Cyranothe musical based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, is based on one of the greatest and most unusual love stories in literature: that of Cyrano for his beautiful best friend, Roxanne. And in many ways, that love manifests itself in what seems like a lot of selflessness on Cyrano’s vertically challenged part: allowing another suitor to claim Cyrano’s fine words as his own to woo the beauty.
But the musical’s poignant final words (and yes, we’re going to get into some spoilers in this blog) point to a deeper, more textured understanding of Cyrano and his love. “I loved my pride,” he said. And it focuses on which writer CS Lewis called the world’s most problematic sin.
Small size, imposing silhouette
Word Pride is tricky. Culture encourages that we are proud, proud of ourselves, of our families, of our achievements, of our country, etc. What child doesn’t want to hear their mother or father say, “I’m proud of you. And shouldn’t we be proud of having done something particularly worthwhile? In Cyrano’s time, the idea of pride and honor was incredibly powerful, so much so that Cyrano’s France was considered the dueling capital of Europe. Pride and honor were under constant attack, it seems, and honor demanded satisfaction.
We see that sense of pride in Joe Wright’s Oscar nominee Cyrano. Of course, the guy is barely 1.20 meters tall. (In the original play, of course, Cyrano’s main physical challenge was a ridiculously large nose.) But that didn’t stop the soldier from becoming one of Paris’ most feared duelists and one of the most feared minds. more famous. He can close with anyone, physically or verbally, and he does both quite often. In the opening moments of the film, in fact, he forces a famous (but outdated) actor off a French stage, pays back the audience’s money out of his own pockets, and gets into a fight with an arrogant aristocrat.
All are acts of pride, and Cyrano emphasizes that by bringing the main character on stage himself. All the attention of the scene is focused on the character. He becomes the star attraction and the generous benefactor of the public.
But while Cyrano is certainly (arguably justifiably) proud of his abilities, his swagger hides a long-held secret: he’s in love with Roxanne, one of the most beautiful women in Paris, and has been for so long. In fact, Cyrano calls love his “soul purpose on this earth.”
Although the two have been friends since childhood, Cyrano believes his stature prevents him from becoming a thing with Roxanne. She could never love him, fears Cyrano. He has a moment of hope when Roxanne asks for a private meeting with him, but this is quickly dashed: of course, Roxanne did indeed want to tell Cyrano that she was in love, but not with him. Rather, with a future soldier in Cyrano’s own guard unit named Christian. And like a schoolgirl exchanging notes, Roxanne begs Cyrano to tell Christian how she feels.
Heartbroken, Cyrano accepts nonetheless. And soon, he accepts many more. You see, Roxanne likes eloquence in her in-laws, and handsome Christian is not eloquent. But he and Cyrano make a deal: Cyrano will write love letters to Roxanne apparently from Christian, allowing the soldier a fighting chance with the beautiful beauty.
There’s an obvious flaw in the plan: even if the ruse works perfectly, Christian can’t communicate with Roxanne by letter for the rest of his life, can he?
Still, it works quite well. Christian and Roxanne marry in secret, though Christian and Cyrano are both drawn into war immediately after the ceremony. And it is there, at the front, that Christian learns definitively that Cyrano has been in love with Roxanne all this time. Also, he realizes that Roxanne doesn’t like Christian; she likes Cyranoeven if she doesn’t know it.
“You have to tell him!” said Christian to Cyrano. “It’s a moral obligation!”
But not Cyrano. Not then, not after Christian died in battle, not after Roxanne spent years in a convent, pining for the man she thinks she married.
Why does Cyrano hold his tongue? Sure, maybe he’s a little scared. We all fear rejection. But it is much more than that.
Before Christian’s death, Roxanne had already confessed to him (Christian) that she loves him for his soul— that is, the man who reveals himself in the letters she reads: This writer could come back from the war horribly disfigured, and that wouldn’t change her feelings for him one iota.
No, it’s pride that silences Cyrano, pride in the promise he made to himself to always keep his love a secret.
Pride precedes the fall
The whole story of Cyrano is strewn with this kind of pride, a pride that can sometimes look like altruism. When he shames the actor offstage and pays back the audience’s money, he’s doing it out of his own pocket, even if it means spending every penny he has. He refuses the charity of others on several occasions. He prides himself on his self-sufficiency – and this pride ultimately dooms him. Even in the final scenes of the film, he refuses the convent nuns’ soup, preferring (as he thinks) to suffer bravely.
Cyrano said his purpose on earth was to love Roxanne. But in the end he failed, and it was all because of his pride. He never liked her at all, not really. Love is not just a flood of emotions that we let helplessly hum inside. It’s always an outpouring: Saying you love a child and not feeding it is not love. To say you love humanity by stepping over a homeless person in the street is not love. Saying you love someone and not telling them – and even worse, letting them suffer because you won’t – ultimately isn’t love at all.
Cyrano’s pride condemned him and Roxanne to years of misery.
Despite the primacy of pride in Cyrano’s 17andIn France in the last century, theologians often said that pride was the worst of the seven deadly sins, the sin from which all the others flow. It is also a sneaky sin, given that it can pass off as a virtue: the proud, like Cyrano, can often mistake it for an honorable quality. But the pride that Cyrano shows, in all his self-sufficiency, ends up minimizing or neglecting the primacy of God – the reality that we need Him. And by extension, we also need other people.
Cyrano claims otherwise. He blames God for his size but takes credit for his wit and swordsmanship and (as the original piece says) his “panache”. He considers himself a self-made man. He depends only on his own strength, his skill, his mind. Accepting help from God or anyone else is an affront to one’s character.
I think our current era is just sensitive to this curious sense of pride like in Cyrano’s time, maybe more. I know prideful self-sufficiency is something I slip into too easily. We embrace many clichés that we believe are about strength and self-reliance –pull ourselves up by our boots, carry our own weight, etc.– but that might be more a matter of pride than we care to admit.
God never designed us to make the world alone. He designed us to live in community, to help others and to be helped in return. Loving others and being loved back.
Cyrano only understood this at the end. But perhaps, oddly enough, there is still hope for him.
Humility and love, finally
At the end of the film, Cyrano knows he is dying. He’s kept his proud promise so far, but with his time on this earth down to a few hours, he’s beginning to wonder if he’s got it all wrong. And when he arrives at the convent where Roxanne now lives, he talks to a nun who, we are told, did her best to “convert” him – and also show him kindness.
Cyrano turns to her and says to her: “This evening, I let you pray for me”, as if this openness to charity were a gift.
“I didn’t wait for your permission,” the nun told her.
Cyrano has done his best, all his life, to prevent people from really loving him. His pride always got in the way. But God’s love is so mighty, so mighty, that maybe – like water – it can seep through walls, seep into barricades, and eventually bring about some softening.
Cyrano does not keep his promise to the grave, as he had sworn. He says. He finally opens his heart to love. And although it makes for a heartbreaking conclusion to the film Cyrano, we know that in his last moments, Cyrano’s pride finally faded. And it was only then that he saw what love really was.