“I’d give anything for someone to say….”
We long—to be heard, to be seen, to be loved. Such loving is the driving force in Joe Wright’s film Cyrano, a reimagining of Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, by way of a musical stage play written and directed by Erica Schmidt, who wrote the screen play. It is the story of people who long to be loved—even though they don’t feel worthy of being loved as they would like to be.
The classic version of Cyrano de Bergerac centers on the title character, a guardsman who is known for his skill as a swordsman and for his wit, but is even more renown for the size of his nose. In this version, Cyrano’s nose is not the issue. Instead, he is played by the diminutive Peter Dinklage. It is his size that makes others scorn and ridicule him (but they do so at their peril). This is more than just a gimmick. Dinklage bring a certain reality to the role that actors in fake noses don’t have. We sense that he truly understands Cyrano’s feelings about being different.
Cyrano is in love with Roxanne (Haley Bennett), his friend from their childhood. But he feels that he can only love her from afar, because no one would accept him because he is so different. When Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) arrives in town, he and Roxanne lock eyes and are immediately smitten. Roxanne asks Cyrano to take care of Christian, a task he accepts out of love, but it breaks his heart. When Cyrano encourages Christian to write to Roxanne, Christian balks because he does not have the words or poetry that Roxanne desires. So Cyrano writes the letters for him, and together they win her heart, but it is obviously complicated (and comic).
There is another rival for Roxanne, Duke De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), a foppish, but rich and powerful nobleman. It would not be accurate to say he is courting her. Rather he has decided to possess her. He is the personification of entitlement. De Guiche’s main song is “What I Deserve”.
Those familiar with the original play will know that for all the comic aspects that play out in the romantic triangle of Cyrano, Roxanne, and Christian, the play evolves into a great tragedy of unfulfilled love.
The songs that are a part of this production fit in naturally, some more so than others. (Although the production numbers with large numbers of dancing guards seem less organic to the story.) Some of the songs are more spoken than sung, which works especially well in an early scene set in a theater, in which Cyrano’s lines have an almost rap quality.
There are various themes entwined in all of this. One of those focuses on love and our desire to be loved. Often, however, at the same time, we feel unworthy of love. Each of the three main characters are deeply in love, but they each feel that for whatever reason, they don’t deserve to be loved: Cyrano because of his abnormal body, Christian because he can’t live up to the words that Cyrano has put in the letters, Roxanne because she wants more from love than she thinks anyone can give. It raises the question of what it means to be worthy of love—or more precisely if it’s possible to be unworthy. Love is not something we earn, but something bestowed upon us as a gift. That is a key point of the Christian faith: that God loves us not because we are worthy, but because God deems us worthy.
Honesty is another issue that this story deals with. Obviously, Cyrano and Christian are not being honest with the woman they both love. But we also know that Cyrano writes honestly. Everything he writes is from his own heart. The only dishonest thing about it is having Christian sign the letters. In time, Christian realizes this truth, and demands that they come clean with Roxanne—that she deserves the truth and to know of the love they both hold for her. De Guiche’s dishonesty is evident from when we first see him. His ostentatiousness, his highly powdered face and ghastly wig, serve to hide anything that might be considered common. His more shameful nature is hidden from view by his wealth and power.
We also see the way pride interplays with a sense of inferiority. De Guiche may try to hide himself with makeup and clothing, but Cyrano has no way to hide the part that makes him different. But both of these men have a great measure of pride. De Guiche’s pride is much more in the nature of hubris. His pride comes not from accomplishment, but from his position. For him, pride is just another bit of makeup to cover his lack of love. Cyrano’s pride comes from overcoming his adversity. However, he allows that pride to stand in the way of achieving the one thing he desires in life.
Cyrano is the story of all who long to love and be loved. It calls us to allow ourselves those blessings.
Cyrano is playing in wide theatrical release.