"Your subconscious knows it might be the last movie you ever see"
June 19, 2019 2:05 PM   Subscribe

When model, cookbook author and unofficial mayor of Twitter Chrissy Teigen wondered aloud on the social media platform whether there is a reason she cries more at movies while on a plane, she tapped into a shared — and apparently emotional — travel experience. The answer from her followers was an overwhelming “yes” […]

Although there are far more anecdotes than pieces of solid research, psychologists can point to explanations behind what’s been dubbed the “Mile Cry Club.”
(Hannah Simpson, WaPo; non-WaPo link)

Why We Cry on Planes (Elijah Woolfson, The Atlantic)

How flying seriously messes with your mind (Richard Gray, BBC future)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (34 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is totally a thing, and I vote for oxygen deprivation as the main cause. My head just goes out the window on airplanes and on mountains. I usually fall straight asleep as soon as the plane takes off and awaken at cruising altitude to emotional susceptibility. It’s gotta be the oxygen.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:49 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

i don't cry at flight movies, but i do get over exilarated at the victory moment at the end of action movies, that i would never do on the ground.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:11 PM on June 19, 2019

On a recent transatlantic flight I wound up watching HBO's Spielberg documentary and weeping like a fool throughout. Of course, I was served roughly 1.5 bottles of red wine throughout the flight, which likely didn't help my composure. Still, this tracks.
posted by incomple at 3:31 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I agree with oxygen deprivation. I swear my IQ plummets after more than an hour on a plane. I watched The Notebook twice, back to back on a flight ( and sobbed both times). Sea level me is still a bit ashamed.
posted by kitten magic at 3:49 PM on June 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

I just feel wrong on an airplane, as much as I enjoy traveling. It’s like my body knows I shouldn’t be up there, I don’t belong there. Not just when there’s bad turbulence and I’m actively scared—even on smooth flights I have such a feeling of unease.
posted by sallybrown at 3:59 PM on June 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

The reduced-oxygen explanation doesn't seem right. Are the pilots loopy and emotional too?
posted by paper chromatographologist at 3:59 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don't think this happens to me. I feel pretty much the same on planes as I do on the ground, except more uncomfortable. I read, I listen to podcasts.
posted by penduluum at 3:59 PM on June 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

What makes sense to me is a combination of mild hypoxia and how basically everywhere associated with airplane travel is a weird, liminal, almost uncanny space. Just being in an airport makes me feel weird, so it makes sense that 2+ hours of that on top of being forced to sit and do nothing other than pass the time for the duration of the flight (while also being removed of any responsibility to do anything at all other than maintain one's basic physical needs) would mess with people's emotions in some unpredictable ways.
posted by Copronymus at 4:02 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh man I watched Brooklyn on a plane and sobbed
posted by emd3737 at 4:10 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think there’s something to the oxygen thing, I get these very STRONG EMOTIONS on planes (the only time I cry at movies! ) , but I’ve also had the luck to ride some luxurious first class rides and I didn’t feel nearly as emotionally raw cause I felt in control and comforted and pandered to and not stressed out and barely tolerated.
posted by The Whelk at 4:24 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ah, so that explains it - apparently I am high all the time!

Oh wait, that came out wrong.
posted by jkaczor at 4:46 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I watched the Wolf of Wall Street on a plane, and I laughed so hard it made me cry. Is this the same thing?
posted by Chuffy at 5:00 PM on June 19, 2019

I think I tend to watch movies that are going to make me extra emotional like a dummy. I don't know what the hell I was thinking but I watched "A Dog's Purpose" on a flight - that's a movie that's programmed straight into my sniffle zone. Boy howdy did I try and stop myself from crying. Boy howdy did I fail.
posted by drewbage1847 at 5:34 PM on June 19, 2019

I agree with oxygen deprivation. I swear my IQ plummets after more than an hour on a plane. I watched The Notebook twice, back to back on a flight ( and sobbed both times). Sea level me is still a bit ashamed.

I should rewatch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Seemed like it would be right up my alley but when I watched it on an transatlantic flight it just put me to sleep. Trailer Park Boys: Don't Legalize It on the other hand, was a masterpiece.
posted by rodlymight at 5:40 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

The rain in Spain comes mainly from the plane.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 5:48 PM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I bawled like a baby on a transatlantic flight showing "Mission to Mars." That's not normal.
posted by ntk at 6:12 PM on June 19, 2019

I cried on a plane to, of all things, Bridget Jones' Baby. Definitely something is going on up there.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:54 PM on June 19, 2019

I watched Come and See on a plane, and it was a heavy experience.
posted by Ansible at 7:15 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think that I've ever managed to watch a whole movie on a plane; it's just too distracting an environment for me to be able to pay attention long enough.
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 PM on June 19, 2019

A few years ago, This American Life covered this in a very TAL-way.
posted by knile at 7:52 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

My mother was teasing me for crying over Moana, and now I have an explanation for her. TAKE THAT, MOM.
posted by capricorn at 7:56 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

This happens to me, but it's not with movies, it's with music. When I used to fly for work a lot, Qantas used to play 'I Still Call Australia Home' whenever the plane landed, and I got tearful every time. On a normal day I have no feelings about the song whatsoever.
posted by andraste at 8:16 PM on June 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I remembered this being a topic of discussion on Kermode & Mayo's movie reviews and for awhile they would get responses from listeners telling them what movies made them cry on planes. I did a quick google search and this article came up which quotes an interview Kermode had with Cronenberg about this.
posted by acidnova at 8:42 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

From that Kermode interview:

David Cronenberg, Film director: “We should put all those critics on a plane and have them watch.

I’d watch this Cronenberg film.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:02 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I get emotional when I'm tired and I'm always tired when traveling. Especially since most of my airplane travel is like 50+ hour journeys and I'm sleep deprived and jetlagged. The only time I ever cry at movies is on planes, but it doesn't feel like a mystery to me.

If course, if you are having the same experience on 1-3 hour flights there must be another explanation.
posted by lollusc at 11:57 PM on June 19, 2019

I was bawling at the end of Paddington 2 on a flight. I turned and sobbed to my husband, who was not watching it, “He’s just a good bear...”
posted by like_neon at 2:33 AM on June 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

I also get extremely strong and somewhat widely unanchored emotional responses if I go see a movie in a theater by myself. It's way too much general anxiety and arousal without a proper social context for to give sufficient meaning to it. I think watching on a plane is somewhat similar to that because the noise and crowdedness of the planes forces you to technologically isolate yourself. When strange people are too close you have to turn them off as social context inputs because it is just too overwhelmingly awkward (but it probably still contributes to excess stimulation via good old anxiety).

The same thing does not happen when I watch a movie at home probably because I have so many distractions and nowhere near the focus demands (and control over the experience with a remote with volume control and the ability to fidget away any excess emotional tension).

It also doesn't happen when I see a movie with friends. I believe this is because they provide a safe reassuring bubble of trusted social context.
posted by srboisvert at 3:44 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've always hoped the pilots had better oxygen than the passengers. My brain powers down so much I can't cope with anything more complicated than the Dick and Jane readers. I can't follow movies, I can't read and can only deal with 22min sitcoms - it's no wonder we get emotional.

It took a lot of stress away when the US moved the visa waiver process to online before departure. Answering questions about my intention to practice polygamy or whether I'd participated in nazi war crimes after 12+ hours of lower oxygen (I've lived my entire life at sea level) was a horrific surreal nightmare compounded by knowing that best case punishment for fucking up meant turning around and doing 14 hours back again.
posted by kitten magic at 4:29 AM on June 20, 2019

I've never experienced this, but I have noticed that a day of airline flying is a really draining experience for me, even though most of the time is spent sitting in planes and airports. This does not happen to me on general aviation flights which are usually more turbulent and at lower altitudes.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:05 AM on June 20, 2019

posted by divabat at 5:57 AM on June 20, 2019

I've always hoped the pilots had better oxygen than the passengers.

Carbon dioxide levels on flight deck affect airline pilot performance
The findings showed that the pilots were 69% more likely to receive a passing grade on a maneuver when CO2 levels were 700 ppm compared with 2,500 ppm. When CO2 levels were 1,500 ppm, the pilots were 52% more likely to successfully perform a maneuver than when CO2 levels were 2,500 ppm. When the researchers compared the difference in pilot performance at 700 ppm and 1,500 ppm, the difference was not statistically significant, but they did find that pilots were more likely to successfully perform some of the most difficult maneuvers at the lower CO2 level. The study also found that the negative effects of CO2 on flight performance became more pronounced the longer the pilots were in the simulator.
CO2 On The Brain And The Brain On CO2
posted by MrVisible at 7:37 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Once, in the early 2000's, I spent a summer taking frequent short-haul flights on one airline across the US. There were no smartphones and portable DVD players weren't really a thing at the time. I ended up in First Class more often than not, and on several of the flights a chunky CRT TV screen would emerge from the ceiling after takeoff and play a video that could be listened to with the provided headphones. The people in coach did not get this glorious free TV service.

What was on that video? Bloopers. Just strings of short videos of babies falling down, sports mishaps and birthday cake disasters.

The first four times I flew and the TV popped out there was absolutely no reaction. People read magazines, looked out the window or silently stared at the monitor, blank-faced.

On the fifth flight, someone started laughing. And then more people looked up and started laughing, too. Finally, all of first class was rapt on the monitor and dying of laughter. I'd seen the video several times at this point and generally baby bloopers don't make me laugh. But I found myself laughing despite myself. My sides ached and I cried big fat tears of laughter, all over a video that had previously done nothing to move me. I didn't even have the headphones on.

Planes are weird.
posted by Alison at 9:13 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I get emotional on planes, but not through crying over movies. I mostly fly in the US, so I'm usually irritated, outraged, or depressed by the whole experience. This ultimately expresses itself as fatigue, mitigated only by the delight of finally getting off the plane.

Like penduluum, I mostly read in the air. I try to write, but economy class seats are often too cramped.
posted by doctornemo at 9:53 AM on June 20, 2019

I'm generally awfully sleep-deprived, hideously uncomfortable, traveling on my own (so feeling lonely/vulnerable), and choosing things like Paddington 2 (aka, feel good/cutesy/wouldn't pay to see but kinda want to see) and yes, the result isme bawling. Every single time.
posted by TwoStride at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2019

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