3 Things About Grief That Hollywood Got Just Right

Our world has experienced quite a bit of grief in recent years. Coming out of a pandemic and finding our “new normal” has been met with confronting all the things we have lost. We have, of course, lost cherished family members and friends. Grief is not just about losing loved ones. We, as a society have lost so much. We lost over a year of our lives. We lost jobs and probable promotions. We lost playing on sports teams in our senior year of high school. We lost birthday parties, graduations, weddings, and funerals. We lost confidence is systems we once trusted. We lost vacations and time to relax. Grief comes into play in all these losses.

Like with so much of the human experience, we tend to play a comparison game. “I can’t be sad about losing that trip with my family because the family down the street lost their father.” There may be levels of sadness and grief but denying that grief exists only makes it harder to bear. You do not need to feel guilty for grieving your loss. In fact, our society could use a bit of communal grief about all that is now gone.

Grief is an emotion we all know well. Sometimes it is evident. Sometimes we hide it. Often, storytelling can help use to express this deep emotion and even work through it. Our best storytellers in Hollywood are on occasion way off in how they depict strong emotions. Below are three times they have gotten the feeling of grief just right. Maybe their storytelling can help you through your own grief.

1. We Bought a Zoo (2011): Grief is confusing and different for everyone, but we need those closest to us in times of grief.

We Bought a Zoo is a moving story of a family who loses a mother. It is obviously devastating for each member of the family. The family deals with the grief in different ways, the first lesson for us all. Whatever we feel in the midst of our loss, those emotions are perfectly okay. There is no correct way to grieve. Even the researchers that came up with the “five stages of grief” have backed off their own claim to determine that everyone experiences the stages in different orders and with varying levels of frequency or magnitude. The father and son in this clip are both hurting, and their pain manifested in very different ways. In the end, they learned that what they really needed was to feel their pain together.

2. Inside Out (2015): Sometimes sadness is the precursor to joy, and sometimes anger is needed to let any other emotion in.

As someone who helps young students work through their emotions, I do not exaggerate when I say that Inside Out is one of my favorite movies all time. In the film, young Riley is grieving her losses after her family moves across the country. Changing homes, cities, schools, friends, etc. is a huge loss for anyone and especially for 11-year-old Riley. The movie portrays very well how Riley begins to shutout all her emotions until she finds herself in a state of depression. She learns that if she closes herself off to seemingly negative emotions like sadness and anger, she also is unable to experience joy or happiness. In the closing scene of the movie, the Joy character realizes that Sadness was often the instigator to comfort, joy, and happiness. Notice also HERE that it takes Anger to let both Joy and Sadness back into Riley’s “control room” in the first place.

3. Wandavision (2021): Grief is love, persevering.

While it may have only been viewed by superhero fanatics, Wandavision is an excellent analysis of grief. The main character, Wanda, appears to lose everything she values. In the show’s penultimate episode is what I consider the most beautifully written line about grief that has ever been penned. Ironically, it is spoken by the inhuman, android character, Vision. After contemplation that not all of life can be sorrow because if it was all sorrow, then there would be nothing to be sorrowful for, Vision says to Wanda, “What is grief, if not love, persevering?” Beautifully written and delivered, the line profoundly teaches us that while it is okay to grieve, the presence of grief shows us that we had something truly beautiful to lose in the first place.

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