Why Bambi Matters: Is This Cinema's Greatest Death Scene?
Posted on Tuesday February 8, 2011, 11:50 by Ian Freer in Empire States
Pete Docter’s thoughts on the brilliance of Bambi make for fascinating reading. He makes smart observations about the film’s lack of storytelling convention, the elastic quality of the art direction and the relationship between Bambi and his very own Up — chiefly the inspiration of Bambi’s Thumper on Up’s gregarious boy-scout Russell.
Yet, Docter fails to make the most obvious comparison between the two movies. Within the first ten minutes of Up — and stop reading now if you have never seen it — there is a beautiful montage depicting the ups and downs of a lifelong marriage that ends in a death. It’s a heart-rending moment and one so powerful that the rest of Up might not recover. Thankfully Docter has plenty more tricks up his sleeve to make his movie magic.
Now, like Up, Bambi is a movie choc-full of great moments — the forest fire, April Showers, the ice skating lesson, the “twitterpated” set-piece — yet it is a film that over the years has become defined by one single moment — and stop reading now if you have never seen it — a moment so powerfully portrayed and devastatingly traumatic that it takes up permanent residence in the memory: the death of Bambi’s mother.
It took up permanent residence in my memory at the Odeon Holloway Road, a fleapit in North London so dingy that even the fleas were looking for somewhere else to live. This was the mid ‘70s, a pre-multiplex, pre-Star Wars era where the cinematic choices for the young were (if you were lucky) Disney or, (if you weren’t) the Children’s Film Foundation (terrible films starring either a donkey kept in a high rise or Keith Chegwin).
So, hopped up on Kia-Ora, I went into Screen One — you had to climb so many stairs your legs ached — and took the uncomfortable fold-down seat to watch Disney’s 1943 classic some thirty years after it was originally made. As the (never seen) hunters approach, Bambi, implored by his mother, scarpers for his life (“Don’t look back, keep running”). Cresting a frost-covered hill, Bambi runs off-camera and we hear a deafening gunshot. A relieved Bambi finds refuge in a thicket. “We made it. We made it, mother”. Only they didn’t make it and it’s not an understatement to say that movies — and the lives of millions of tearful kiddiewinks— would never be the same again.
As good as Up is, Bambi is the stag of the tear-jerking pack for me. To me it remains cinema’s most traumatic moment, a sublime mix of animation artistry, storytelling finesse and pure primal emotion. It is a sign of the times that Walt allowed the audience to feel the full impact of Bambi’s mother’s death. If the film were made in 2011 (in 3D), no doubt there would be a dewey-eyed reunion in the last reel.
So what moment sends you over the edge, live action, animation, documentary, whatever? Share your thoughts below. Hang on: is that something in your eye?
Login or register to comment.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 11:21
It's funny that this should be a blog topic this week, as I only watched Bambi for the first time 2 days ago. For me, the most powerful element of this scene was the soundtrack. The tension created as the music started, complimented by Bambi's mother suddenly looking for the impending danger, made me fear what was going to happen and sent my heart racing (not to mention the earlier hunter scene, where I felt sure Bambi's mother was a goner. This lulling into a false sense of security hightened the emotional impact of when the death scene did eventually come.)
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 11:29
Definitely ET's death did it for me. It was so traumatising I think I actually blocked it out as I couldn't recall the sequence until watching it on video years later. I vividly remember sitting in the cinema watching the rest of the film, but once the scientists enter the home in space suits I have a big blank in my memory until the bit where ET wakes up again. My parents tell me I was absolutely beside myself and could not be consoled in between those two moments, however I actually can't remember it. I was seven at the time.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 11:31
How about Mufasa dying in The Lion King? I remember seeing that at the cinema when I was about 7 and being completely devastated!
As you mention in the article, credit to Disney (or the Disney of old) for putting such things in their movies.
That's why most of their films are such timeless classics, unlike the endless stream of CGI rubbish (not Pixar) kids are forced to watch these days.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 11:32
D'you know what stands out in the memory as really affecting me recently? Kick Ass. No, seriously: the scene where he takes on the gang attacking that one guy and says
"Three assholes, laying into one guy while everybody else watches? And you wanna know what's wrong with me? Yeah, I'd rather die... so bring it on!"
Aaron Johnson's performance, and the sentiment of the scene itself just make me go a big rubbery one every time.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 11:36
For me that scene in Oldboy, you know... when he cuts his tongue of and when he is humiliating himself to stop that guy from telling his lover/daughter the truth is the most traumatic movie scene i've ever seen....
But Pan's Labyrinth was also a film that has multiple traumatic moments...
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 12:24
as a 36 year old man, who plays rugby and other manly things, nothing makes me cry. EXCEPT when E.T tells Elliott he'll be right here. and then i cry like a small child who's dropped his ice-cream. to the point that a few years ago when the re-release trailer was out, I cried at the music in the trailer. like a baby. in front of my new girlfriend. and my flatmates. took a while to recover from that one...
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 12:26
Its not the best movie around, but the end of Big Fish, where Billy Crudup tells his father about his final moments, with the two of them escaping the hospital and going sown to the river where all the people drom his life are waiting for him.
In hindsight it may be a bit too sentimental, but the first time I saw that I was sobbing
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 12:29
If I may quote:
"What's the matter, Champ? Champ, wake up! Wake up! Wake - wake up!"
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 12:45
Chola1, I feel your pain: ET gets me the same way everytime, and at exactly the same line.
Other than that, everyone seems to be missing the obvious cause of childhood misery: Watership Down. I watched it again recently and held it manfully together until 'Bright Eyes came on at the end when...but that would be spoiling it.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 13:01
The Iron Giant. Without spoiling it, it's the payoff of the Superman referencing in his choice at the end.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 13:18
Totally agree with rayhiggins, what an underrated masterpiece.
Saving Private Ryan, every single time, "Earn this" starts me off. Then in the present day when he whispers "Tell me I've lead a good life. Tell me I'm a good man." The gravity of that makes me sob like nothing else.
Although Mufasa's death comes close. Actually, when Simba climbs Pride Rock at the end makes me almost cry with joy.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 13:34
There is nobody that has a heart, who doesn't cry in the 'Baby Mine' scene in Dumbo. I mean with his mother inprisoned holding Dumbo in her trunk with one on either side of the cage bars, its really moving. Though there is an ultimately happy ending, that scene just has such a strong emotional influence. The film has to be animated cinema at its near best.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 14:54
I have got just 2 words for you all when it comes to tear jerking movie death moments "Watership Down".
Although I am curious as to why we all seem to cry at the death scenes in animated movies but seem to be fairly cold when it is live action. A good movie to check out if you like this sort of thing is Sweet November starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. There is a 1968 original version which I have not seen which is also supposed to be very good.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 15:17
Bridge to Terabithia.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 15:46
Gandalf's fall in Fellowship of the Ring was a real heart render. It was Frodo's "Nooooooo!" that really sets it, Elijah Wood put so much emotion into it. Then they all go outside and they are all crying, it was really moving. Also Boromir's death scene was a great scene, I shed a tear or 2 for that aswell.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 16:45
There's quite a few I could mention. Pipin's song in Return of The King almost had me in tears at the cinema. Marley and Me seems to make all the men cry (I was dry eyed untill i turned round and saw my bf in floods of tears). Although I think the worst one for me was Schindler's list - I cried for about an hour after that film.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 16:46
D.J. - I watched Bridge to Terabithia for the first time over Christmas, not really knowing what to expect - and, yes - I was a blubbering wreck by the end of it - an amazing film, completely different to what I thought it would be like.
Other than that: It's a Wonderful Life at the end, E.T. of course, Life is Beautiful, Happy Feet (!!), the first 15 minutes of Up - as my fiancée keeps telling me - I'm just a big baby :)
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 17:02
I watched ET at home on a copy when I was a kid, it was the night I was due to visit my potential future secondary school for a tour. On the bit when ET dies my dad came in and switched the tv off and said 'cmon....we're going'.
And off we went...distraught & devastated.
It was 2 and a half hours until I found out that he lived...beat that for parenting!
(PS: Whenever I watch it now I realise just how easy every other kid got it, he's like gone for about 2 minutes :( )
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 17:33
There is an anime adaptation of the Little Mermaid, which breaks my heart. It is related to the original tale but in this one, the Prince actually realises who his real saviour was but only after she jumped into the ocean. It is just devastating.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 17:49
Bambi is bad.... but i'm sorry, nothing comes close to the teary mess i was in at the end of Dancer in the Dark.... I was traumatised for days....
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 18:33
I may be alone on this, but Piggy's death in The Lord Of The Flies was pretty disturbing for me as a child. Up until that point I had never seen a human character killed off so quickly. The fact that he was a kid around my age just made it even more moving for me.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 19:17
The Lion The witch and The Wardrobe cartoon when Aslan had his mane cut bt the Witch scarred me for a long time,So much that i wasnt allowed to watch Watership Down,
Although i have seen it as an adult and think it was a wise choice that i never saw it as a kid .
ET,Dumbo,Bambi and The secret Of Nimh they just dont make them like that anymore.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 19:31
the end of big fish, when boo leaves in monsters inc and when they inject the guy with morphine in saving private ryan
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 19:44
Titanic. From the 'flying' until about an hour and a half after it ended :(
Don't judge me!
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 19:47
At the end of Return of the king where the hobbits bow their heads in front of Aragorn and he turns to them and say: "My friends, you bow to no one". Holy mother, I can't even think about it without crying. I'm actually crying right now.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 19:55
I cry at everything, but for me, 'Cinema's greatest death scene' is actually a less blubby one, though very sad - Spock's death in Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan. It's just so perfectly structured, tiny details like Spock pulling his jacket down in a dignified way so meticulously included, and a naturalistic performance brow-beaten out of Willian Shatner - his 'no,' has all the understatement, shock and disbelief of reality (and is a nice contrast to the famous 'Khaaaaan!@ earlier).
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 19:55
The end of Million Dollar Baby (or actualy the whole 2nd part of the movie) after I left the cinema I could not forget it for weeks
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 22:14
The end of Brokeback Mountain - Ennis is alone.
The end of Flags of our Fathers - the Ryan Philippe character as a old man dying.
In both I had tears in my eyes in the theatre and that is rare for me.
Bambi has stuck since I saw it on the big screen as a very young child.
And inspite of myself I had tears in sympathy with my friend at Titanic.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 22:41
@Juliette: Definitively on of the few scene that brought me to tears as child. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) only hours afterwards my mother informed me that the next movie was named "The Seach for Spock". So my state of shock wasn't permanent.
I agree that this scene is executed masterful. Especially the often riduled Shatner gives a fine performance that beautifuly conveys the emotional impact and resonates with the viewer long afterwards.
Another childhood trauma of mine originated from the death scene in Winnetou III - an immensely popular German film trilogy based on the fictional stories of author Karl May about the adventure of a noble Indian Chief, Apache to be precise, and his white blood brother set in the Wild West at the end of the 19th cenury - when in attempt to safe his best friend's life (and a shaky peace treaty between the red and the white people) Winnetou sacrifices himself at the end. What a tragedy! I surely I was depressed for days. *lol*
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 22:42
CONTACT - "They should have sent a poet..." and the tears begin only to be further powered by the appearance of Ellie's dad on the bitch "Hi Sparks" Boom! I cannot be consoled until the credits!
SHAWSHANK - "I hope to make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope." and then Mr Freeman is walking down the beach toward Andy, the tears begin!
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 22:43
haha meant Beach! Crap I just insulted Jodie Foster and created a disturbing alternate ending!
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 23:11
I remember getting really upset the first time I saw the original King Kong aged about six. After that it was Watership Down, E.T, Gladiator (when he went home to his family at the end, sob) and most recently, Toy Story 3. I was so caught by the furnace section that I broke the headphones I was listening to it on.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 23:24
Its not the best movie around, but the ending of Philadelphia, when on the wake of Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) everyone is talking in a sad way to each other, like in real life when someone dies, and the song 'philadelhia' by Neil Young is being played over the images of the wake. When the camera zooms to the television screen where a home video of Andrew Beckett as a 3-year old is being shown, I can't fight the tears. Everytime I see it. I don't kwow why, but I think it's because it's so recognizable.
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 23:40
Heat-Pacino and De Niro hold hands.
Star Trek 2-Spock dies
Edward Scissorhands-Vincent Price dies and the end
United 93-about 5 mins before end
Toy Story 3-when they give up
Posted on Wednesday February 9, 2011, 23:50
The ending of The Train really got to me when I first saw that about 12 or 13. It was the first 'grown-up' war movie I'd seen. The final shot of the bodies really made the horrors of war clear, and it was only in b&w!
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 01:11
i agree with danielcharlwood. dancer in the dark. nothing has ever made me cry like that. if you haven't seen it, do. but have a big box of tissues to hand.
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 06:23
Passion Of The Christ - Crucifixion scene. Tough to reconcile that level of brutality absorbed by such love.
The Elephant Man - When Merrick finally lies down to sleep.
Waking Ned Devine - After the toast when "The Parting Glass" begins...
The Iron Giant - Superman scene...Yeah. Tough to hold back on that.
larstrygve mentioned the scene at Aragorn's coronation in Return Of The King which always gets me as well.
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 08:23
For me the most tear jerking animation film has to be Dumbo.....the bit when Dumbo visits is mother in "prison" and she swings him in her trunk! Breaks my heart everytime!
Non-Animation has to be The Colour Purple where the sisters are separated because evil Danny Glover couldn't get his way and when Nettie's reunited with her children! Also Pete Postlethwaites speech at the end of Brassed Off always produces some tears!
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 09:24
I'm going to look like a wet blanket for all these confessions:
Big Fish : The aforementioned final scene. Crudup is amazing. This film doesn't get enough love, but it's my favourite Burton.
Forest Gump: "You died on a Saturday morning"... Forest Gump doesn't get much love either from the film buffs, but Pulp Fiction (to which its endlessly compared unfavourably due to the Oscar result) never makes me cry...and this finale never fails.
Gladiator : Not a favourite movie, but the ending tends to get to me. Particularly the little boy helping to carry Maximus' body and the "Go to them" line.
Toy Story 3 : An embarrassing one, as I was in the cinema and 29 years old. But the bit in the furnace is INCREDIBLE.
Shawshank : There's an argument (mentioned by Kermode in his documentary) for ending the film before the reunion and I completely understand that point of view (the film is about hope, not happiness)...but the bit on the beach when two old friends are reunited. There's several reasons why this film never leaves the top of the IMDb Top 250, and this heartwarming finale is one of them.
Man on Fire : Overlong, over-edited, but I start sobbing come the finale.
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 09:59
I agree with so many of those. I think the first one I really remember being upset at is the end of The Mission. Most recent (but an old film) is Grave of the Fireflies - I completely lost it on that one.
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 10:14
For me, it's Up - i wathced that a week after having my baby and thought I'd never stop crying, Big Fish (which is my favourite film anyway) but the ending is beautiful and the Notebook (dreadful film) but the bit where James Garner begs her not to forget and she does is heartbreaking.
Bambi used to scare me more than upset but I did watch it as an adult and cried buckets (same with Watership Down)
Never got the whole thing with ET though
Also I know it's TV but Anya's reaction when Joyce dies in Buffy, The Doctor and Rose on opposite sides of the Wall and when Ianto dies in Children of Earth on Torchwood get me every time
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 11:22
For me, the most emotional moment in cinema came at the end of LOTR: The Return of the King..."My friends, you bow to no-one." Final recognition of the power of the little man. Has me welling up as I type actually!!
A side note. I did my dissertation on Spielberg's 'war' films. I watched Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List back-to-back, I was a wreck for days!.
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 12:27
sitting in work right now trying to stop myself bursting into tears reading all these comments. E.T. and Dumbo are two films that always have me teary.
I read Lord of the Flies and was so traumatised by Piggy dying that I dont think I could bear to see that on film.
Cried like a child when Dr Greene died in ER.
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 12:30
The documentary 'Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father' is the most devastating thing I've ever seen. I cried like Tiny Tears while watching it (didn't wet myself though) and then for about an hour afterwards. Didn't end there though! While telling my friends about it the next day I almost crashed the car we were in while explaining the film because I burst into tears. Amazing film.
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 12:58
Its not a death scene and its at the end of a comedy, but when steve martin comes back for John candy in Planes Trains and automobiles and 'Dell' explains his wife is dead and that he has no home. then Neil takes him back to his house for thanks giving, its makes me really emotional because its a really happy moment, someone being generally nice and caring! I love it!
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 13:27
Up - Quite possibly the finest opening 10-15 minutes of cinema in history.
Toy Story 3 - Oh god, Andy, why, WHY, WHY???????
The Mist - Oh christ, talk about depressing? I was blue for a week.
Return Of The King - The look on the Hobbit's faces when they heard about Frodo leaving.
It's A Wonderful Life - say no more. Hang on, my mates had this for about 5 years and I've not had it back!
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 17:08
1988 and my aunt is taking me, my sister and my cousins to see 'The Land Before Time' while my mum is in hospital for some reason (I was 5 so didn't really know). As if it wasn't bad enough with the mum dying in the first ten minutes, it's the final few where she comes back to Littlefoot and guides him to the Great Valley; that's where I will quite (un)happily well up like my 5 year old self - just the music is enough some days.
Also, to avoid the only crying at deaths trend, the bit in 'Cool Runnings' where they finish the race occasionally gets me and any part in 'Glory' with the rising musical theme (the bit where Broderick looks out over the sea before the regiment's charge at Fort Wagner in particular).
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 17:15
for me im torn between:
Gran Torino, clint you may have been and old coot but you were deep down a good man.
Shawshank Redempiton, when the one man who could save him is shot...
The Green Mile
all great films
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 17:30
If we are going to through a little TV in there too:
Then Dr Green dying!
Buffy dying (the second time) even Spike is crying!
LOST - Charlie's 'greatest hits' and Desmond calling Penny from the future/past
and worst of all...
QUANTUM LEAP - "Dr Sam Beckett never found his way home" Christ!
Posted on Thursday February 10, 2011, 20:05
Carousel. Shirley Jones singing You'll Never Walk Alone at the end with full orchestra. Jesus, I'm filling up typing this.
The ride of the Rohirrim, "Ride on to the world's ending"
E.T "I'll be right here"
King Kong on the ice with Naomi Watts. Beautiful.
John Coffey's death scene.
When Adrienne tells Rocky to "Win" in Rocky 2
What a tart!
Posted on Friday February 11, 2011, 11:25
Totally with you @elyoda on the cool runnings ending!! cheesy sports films get me everytime, Run fatboy Run had me blubbing at the end!!!
Posted on Friday February 11, 2011, 11:40
Poeple have already mentioned the obvious choices i.e Shawshank, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator. One I struggle to keep a dry eye at is the end of Friday Night Lights, when the Dad walks over to Don Billingsley hugs him and gives him his championship ring. I'm not sure if its the combination of the music or the realisation that his father's recognition is all Don wanted but I find the scene really moving.
Posted on Friday February 11, 2011, 13:57
Is it wrong that I now want to watch half of these? What's wrong with me? Why would I do that to myself?
Just in passing - Emma Thompson, Laura Linney and Andrew Lincoln's sections in 'Love, Actually' cause me to act as though there's something in my eye.
Posted on Sunday February 20, 2011, 01:03
"WILSON!!" Yep, Tom Hanks' deeply emotional farewell to his friend Wilson the football. I can't believe how attached and wrapped up in Hanks' performance i got watching this scene...kleenex anyone?
Also another Hanks movie The Green Mile at the end when they have to kill John Coffey, i couldn't stop crying for ages after that scene.
I totally agree with phlphlphl that scene in Kick Ass really gets t me too!
Posted on Friday February 25, 2011, 11:47
Etebar99 - I'm glad you mentioned Friday Night Lights, because I ended up quite emotional by the end of that film. Also, Bambi, Dumbo, ET and Watership Down.
If we're mentioning TV, I'd also like to point out that the episode of Buffy where Joyce dies almost left me suicidal by the end. It was seriously traumatic.
Posted on Friday February 25, 2011, 20:36
Toy Story 3, Up, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, The Notebook, My Girl (the bit at Macaulay Caulkin's character's funeral), The Time Traveler's Wife, Love Actually...basically any film that contains a death/funeral or someone losing someone they love. Disney films are the most traumatic though!!