90th Academy Awards: The Science Behind The Masterful Tear-Jerking Formulas Of Oscar-Nominated Films

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We’re nearing the 90th Academy Awards and some of you may like to know what makes these movies incredibly unbelievable. Apparently, there’s a science behind every nominated film in the Oscar’s.

Oscar’s nomination is probably the highest accolade in film-making. They tackle multiple categories that make films distinctly immersive like costume design, the musical tracks, the actors and the directors. However, there’s still this underlying factor for being considered into the Oscar’s: the film needs to touch the audiences’ heart and soul. To do that, there has to be a healthy amount of crying in between.

“An actor’s ability to bring in real feeling ignites emotional cues driven by evolution.”

According to Inverse, there are three types of tears: basal (the one we have when we blink), reflexive (when we cry over irritants like onions) and the “big wet” (emotional tears). The big wet is the one that’s unique to humans because it’s directly related to how we process emotions.

With Oscar-nominated films, the way a film can capture that kind of emotion is what wins the price. Multiple studies also show that crying is cathartic. That’s why we feel a sense of not only nostalgia but also of relatability when we watch Oscar-nominated films.

Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D., the Director of the Mood and Emotion Lab at the University of Southern Florida tells Inverse that these films allow the audiences “experience ordinarily painful experiences in a safe controlled way, without the usual negative consequences.”

How much a person cries at the movies relates to someone’s capacity for empathy. Our empathic abilities are formed during adolescence. Ad Vingerhoets, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at Tilburg University, said that these movies help us relate to memories of being in love. This helps the audience be aware of how they care for another person.

In the case of Ladybird, many movie-goers said the film has helped them reunite with their mothers. It helped them see the other side of their relationship with their parents. Films like Ladybird can elicit high levels of empathy.

This is also the same strategy actors use to create certain kinds of emotions on screen.

“Interestingly, as we grow older, we also see those seemingly opposite situations [cause tears]. The bonds that become stronger, including acts of altruism, self-sacrifice, comradeship, also become very powerful elicitor of tears.”

Actor Bassam Kaado also said that these are effective strategies for bringing out the tears and emotions on set, but nothing is more powerful than “being truthful in the moment.” When actors truly internalize the roles they’re playing, it becomes easier to act naturally to the response of the character they’re playing.

As an audience, watching another person cry can also trigger emotions. Vingerhoets and a team of researchers compiled this study in their 2016 paper in the journal Motivation and Emotion noting that tears do not only help one individual achieve catharsis. It also brings people together and create stronger bonds.

“When we see an individual crying, also in films, we consider him or her as more in need of help and we feel more connected to that individual,” Vingerhoets says. “Tears thus seem to facilitate our empathetic potential. Consequently, we are more willing to provide support. However, when we feel that crying is not appropriate or that it is not sincere and maybe even an attempt to manipulate, we may react with strong negative reactions.”