Why We Cry When a Movie Character Dies?

Hey guys, Recently I watched a film called “Dunkirk” written and directed by Christopher Nolan. I know It’s not the best example to use for this topic but It works. Without revealing much, Dunkirk is a war/action genre film based on the real-life incidents of Dunkirk evacuation during World War ll.

During the beginning of the war British and, French soldiers got surrounded by the German army in Dunkirk. The only way soldiers could survive was to cross the English channel. So British Navy started sending ships to save their soldiers. But they were not taking any French soldiers in the initial stage.

So in the movie a character named Gibson(Played by Aneurin Barnard). Gibson is a French soldier who stole the identity of a dead British soldier he buried, hoping to be evacuated with the British. But almost at the end when I felt like all of them will survive, Gibson drowns.

Obviously, lots of other people died in the film because it’s world war ll. But only Gibson’s death was what made me feel sad the most. In the end, more than 300,000 soldiers got evacuated. So fairly a good ending but I was still thinking why he had to die? I felt this weird connection with his story.

So why does this happens even when we know it’s just a movie character? And why do some deaths seem sadder than others?

The Bug Experiment

Before we get into humans let’s talk about robots. A 2015 MIT study found that, giving a robot movement, name and personal history tends to increase its anthropomorphic effect, which can lead to an emotional connection with humans.

It will be easier to understand if I give you an example, I’ll just put a clip from “Mind Field S2 E4”.

As you can see, just name and personal history can make us emotionally connected to a tiny bug robot. So it’s pretty normal for us to get emotionally connected with a human character. As long as there has been proper character development.

Why We Cry

When we see a character’s story, we build an ideal end for them in our minds. And If they don’t reach that end it just doesn’t feel right to us. When we see a character suffering we expect a good end for them. And if they die before getting a good end we just don’t feel right.

The same thing happened to me when I watched Dunkirk. First, we get a good idea of Gibson’s character that he wants to go home so bad that he steals the identity of a dead British soldier. From that, we expect a good end for him after all these sufferings which is him reaching home. But he dies before getting home. Which isn’t the end I expect for him. That’s why his death felt so bad for me.


To be honest there could be many reasons why we cry when a movie character dies? But this is the simplest explanation I could get. So this is it for today, catch you up in the next one. Till then stay safe. Peace.


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