenced strongly, visiting grave scene, missing mom, childhood videos of mom, dad works all the time to escape, etc...)

    1. Valerie, I do, and always have, gone to movies alone if I can't find someone who wants to go. Started that as a teen and have absolutely no problem with it. Movies are usually an escape, no matter who's there ... or not.
      As an aside, I went to see "We Bought a Zoo" and after the initial shock of him being a widower (didn't know that going in), I loved the movie. Parts of it were difficult and I cried through parts I have lived through, but it wasn't nearly as devastating as The Descendants.
      Every movie is going to speak to us in different ways. I just wish I'd get more of a "heads up" sometimes. :)
      So bottom line: yes, feel free to go see a movie alone. I am rarely the only single attendee in a theatre. And many times, it's rather nice to have my thoughts to myself afterwards.
      I hope you try it ... and enjoy it. :)

    2. Thanks Janine!
      Actually, I've always found movies to be a little anti-social anyway as far as outings with friends go. (You sit in the dark and don't talk!) So, yeah. I think I'll try it if the movie is still playing.

    3. I just went to a movie by myself for the first time. Strangely enough, I was trying to decide if I should see The Descendants or Young Adult. I chose Young Adult, a strange movie but, not about death. After reading all the comments I am glad I didn't go see the The Descendants alone!
      I have to say, though, I really enjoyed going alone. It was not crowded and I too was not the only "single" person in the movie theater. I am definitely going to make this a hobby of mine. It was ok to be somewhere by myself, enjoying something I love to do, with the benefit of getting to see what I wanted to see! It was a peaceful two hour escape that only cost $8.50.
      I will be sure to check the list before I go. Great idea, Chris.

  18. One Day was rough. I give it a 3.5. I knew what was coming and I still had a tough time with the scene of him in bed after she died. Wrenching, but the majority of the movie is PRE death, so not as bad.

    But I'm a little like some of the other commenters. When I'm at home, and when I have a warning ahead of time, I'm usually fine. It's cathartic. I like to have the warning, though.

    There was one called The Boys are Back. BEWARE. I give it a 5. I cried for most of it. Husband loses wife (she's sick) and he and his sons try to make a go of it. Very heartbreaking.

    Valerie - I've yet to go to a movie alone, either, but I'm planning on trying it. I'm going to go when it's not crowded, I think.

    Jill, I'm the same! Chris himself warned me about Contagion and I went right out and saw it.

    Right after Dave died, I instantly craved movies about widowhood. I guess they "fit" and movies about happy couples were too hard. Way too painful. I was sort of obsessed there for a while.
    Saw PS I Love You, and several others I can't remember in quick succession in the month after he died and didn't cry at all while watching.
    Now, I cry at 7 months. Weird.

  19. Interesing comments.
    Number one, I used to be in a book club but since my husban's death I have not been able to focus to read a book. besides, there is so much more to do at home now who has the time? So reading a book before seeing a movie is out.
    Number two, I do go to the movies alone sometimes.
    It was one of the baby steps I had to take to get on with my life. The first time I tried it, I left, popcorn in hand and said to myself "who are your kidding" and cried all the way home.
    I just do not like getting blindsided.
    I saw DECENDENTS and thought it was going to be more of a story about a dad raising his girls, not the hospital scenes that were drawn out and then spreading her ashes.

  20. “The Iron Lady” (2012) Rating: 4, Reason: It's about Margaret Thatcher's life, true, but it is told from her perspective in the later years as she is struggling to work through her grief over her husband's death. She has hallucinations of conversations with her husband, has to clean out his closet and other tear jerking moment.

    1. Tamara,
      I just saw this movie last night. Enjoyed it, but it was hard to watch at times. Especially the closet cleaning scene... especially since I know that day is coming for me.

  21. Thank you. I would find this extremely helpful.

  22. I knew the basic premise of We Bought a Zoo but didn't realize how much of the movie would be about the loss of his wife. My children and I went on Christmas Eve....already a difficult time for us. I have a 16 yr old & 13 yr old sons and an 8 year old girl. As difficult as the movie was at times, there were parts of his grieving that were spot on - his wife being the best friend that he wanted to talk to about his grief (I'm sure many of us can relate to that feeling), the memories, the craziness of the mornings getting out of the house, etc. But, the most realistic scenes and difficult for all of us, were the interactions between the dad and oldest son - it was as though my relationship with my 16 year old was up on the screen for all to see. As a matter of fact, when we were leaving the theater, my 13 year old said "That was our family....minus the level headed middle child."

    Another difficult one for me was Terms of Endearment - my mother passed away when I was 2 and I recall finally recognizing what my father and older siblings had gone through during her illness/passing. I was a clueless 2 year old.

    Great conversation!

  23. I wanted to see The Decendents when I thought it was about a man who didn't realize his wife was cheating. Having read the above I had already decided that I won't be able to see that one. Now I can't even see the trailer on TV without tearing up! LOL!

  24. The Notebook-5. The husband grieves the loss of his wife, all over again, every day because she has Alzheimer's. Every day he spends hours telling her their love story only to have one flicker of recollection before she is gone again. Nicholas Sparks has some cruel vision of a lovestory. I saw this 6 months after my one grandfather died (with my grandma for 77 years), while my other grandfather was in a home and dementia had caused him to forget his wife had died decades before-and had to learn about it all over again, ever single day! I have enough reality in my reality. I want a movie to take me far away from my life, and give me a satisfied ending. It doesn't have to be happy, just not one that will rip my heart from my chest and leave me curled up in the fetal position, bawling my eyes out.


  25. I had no idea when I went to see We Bought A Zoo today that it revolved around a widower with children and getting on with his life. I don't mind movies about it but not in the movie theatre. I thought it was going to be a 'fun' movie to watch with my children. I wouldn't recommend. Another movie I would not recommend is Angel Dog. It starts off in a morge unzipping and showing the man a body of his wife. Then the man walking in the bedroom the first time and looking at where the wife slept (brings back painful memories). Then it goes to the funeral of his wife and two children. I couldn't watch the rest...Yikes!
    I def don't mind watching sad movies at home alone and I think crying is good but in the movies it's no good (for me at least).

  26. Love this idea! Especially when you have little ones and you want to escape with a good movie.
    Disney is so horrible at this. All movies are of orphaned children or single parents
    But it is not so subtle. We watched 15 min of Santa Paws - how could this be bad you ask? Santa and puppies?? Well in the first 15 minutes it shows the orphaned girls along about how they lost their families and then how they live in an orphanage with a mean mean lady that doesn't treat ten rut and tells at them and takes their toys away. Then it shows he mean lady takin the new little girls doll (which her parents gave her before they died) and she is putting it on a conveyer belt hat is moving towards an incinerator. How horrible is that??? My daughters asked to ten Te movie off ad of course I was already about to. All I could honk about wa my husbands ashes and how I would have to explain to my girls at some point that he was cremated. My daughters are 2 and 5. My dad died when I was 10 and I remember seeing a scene in a movie where a person was going to be cremated and it really made me have a hard time just replaying that scene. How could a Disney Christmas movie allow for such a traumatic scene? Then after that Santa falls, gets robbed and gets amnesia. All in 15 -20 min of the start. Don't see it with your kids.
    Thank you so much Chris for his list!
    Another one is Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue. I am a fan of the first 2 Tinker Bell movies - very sweet and perfect escape movie with young kids. The 3 Ed though caught me off guard completely because the girl said the word father about 30 times nonstop. Of course I put it on at a time I wanted us to escape and not miss him and here is a little girl callin for her dad. The mother is never shown - assume death or divorce. We watched this 4 months after my husband died so I cringed at anything that said papa or father or dad. Now almost 2 years later we can enjoy the movie and it is ok. It all takes time to heal.

  27. Meet Joe Black - Rated 3 - Do not watch if your spouse was hit by a vehicle. Do not watch if your spouse died of a heart attack. SPOILER - Story of the reaper (so-to-speak and played by Brad Pitt) visiting Anthony Hopkins to tell him he is there to take him home. But he decides he wants to experience what life is actually all about before returning home with Anthony Hopkins and eventually falls for Anthony Hopkins daughter. I thought it was a great movie. But I cried for two days afterwards the first time I saw it because it reminded me of my wonderful mother who had recently passed away. It has become a mainstay in my movie library for its bits of humor, love, and of course the reality of death, which after all is something we will all have to experience at some point in our lives.

  28. The Descendants! I just saw George Clooney on the poster and had heard that he was nominated for an Oscar for it, so...popcorn in hand in I went! BIG MISTAKE!! The scene where he says goodbye to her had me almost similar to me saying goodbye to my love....this film should have a warning on it so we are warned!

  29. 'Inception' I saw it 4 months out and cried throughout the whole movie in the theatre. Leo Dicaprio keeps trying to dream to see his wife that died again and again. It was torture to watch..

  30. are brilliant. Saw we bought a zoo, knowing it would be emotional. I sobbed like the can't breath, can't move, can't think, can't think of anything else for 30 minutes after the movie was over. Two people came up to my friends and asked if I was OK!

    I must admit though, after not letting go like that for a long while, I was relieved, in an odd way, to find the grief still there. Sometimes it feels like I was too busy to have time to do all the grieving I needed to in the beginning.

    So I'd give We Bought a Zoo a 4, not a five cause, crying, even missing someone as deeply as many of us miss our significant others is really a beautiful thing and in a way honors who they were in our lives.

    Miss you all! Kim

  31. I absolutely agree with this and have said the same thing several times. PLEASE actually put out this list. We NEED it!! I was blindsided by the decendants (with my grandmother no less).

    My additions: Tangled - 2 Reason: at the end Charming dies, Rapunzel's tears bring him back - I burst into tears and left the theatre blaming Disney for torturing children with false hope.
    Inception - 5 Reason: I was the idiot who didn't know what this was about and saw it 2 days after my husband committed suicide (as a way to fill time the day before the viewing). It was the most awful experience ever.

  32. My 8 year old daughter and I watched 'The Parent Trap' on Netflix recently. An old movie (and a cheesy one) but I thought she might enjoy it as it featured two girls (played by one actress of course) not much older than her. A little light relief might be a nice mini-escape I thought as we are grieving the loss of my husband who died in January. Well let me tell you I got such a shock in one scene when Lindsay Lohan's character says the following: "a Dad is an irreplaceable person in a girls' life. I mean think about it, there's a whole day, devoted to celebrating fathers, right? Just imagine, someone's life without a father. Never buying a Father's Day card, never getting their father a birthday present, never sitting on their father's lap, never being able to say, 'Hi, Dad', 'What's up, Dad?,, 'Bye, Dad' and it went on and on.

    Do NOT let children who've lost their father watch The Parent Trap!

  33. Has anyone seen any movies about widows that were just extremely unrealistic? Like the way the widow is portrayed?

    Also some older movies, Dragonfly, his wife dies in a bus accident at the very beginning and the rest of the movie is about the kids at his hospital trying to convince him that she is still there waiting for him. Also Always is a tear jerker, he dies in a plane crash at the beginning and keeps seeing his wife and how she is comping with the death.