Arguments – they’re part of life. We’re all competitive beasts, never wanting to admit fault or defeat, and will go to great lengths when defending our honor when challenged or threatened. Arguments have started wars, shattered relationships, broken families, declared victors, but have also awarded respect. A win will always be a win, but longstanding respect and admitted defeat are far greater trophies than another tally mark on a record sheet somewhere. That’s where our story begins for this group of alcohol swigging, loud mouthed master-debaters (had to make that joke once, c’mon!), connected by our love of whiskey, which is only overpowered by our love for all things pop culture – cinema, music, television, gaming, you name it. Inebriation and verbal assaulting, how could this go wrong?!
Needless to say, all we do now is argue about pop culture and hot topics of the day. Despite sounding like the grunts and groans of a pack of psychopaths, we decided to translate our debates into a readable affair. This means that every few weeks or so, we will be posting our thoughts on upcoming releases and pop culture in general. Since agreeing is for peace-loving hippies, our arguments will be broken up into two sides, and the winner is decided by the readers. Yes, our fates are in your hands!
Before we begin though, allow us to introduce ourselves.
Christian: A nearly retired cop with nothing left to lose, Christian turned to bath salts and cat urine to deal with losing three wives and up to seven stepchildren (they were gingers though, does that even count?). Although it is true that he is extremely opinionated, Christian only pushes his opinions on those he loves most (especially you, dear reader). Famous for his last stand at the Alamo and ability to produce children with a single look, this is a man who should by no means be considered harmless. Aside from devilish good looks and cologne that doesn’t come in an aluminum can, his knowledge of everything pop-culture will leave wives crying for divorce and daughters breaking the locks their fathers rightfully installed on their chastity belts. Debating isn’t exactly his strong suit, but he did once defeat a whole debate team using only the power of a flamethrower, so maybe that counts.
Gem: Gem has lived the secluded life of an academic, dedicated to a better understanding of critical analysis. Emerging from five years struggling to insert page numbers into Word, Gem indulged in the world of film to satiate her creative side – from which burst the need to obliterate those who do not agree with her inane, profane ranting. Her most critically acclaimed debate was executed at this year’s Comic Con when she swayed a crowd of riotous nerds into agreeing that yes, a coat rack could defeat Wolverine. The opposition doesn’t stand a chance.
Nato: Traveling back in time from a dystopian universe where pop culture debates are a game of life and death, Nato (formerly Natobombious Kick-Assious) continues to extend his unbeaten streak against the competition he now sees in three (barely) functioning alcoholics who devour useless entertainment factoids like the bottles of Jack taped to their hands. Matt can make a case for anything, but enjoys the new challenge of debate through writing, disabling his hypnotically enchanting “hair-flip” closing visual, typically bringing competition to their knees with one swiftly punctuated “swoosh.” Who needs a closing argument when you have great hair? You’re about to witness the great lengths he’s willing to go and mighty stretches he’s willing to make, abandoning all notions of self-respect just to deliver the most convincing arguments conceivable. A pop-culture chameleon, Nato can do it all. We promise we’ll do our best to contain him, but it might be too late already…
Alex: Formed from the recovered DNA of Stephen A. Douglas, Ben Franklin, and Socrates, Alex is an unstoppable force in an argument. Basically every epic speech in every courtroom movie/TV show ever was copied verbatim from arguments Alex has made. If the world listened to his points on abortion, gay marriage, or America’s healthcare system, all people would finally be in agreement. But why waste his talents on such minutia? It’s the world of the media that sparks the fiercest debates, and thus his fiercest opinions. But just because he’s such an eloquent debater in person doesn’t mean that doesn’t translate into his writing. Some argue the pen is mightier than the sword. Well Alex doesn’t write with a pen, he uses a sword to slice paper into the words that crush those who disagree. Whoever opposes him ought to fear for not only their dignity, but their safety as well.
Today’s Argument: Which On-Screen Death Do You Consider The Saddest?
With the glorious re-release of Top Gun in 3D this weekend, my fellow Throwdown team and I decided to get a little somber and honor those film characters that were lost all too soon. Be it from war, disease, dinosaurs, or evil brothers, there are a handful of cinematic deaths that deserve so much more recognition than others. Sure, every death is technically sad, but not every one is done right. These are the deaths we’ve all deemed tear worthy, but of course, we still can’t agree and it’s up to you to decide which one of us has picked the pinnacle of saddening cinema. We’ve made it a bit tougher this time as well as some of us have put forth two choices. This one’s for you Goose, my sweet, sweet angel.
Please note that the following article does contain spoilers for Saving Private Ryan, Up, American History X, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Steel Magnolias, The Land Before Time and The Lion King.Next
Nato – Captain Miller (Saving Private Ryan)
If you have a heart, a soul, a love for this country, and a f#cking shred of decency, then you cry like a baby every time Tom Hanks is gunned down in a blaze of glory at the end of Saving Private Ryan.
I’ll be honest, I get choked-up during the most random times, be it Joseph Gordon-Levitt talking to his dad right before surgery in 50/50 or more prominently mentally unstable characters trying to function in normal life (I Am Sam for example), but Captain John Miller’s death takes the cake when discussing the saddest on-screen movie deaths.
You can keep your P.S. I Love You arguments and animated movie deaths, because Captain Miller is a true American hero whom every citizen should model their life after. In his normal line of work, before gearing up for World War II, Miller was nothing but a simple English teacher, molding the minds of children. No one could suspect such a fearless and decorated soldier had such a mundane day job, but in battle, Captain Miller has literally no care for his own life – only the ones that surround him, but still manages to pluck our heartstrings by mentioning fond memories of his wife waiting at home, making his death all the more meaningful yet tragic.
Think about the mission he takes on. The whole point in saving Ryan is to spare his poor mother from losing her fourth son to the war, as we learn all three of Private Ryan’s brothers had died within days of each other and their mother would receive all three letters at once. A heart-wrenching scenario to take, Miller gathers a small group of individuals and marches into both allied and enemy territories to look for Ryan and return him home safely – even though no one has any idea were the private in question is located. Hell-bent on finding Private Ryan, Miller knows his mission is far greater than any military-based operation, and that a family hangs in the balance based upon whether he can complete his task successfully.
Sure, other soldiers lose their lives along the way, from Vin Diesel’s character getting sniped to Barry Pepper’s character getting blown up by a tank, but when Captain Miller goes down, your heart just sinks. Every soldier in battle has to be prepared for the worst, in this case death, but no man accepts that more than Miller. He never regrets for a second giving his life to save Private Ryan, and this is reflected when he whispers “James…earn this. Earn it.” Miller cared not if he lived or died, only that he could die with the satisfaction of knowing Mrs. Ryan could be consoled by her last surviving son, and he basically tells Ryan to make his sacrifice worth it. Triumphantly fearless heroics – what else is there to say?
Fast-Forward to James Ryan standing over the grave of Captain Miller with his wife. He asks her to confirm that he has led a good life and that he is a “good man,” making the sacrifices by Miller and his men worth it. One final salute to Miller’s grave right before the film ends all but ensures the water-works are turned on, and there you have the saddest cinematic death in any movie.
Hoo-rah Captain Miller, hoo-rah.
Gem – Shelby (Steel Magnolias)
Those of you who’ve seen it cannot deny the amount of Kleenex required to survive this film’s entirety. A late eighties female ensemble set in Louisiana, Steel Magnolias hits all the marks required for a Southern comedy-drama. Women bonding (in a beauty parlour), gruff fathers shooting guns (out of the goodness of their heart), sharp wit (“Why are you in such a good mood? You run over a small child or something?”) and a heart-wrenching death.
We join the story on the morning of Shelby (Julia Roberts)’s wedding, as she and her mother M’Lynn (Sally Field) visit Truvy (Dolly Parton)’s beauty parlour. Along for the ride are newly-hired glamour technician, Annelle (Daryl Hannah) and the funniest odd couple since Matthau and Lemmon, Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine) and Clairee (Olympia Dukakis.)
Sadness and tears in film often present themselves as tragedy suddenly befalls a character the audience has fallen in love with. When you don’t know someone is about to die, it makes their death all the more devastating. This is where Steel Magnolias dallies with tradition and lets the audience know right away: Shelby is very ill. Death is not danced around, as Clairee tells Shelby she hopes she and her fiancé will be as happy as she and her late husband were.
The story glides through the seasons, and against the wishes of her doctors and parents, Shelby becomes pregnant. She fights with her mother, as all M’Lynn wants is for her daughter to be responsible; her body is weak. The only thing that will make Shelby happy is to have a baby and live a normal life. In what at first sounds like a throwaway aphorism, she pleads with her mother to understand: “I’d rather have thirty minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special!”Previous Next
Against the odds her baby boy is born healthy – and everyone’s lives are blessed by this miracle. It later is revealed the birth put strain on her kidneys and she has to undergo a transplant. M’Lynn steps up and donates hers. It fails to take, and not long after Shelby goes into a coma then dies. It’s through the career-best performances by the actresses that we feel the sting of her passing.
That’s when the tears start. As Shelby slowly slips away, and the beep of the heart monitor recedes, M’Lynn holds her hand and strokes it with her own. As she drives to pick up her Grandson from his Aunt’s, to collect that little boy who is the only piece of her daughter left, the tears stain her cheeks.
At Shelby’s graveside, the women gather to comfort M’Lynn. If you can watch this scene without unleashing torrents of tears than you may have contracted something (like a parasite) or possibly sold your soul to the devil. As M’Lynn describes the moment her daughter died, you can sense your lip starting to tremble:
“I just sat there. I just held Shelby’s hand. There was no noise, no tremble, just peace. Oh god. I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.”
When M’Lynn finally lets go of her anger and grief, you cannot help but feel that same swell of loss as she cries:
“I’m fine! I can jog all the way to Texas and back, but my daughter can’t! She never could! Oh God! I am so mad I don’t know what to do! I wanna know why! I wanna know why Shelby’s life is over! I wanna know how that baby will ever know how wonderful his mother was! Will he ever know what she went through for him! Oh God I wanna know why? Why? Lord, I wish I could understand!”
The earlier aphorism spoken by Shelby is echoed here, this time in her Mother’s place as M’Lynn has had her thirty minutes of something wonderful: her daughter. Her daughter, who sacrificed her own life so as she calls it, “a little piece of immortality” could live on. And with four friends surrounding her grave they represent the life Shelby desired but never had. Truvy, with her successful business and warm-hearted nature; Annelle, a young woman on the cusp of pregnancy and marriage; and Clairee and Ouiser, proof of life-long friendship.
There lies the real sadness in her death. All those she has left behind have attained the simple dreams she so desperately wanted to claim as her own.Previous Next
Christian – Littlefoot’s Mother (The Land Before Time)
I don’t remember a lot from when I was a child, but the very first memory I have is clearly ingrained in my mind: I was watching The Land Before Time in my basement, and after it was over, I ran upstairs and projectile vomited all over my kitchen. That’s not a joke, that seriously happened. I’ve always wondered why it had to be that classic movie that conjured this reaction out of me, and I finally figured out why: because it’s the saddest movie ever made for children.
Littlefoot is a “long-neck” dinosaur that is attacked by a T-Rex when playing with a “three-horn” away from his herd. Just before the big baddie can finish them off, Littlefoot’s mother storms in to fight off the T-Rex. She suffers a ton of bites and scratches, and before she can die in front of her child, an earthquake hits out of nowhere and throws her down a hole, because kids need to learn that they’ll lose everything at a young age.
If that wasn’t enough, Littlefoot actually finds her on her deathbed, where she manages to croak out that he needs to travel to the Great Valley on his own, with the T-Rex still at large. This is about the same of telling your only child to walk from wherever you are to Wisconsin as you die (we don’t have readers in Wisconsin, do we?).
Forget the fact that Littlefoot eventually finds a ton of friends, makes the trip and even kills the T-Rex on the way. Forget all that crap, because when you’re five years old, all that matters is that his mom is dead. Done. Gone forever and never coming back. Sure, her ghost leads the way now and then, but isn’t that even more tragic that her son imagines her ghost telling him where to travel?
When you’re a kid that fits into this movie’s demographic, seeing a mother die has the same effect as having a T-Rex come out of the screen and eat your own mother while staring you in the eyes. It’s just plain tragic. As a kid, I barely watched the movie after that first time I threw up because I was so scared to watch this child see his mother get mauled right in front of him.
Not to say that this isn’t a fantastic film, I absolutely love it and still tear up every time I watch it (shut up, you’re just heartless). But to find a death on par with the death of Bambi’s mother (spoiler alert!) in another children’s movie means that Hollywood is just heartless. Let the children weep, they’ll see the twelve sequels we put out straight to DVD! By the way, that’s not an exaggeration. Look it up. Twelve sequels, and a TV show. Suck it, Saw!
I’m sure there have been sadder deaths in movies before (Gooooooooooooose!), but none have made me vomit all over my house because of how sad they are. Or, you know, maybe I had a flu. Whatever, the point is, The Land Before Time is Les Miserables with dinosaurs, and I’ve lost more childhood innocence over that movie than those kids in Mystic River did.Previous Next
Alex – Mufasa (The Lion King)
I have no problem admitting I cry a lot during movies. Tears of happiness, tears of sadness, tears due to the pure epicness of what I’m watching, I’ve had them all. So the task of narrowing down which movie death made me cry the most was a daunting one to say the least. I went to the deepest darkest compartments of my soul where I keep all the jars of tears I’ve accumulated over the years. Once down there I found something astonishing. One movie had surpassed all the jars, surpassed even the gallon jugs I keep just in case. In fact, a full keg of tears was just waiting to be re-tapped. The label on that keg? The Lion King.
In case you’re completely heartless and thus confused, the death I’m talking about is that of Mufasa. Anytime a father dies, especially when his son is still a child, it will always be heart-wrenching, but the fact that Simba’s jerk of an uncle was able to convince that innocent little cub that it was his fault is absolutely horrible.
Simba is so distraught by his guilt that he runs away and eats bugs in the middle of the wilderness, far away from Pride Rock. Think about the impact that has on a child. The fact that he’s still a child amplifies the gravity of this death all the more. Not only is he a child though, but he’s a cute little lion cub. When he places his paws on his father’s lifeless body and calls out in a voice filled with confusion and grief I have a part of my soul torn apart every time.
Throw in Hans Zimmer’s hauntingly beautiful score that echoes through every inch of your being as you watch the little lion in that giant wildebeest-stomped chasm and you’re stuck watching with wide eyes as you question why those bastards at Disney felt the need to make you feel so bad.
I’d keep writing, but if any more tears hit my keyboard it’d be ruined forever.
Christian – Ellie (Up)
Just mentioning the movie Up is enough to elicit tears from fans of the film. Pixar is known for their stable of emotionally charged stories (sans Cars) that can make adults cry while leaving children giggling uncontrollably. At the height of their legendary run, Up was released to a hoard of fans who quickly found that the silly premise was really just a cover for one of the most emotional stories ever told in film.
I’m being 100% serious when I say that the first ten minutes of Up make me cry every time I watch it. If you forced me to watch a week’s worth of videos of cute kittens supporting human rights, I would still immediately burst into tears the second I see that title screen. Up is easily Pixar’s most beautifully accomplished film to date, whether you make it to the end or not.
For those who don’t know what scene I’m referencing, then let me give you a quick overview: Carl, the grouchy old man who eventually floats his house away, is shown as a child forming a loving friendship with Ellie, an exhuberant young girl who shares a love for adventure with him. So begins the most perfect montage in film history, illustrating the life the two share together as they grow older.
Executed without either character speaking, this short sequence shows two people’s dreams coming true while their best-laid plans to escape to a tropical land like their favorite explorer keep getting put aside as real life intervenes. There is no better way to describe the experience than as perfect, because everything about it is done right. Every success, every heartbreak, every second of love is portrayed beautifully. It’s simply one of the most profound scenes in film to date.
The fact that Ellie’s death is so impactful despite the fact that we hardly know her speaks to how well done her part of the story is. I am here to tell you that anybody who doesn’t shed even a single tear during any of this is indeed heartless. That’s not an opinion, either. They’ve done science on this type of thing. Watch Up once for the incredibly well-done story, and watch it again if you forgot to read your Chicken Soup for the Soul today.Previous Next
Alex- Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
When it comes to cinematic deaths, usually the ones that tug at the heartstrings the most are the tragic losses of loved ones. The first deaths that will come to mind involve love for a spouse, or a pet, or a child, but what about the love that people have for their leaders and mentors? It’s inevitable that these older sages are going to die at some point, but that doesn’t make it any less sad when they do pass. And, it’s even sadder when the death comes much earlier than expected in the form of getting pulled into a bottomless pit by a Balrog.
Perhaps the saddest part of Gandalf the Grey’s death is the fact that now they’re out on this journey without their fearless leader. Not only was he comforting to the hobbits and the wisest of them all, but the journey was pretty much his doing. He was the one who decided the ring had to be destroyed. Now, they’re out risking their lives and they don’t even have the guidance of the only one with a plan.
The Fellowship hardly even has time to grieve properly. There’s no time to sit and reflect on their friend’s passing, especially not at first. His iconic final words are “Fly you fools!” That’s because if they took even a moment to mourn his death before getting out of the cave, there was a pretty good chance that they would all die as well.
Even once the group escapes out into the open air they still don’t have time to pay their respects, at least not properly. The scene where they do take a brief moment to cry is as heartbreaking as any. The music alone is enough to bring a tear to my eye, and that entire scene is sure to induce a good cry. But, they’re still in the middle of a quest with the fate of the known world resting in the balance. There’s barely a moment to remember how great Gandalf was before they have to get back on their feet and continue on for fear of being overtaken by orcs.
Sure, I get it. He comes back from death later on, and most characters who die don’t. But that doesn’t diminish his death in any way. When Gandalf first died, the characters didn’t have any idea that they’d eventually see him again, and people experiencing the story for the first time are just as unaware. Middle Earth is left without one of their best hopes for salvation, the Fellowship is left without their leader, and worst of all, they’re left without a true friend.Previous Next
Nato – Danny Vinyard (American History X)
What makes death tragic? Is it someone’s age? Is it how the now deceased person led their life? Is it your personal connection to the body being lowered into the ground? Characters come and go on screen, but some deaths stick with us like chilling ghosts who haunt our memories. No, I’m not talking about horror movies where the pot-smoking teenager gets slashed to bits by Jason, I’m talking about being haunted by guilt, grief, and righteous emotion. I’m talking about a death so stunning, your mouth is left planted on the floor, along with a completely paralyzed mind and that unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach. These emotions, plus more, are all brought on by the ending of American History X – rest in peace Danny Vinyard.
For those of you who need a refresher course in modern cinema, Edward Norton plays Derek Vinyard, a recently paroled ex-skinhead sentence for brutally killing two men who attempted to steal his truck. Before going to jail, Derek led a prominent LA white supremacy clan that acted out in bouts of vicious rage, but now that he’s out, Derek is ready to embrace a reformed life of peace. Unfortunately for him though, his past actions had serious consequences.
This is when we meet Danny Vinyard, played by Edward Furlong, who has embraced Derek’s past habits of racism and hatefulness, carrying on his brother’s legacy. Disturbed, Derek makes it his mission to prevent Danny from making the same mistakes he once did, steering Danny away from his regrettable past.
Danny is forced to take a class in school called American History X after showcasing his religious intolerance, and his homework assignment is simple – write about his brother. From here, we watch a series of flashbacks and current interactions between Derek and Danny, as the two fight about Derek abandoning his past and Danny embracing a dangerous future. Thankfully, an understanding is eventually reached, Danny has an enlightening change of heart, and he completes a character transformation worthy of an A+. Then, just as he’s ready to hand his paper in, he’s gunned down by an African American boy who proves sometimes we can’t escape our past choices, and Derek is left to grieve over his newly deceased brother.
Do I have to explain why this character death knocks the wind out of you immediately? Danny spent his whole life listening to Derek, idolizing him, and shaping his life around impressing his older brother, but suddenly that curb-stomping racist he once knew is completely changed into a wholesome civilian – and this strange, new man expects Danny to forget everything he’s been taught. Danny is a child, just a confused teenager looking for family guidance, but he only found an untimely demise brought upon by Derek’s poor lifestyle choices. Although Danny embraced a life full of anti semitic chants, skinned heads, and intolerable thinking, would any of that have happened had Derek been a upstanding member of society? Our choices don’t only impact ourselves, but they cause a ripple effect that touches those around us as well – which the Vinyard family unfortunately had to learn the hard way.
The arguments have been made! Now it’s your turn, head to the comments section and weigh-in on which cinematic death hits you hardest emotionally.
Enjoy what you read? Check out last week’s article where we discuss the most messed up relationships ever caught up on film!Previous