A young woman who can't stop crying meets a mysterious man who collects tears.
- Jessica Harper as Prudence
- Victor Garber as Ambrose Cavender
- Linda Lee Johnson as Gretchen
- Eric Bogosian as Junkie
- Kay Walbye as Young woman
- John Rothman as Young man
- Paul Sparer as Narrator
Prudence is at her makeup counter, sniffling because she has a blind date and does not think her appearance is suitable for the date. She feels no one would want to be with a woman who cries all the time. She muses about being born different.
Prudence's friend Gretchen is trying to get Prudence ready. Gretchen tries to cheer Prudence up, commenting on how Prudence has always been depressed and puts things off in her life. When the date arrives, Gretchen believes Prudence likes feeling sad and depressed. Upset, Prudence leaves the room as the buzzer continues to ring.
Prudence is walking on the sidewalk under an umbrella. She passes a homeless man who is talking to himself. Even though Prudence pays him no mind, he runs over to her, accusing her of thinking he is crazy. Prudence denies this and tries to avoid the man as he begins to manhandle her. He torments Prudence until she hands him some money and runs off.
While Prudence is running from the homeless man, a man under an umbrella asks her to stop. The man remarks on Prudence's beauty, while also mentioning that there is a lot of sadness in the world and that Prudence feels it. When she asks who the man is, he gives her his card. Before he walks off, he tells Prudence he wants her to come see him because he has been looking for someone like her. She looks at his card, which identifies him as Ambrose Cavender, a collector. When Prudence looks up, Ambrose is driving off in his car. She wonders aloud what it is that Ambrose collects.
Later, Prudence is walking up to the door of a townhouse. Her repeated knocks go unanswered, but she still gains access to the building. She asks his name, but gets no response. As Prudence looks around the home, she sees a room set up like a psychoanalyst's office. Eventually she sees a door with a keyhole and looks through it. While she is looking, Prudence is interrupted by Ambrose, who remarks that a locked door is irresistible to look through. While she apologizes for coming into the home without being let in, he tells her it is okay and he has been waiting for her.
While Prudence laments her continual crying, Ambrose tells her that she shouldn't. He walks her over to his patient couch, telling Prudence that she should never be sorry for her tears. Ambrose asks Prudence to lay down on the couch. Apprehensively, she does. Although she insists that she does not want to cry, Ambrose tries to get her to accept the fact that she does. He takes out a glass bottle shaped like a swan and collects some of her tears, telling Prudence how precious her tears are. He tells her that in all of God's creatures, only man can cry.
As Ambrose is walking Prudence out, she tells him that although it is odd, she does actually feel better. Ambrose assures her that he knows that. He tells her that this time she did not hate her tears. When Prudence asks him why he does what he does, he tells her that he is a man who can provide a service and leaves it at that. He pays her for her tears and asks her to come back.
Prudence is hemming a dress for Gretchen. Gretchen is surprised that Prudence met a strange man and went to his home. She is positive that Ambrose must have tried to put the moves on Prudence. Prudence tells Gretchen that Ambrose is not like that and Gretchen insists to Prudence that she is right, and Ambrose must be dangerous. Prudence, however, mentions that she has spent so much time trying to be happy and she believes that Ambrose is the person who can help her be so.
Later, Prudence is back at Ambrose's office and his glass swan is about halfway filled with her tears. She seems to think this is a cathartic experience but wonders why Ambrose is keeping the tears. He lets her know that when the glass swan is full, she will be ready to live. Ambrose explains that the tears she sheds in his office are different than the tears she usually shed because the tears he has collected were not tears that Prudence tried to stop.
Over a sherry, Prudence asks how her tears are different. Ambrose explains to her that he knows that these tears come from a place deep within the human soul. Once these tears are shed, the human heart can heal itself. Prudence assumes that means when the vial is full that she will be happy, but Ambrose tells her that it only means she will be free. He explains that happiness and sadness is a cycle that no one can control.
Ambrose then tells Prudence that he is ready to show her what is behind the locked door that she had been trying to peek through earlier. He opens the door and they both walk into a very white room with shelves containing different colored and shaped bottles. Ambrose tells Prudence that the room is called the Chamber of Ancient Souls. The bottles contain tears that have been collected across the age. Upon telling Prudence that soon she will join them, Ambrose sets Prudence's bottle on a sole pillar in the middle of the room and the bottle lights up.
Ambrose walks around the room, showing Prudence his tear collection. One bottle is from an Aztec who cried when the conquistadors destroyed their civilization. The next is the tears of a Confederate mother whose son never came home from the Civil War. When Prudence asks Ambrose how he got the tears, he explains that he has been collecting tears for a very long time. Prudence notices an empty spot and Ambrose tells her that it is the place her vial will go when it is full.
Prudence is setting flowers up in her apartment that she bought herself. Gretchen is surprised that Prudence seems happy and makes a snide comment about her falling in love with Ambrose. Prudence implies that she might be.
Gretchen is doing her toenails and she reaches for some tissues. She finds $500 in the napkins and asks Prudence where the money came from. Gretchen assumes that Prudence is doing something immoral with Ambrose, but Prudence informs her that all she is doing is crying for him.
The scene quickly cuts, for the first time, to Ambrose by himself in the tear room. He opens one of his bottles and appears to be listening to it. Prudence comes into the house without knocking and enters the tear room. Ambrose notices her and looks surprised, to which Prudence informs him she just wanted to see him. Ambrose tells Prudence he was not expecting her until the following day. Seeming put off, Prudence leaves the room and tells Ambrose she will wait for him in his study and leaves.
Ambrose walks into his study with Prudence's bottle. When he tells her that it is almost full, she tells him that she didn't come to cry. He seems surprised and asks her why she came. She tells him that she wanted to see him and he mentions that he probably didn't make clear the terms of their relationship. Feeling rejected, Prudence decides to try and cry so the bottle can be filled.
Prudence sits down but does not want to cry. She asks Ambrose if they could just talk, but he rejects her again. He suggests that she should probably come back another time. Prudence tells him that she wants to cry but she needs help and she asks him for his help. Ambrose leans forward and kisses Prudence lightly and when he pulls away, he collects the tear that flows down her cheek.
After collecting more tears, Ambrose closes the bottle, tells Prudence that it is done and stands up. Prudence comments on the kiss, but Ambrose informs her he only kissed her because it was necessary. Prudence's countenance begins to return to a sad one. He explains that he merely wanted to fill the vial. She asks if they can still see each other and refuses, tells her goodbye, and she leaves.
As Prudence leaves, she passed by another woman who is waiting to enter Ambrose's home. Prudence gives the woman an extremely dirty look before opening the door to let herself out. She hears the woman crying to Ambrose. Rather than leaving, Prudence closes the door. She enters the room where Ambrose is preparing to collect the tears of the woman on the couch. Quietly, Prudence slips into the room where Ambrose keeps the bottles of tears. Ambrose turns his head as he apparently hears Prudence sneaking by.
Prudence enters the tear room, apparently looking for her bottle of tears but cannot find it at first. Prudence grabs the bottle with her tears and accidentally knocks over two other tear bottles. She begins hearing all sorts of cries and wails and in her distress knocks over more bottles.
Ambrose enters the room looking very surprised. However, rather than being angry with her, he tells her that there is too much sadness in the world already and she has to let go. He tells her to leave him and his tears, but Prudence is too upset and runs past Ambrose with her tear bottle. Ambrose follows her and asks Prudence to let him explain. Prudence tells him that she understands that the only thing he wanted was her tears, to which Ambrose confirms that her tears are all that he can have from her.
Heartbroken, Prudence runs out of the house. She keeps looking around nervously to make sure Ambrose is not following her. As she crosses the street, she runs in front of a taxi. The taxi stops in time, but Prudence drops her bottle which shatters on the ground. As she looks at the broken glass, the taxi driver comes out and tries to help Prudence. Standing up, Prudence thanks the driver who then asks her if the bottle was valuable. Prudence tells him it was valuable to her and lets him know that he cannot replace it. The driver asks what it was and when she tells him it was her tears, they both begin to laugh about it. He compliments Prudence on her smile and they both begin to look happy.
The last scene shows Prudence and the cab driver walking down the street together.