Movies That Made Me Cry: Charly (1968)

This is just another segment I’m introducing to The Entertainment Blur.  I’ve pushed aside my masculinity and will be naming a number of films that have made me cry throughout my years.


This post contains spoilers to the film, Charly.

I watched this film for the first time the other night after reading it was on Entertainment Weekly’s Top 25 Tear-Jerkers list.  It’s about a 32-year-old man named Charly Gordon who is mentally retarded.  Charly’s a hard-worker but because of his disability he’s never able to grasp the world and understand what surrounds him.  There’s a breakthrough in medical science and Charly is chosen to be the human experiment for a brain surgery that should rapidly make him smarter.  After the procedure, Charly becomes a genius but his lack of emotional growth creates confusion when he falls in love with his teacher, Alice Kinnian.  But as time passes, he quickly becomes a strong-willed intellect and wins over Alice’s heart.

Based on the popular book, Flowers for Algernon, this story packs a powerful punch to its viewers.  The strongest element of the film was the main character, Charly, played beautifully by Cliff Robertson (who won the Best Actor Oscar for this role).  It was touching after seeing pre-surgery Charly struggle with abstract ideas like love and then experiencing them post-surgery.  But what makes this story so heart-breaking is the final half hour when we find out that the results from the brain surgery are only temporary.  The doctors knew this but kept the information from Charly and Alice.

The truly tear-jerking scene was when Charly was regressing and Alice comes over to his room and asks him to marry her.  He avoids answering her proposal and she understands.  But then she says that she’ll stay with him for as long as he wants until he tells her to leave.  He immediately tells her to leave because he can’t bear the idea of losing her and losing the comprehension of the world.  And then she leaves with an expression of pain and sympathy.

Charly was a charming and simple story.  On a small scale, it was about a retarded man who miraculously became intelligent, fell in love, but only for a short while.  On a larger scale, Charly is a film about loss, regrets, and facing inevitabilities.  It takes a strong person to continue going on after receiving news that your time living is limited.  But I guess we all already know that to an extent.

This is not a deliberately sad film.  One can consider Charly’s experiment to be a once in a lifetime happening; a true blessing to enrich one’s mind and heart even if it was temporary.  Others might see Charly’s situation as tragic; to offer enlightment to his world and then to abruptly take it all away from him without warning.  No matter which side of the line you stand on, this film is undeniably sensitive about the issue and does a good job accomplishing its intention.

One Response to Movies That Made Me Cry: Charly (1968)

  1. mcarteratthemovies says:

    Another movie good for a sob session? “Regarding Henry” (1991; starring Harrison Ford, Annette Bening). This one’s been relegated to Lifetime movie status — and unrightly so. It has a real “It’s a Wonderful Life” spirit that doesn’t seem like a ripoff somehow. There’s just something about getting a second chance to get life right that hurts my heart every time.

    M. Carter at the Movies

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