Monday, January 26, 2015

Death, Life, and Love: An Examination of Moonstruck

If you saw Moonstruck, you probably remember it as a 1980’s romantic comedy involving a lot of Italian people.  It was very well reviewed and was successful at the box office.  It featured several prominent stars and some not so prominent, but solid performers.  The two major stars - Cher and Nicholas Cage give great performances but Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis steal just about every scene they’re in.
It's a Family Movie
Moonstruck may be about an Italian family in an Italian neighborhood in New York City, but just about anybody is going to relate to the family dynamics that go on here.  Despite immersing you in Italian traditions, Italian superstitions, and Italian music including opera, it has very broad appeal because…well, all families are weird aren’t they?

Moonstruck may be classified as a romantic comedy but when you think of most modern romantic comedies, this one doesn’t really match the formula.  Most modern romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, As Good as it Gets, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and so on, tend to just focus on the one couple and getting them together.  Also, usually, at least one of the couple-to-be at first despises the other or at least, doesn’t see the other in a romantic way.  Before the couple ends up together, there’s an emotional roller coaster ride that gets them tantalizingly close to being together one moment, then losing the connection in the next.  In Moonstruck, Loretta and Ronnie (played by Cher and Nicholas Cage respectively) pretty much just fall in love with each other minutes after they meet.  There’s really never a question of “will they ever love each other?”  In fact, they make love for the first time early in the movie and stay in love throughout the entire movie. Also, Moonstruck has stuff going on with other couples besides the main one.
This didn't take long
So what’s going on with this movie?  The love story and the Italian culture aspects are really only part of a deeper tale.  Moonstruck was written by John Patrick Shanley, who also wrote and directed Joe vs. the Volcano which is a film I already had analyzed a while back and pointed out many hidden complexities underneath what at first appears to be a simple story.  So I’m on familiar ground here.


Ever notice all the death references, both visually and in the dialog of Moonstruck?  There’s a ton of them. 

Loretta is an accountant and early on, we see her with a client that happens to be the owner of a funeral home.  The scene even includes a “death and taxes” inference. 

Mr. Nucciarone: ”Numbers, taxes, receipts, I make them look better than they did in real life.” 

"Numbers, taxes, receipts, I make them look better than they did in real life." (Death and Taxes)
We learn that Loretta’s previous husband had died.  Loretta, her fiancĂ©, as well as her father and mother just seem to talk about death.

Loretta: “Alright, you know I was married and that my husband died, but you don’t know is…I think he and I had bad luck.”

Loretta's previous husband died
"My mother is dying."

"...or I shall die" (Vicki Carr song)
"I can't sleep anymore. It's too much like death."
"...or I shall die!"  (Father now singing it.)
"Everything is temporary!"
"Who's dead?"
"He thinks that if he holds onto his money, he'll never die."

"My mother is slipping away!"
Johnny (on the phone): “I’m calling from the deathbed of my mother.”
Loretta (also on the phone): “Yeah?  Well, how was your plane ride?”
Johnny: “The waitresses were very nice.  My mother is slipping away!”
Johnny: “No, no, not yet.  I’m waiting, I’m waiting for a moment when she’s peaceful.”
Loretta: “Well, don’t wait until she’s dead.”

When we see Ronnie for the first time, we see that he is like this too.

"I have no life.  My brother Johnny took my life."
"Bring me the big knife.  I'm going to cut my throat."

 And all these death references just continue – pretty much throughout the movie.
"I'm going to kick you 'til you're dead."
"I've should have taken a rock and killed myself years ago." / "You and I are going to take this to our coffins."

"I think it's because they fear death."
Even the opera Loretta and Ronnie see featured a lead character – a woman, who dies.

Loretta: “She died.”
Ronnie: “Yes.”
Loretta: “I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t think she was going to die.”

"She died."
Rose:  “Why do men chase women?”
Johnny:  “Maybe because he fears death.”

"Maybe because he fears death."
"No matter what you do, you're going to die."
There are three families involved in this story – Castorini, Cammareri, and Cappomaggi.  Notice that these names, besides being Italian, start with the letter “C”, have the same number of syllables, and sound similarly.  Rose (Olympia Dukakis), Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia), and Loretta Castorini, along with both Cammereri brothers, Ronnie and Johnny (Danny Aiello), all seem to share an obsession with death.  It’s in their surroundings and in their conversations.  They can’t seem to go two sentences without mentioning death.  They even dress in drab clothing.  Notice how Rose Castorini hypothesized that men chase women because they fear death.  Then when she asked Johnny Cammareri why men chase women, he confirmed her hypothesis completely without even knowing that that was the answer she was looking for. 

Loretta becomes engaged to Johnny Cammereri but she openly admits she doesn’t love him.  Without true love, Loretta and Johnny are doomed to be people waiting for death and blaming everything on bad luck.

To hit this point again, let’s look at the elderly woman at the airport.  She tells Loretta that long ago, her sister had stolen her boyfriend and she’s still very bitter about it many years later.  This woman chose to live a bitter life holding a grudge against her sister.  This has made her death-obsessed and superstitious.  The woman serves as a warning to Loretta as to what not to become.

Death is symbolized by the colors white, black, and grey.  Notice how Loretta is seen through most of the film in these colors.  This eventually changes.  I’ll get to that later.


The Cappomaggi couple (Raymond and Rita) contrast the others.  They are happy, have fun with each other, and seem to embrace life.  You never hear either of them dwell upon death the way the others around them do. 
Luna = Moon
The prominent symbol of life in Moonstruck is the Moon, itself.  Just like in John Patrick Shanley’s Joe vs. the Volcano, a full Moon is a significant symbol.  Those who see the Moon seek life.  Those who look down and don’t bother to notice or care are obsessed with death.  Raymond Cappomaggi sure notices the Moon.  It energizes him.  Yet when he brings up the full Moon to Cosmo, Cosmo isn’t interested.

Raymond: “I never told you this – because it’s not really a story.  One time, I woke up in the middle of the night cause of this bright light in my face – like a flashlight.  I couldn’t think of what it was.  I looked out the window and it was the Moon – as big as a house!  I’ve never seen the Moon so big before.  I was almost scared – like it was going to crush the house.  I looked down and standing there in the street was Cosmo looking up at the windows.  This is the funny part.  I got mad at you Cosmo.  I thought you had brought that big Moon over to my house because you were so in love.  You woke me up with it.  I was half-asleep I guess, I didn’t know any better.”

Cosmo:  “You were all-together asleep.  You were dreaming.”

Raymond:  “No. You were there.”

Cosmo:  “I don’t want to talk about it!”

The Moon even makes Raymond appear younger (to his wife anyway).

Raymond: “Look!”

Rita: “What?”

Raymond: “It’s Cosmo’s Moon!”

Rita: “What are you talking about?  Cosmo can’t own the Moon.”

Raymond: “It’s that Moon I was talking about at dinner.  Is he down there?”

Rita: “Is who down there?”

Raymond: “Cosmo.”

Rita: “Well, what would he be doing down there?”

Raymond: “I don’t know.”

Rita: “You know something?  In that light…with that expression on your face…you look about 25 years old.”

"In that light...with that expression on your look about 25 years old."
Now Rose, as we know, is obsessed with death like her husband.  She’s changing however.  The full Moon that appears in the middle of the movie attracts her, while Cosmo sleeps unaware.

Perhaps the change in Rose is due to the realization that her husband is having an affair.  Instead of succumbing to her death fascination, she decides to seek life.  I’ll get to more of this later.
Notice too, that Loretta and Ronnie, once they are together, also see and admire the full Moon. 

Ronnie: “What’s the matter?”

Loretta: “Nothing.  I’m looking at the Moon.”

Ronnie: “It’s perfect!”

Loretta: “I’ve never seen a Moon like that before.”

The next morning, however, Loretta denies having even seen the full Moon.  Without her true love Ronnie, she goes back to her death-oriented way of seeing the world.

Raymond:  “Did you see that Moon last night?”

Loretta:  “W-What Moon?”

Raymond: “Did you see it?”

Loretta: “No.”

  There’s even a full Moon in the story in the opera.  It’s in the backdrop of two lovers.

So, in understanding the Moon equals life theme.  We now know that certain characters who have the death obsession problem are seeking out life.  Now, I’ll talk about another symbol in the movie, the wolf.

There are several wolf references in Moonstruck.

Woman: “What are you talking about? I’ve seen the way you look at her and it isn’t right!”

Man: “How do I look at her?  Can I help you?”

Loretta: “Spear du Mumms.”

Man: “So, how do I look at her?”

Woman: “Like a wolf!”

Man: “Like a wolf, eh?”

Woman: “Uh huh, like a wolf!”

"Like a wolf!"
Loretta: “You can’t see what you are and I see everything.  You’re a wolf.”

Ronnie: “I’m a wolf.”

Loretta: “Yeah.  The big part of you has no words and uh, it’s a wolf.”

"I'm a wolf."
What’s a major characteristic we associate with wolves?  They howl at the Moon, of course.  Howling at the Moon indicates the wolf seeks life.  How does a wolf find life? -  By finding a mate.

Howling at "La bella luna."
Grandfather:  “The Moon, uh, brings the woman to the man, capisce?”

"The Moon, uh brings the woman to the man, capisce?"
I guess Loretta’s grandfather is a wolf too.  As Loretta points out, Ronnie is a wolf.  She cooks his steak “bloody” and notice her first reaction to him.

Loretta: “Animal!  What an animal!”

"Animal!  What an animal!"
So, some of the death-obsessed characters – namely Loretta, Ronnie, and Rose seem to be looking to get out of their morbid personas when they gaze at the full Moon.

Speaking of the Moon, did you know that it’s magical in this movie?  This is no ordinary Moon.  It’s always perfectly full even though several days go by in the movie.  Let’s look at the chronology.

We see a full Moon during the opening credits when the “La Boheme” opera was getting prepared to open.  This is presumably the night before we first see Loretta going to the funeral home.  So this is night number one.

The Full Moon at the Opening

The next night, after Johnny proposes to Loretta, we see the full Moon as Johnny’s plane leaves for Palermo.  This is night number two.  Notice too that nobody acknowledges the full Moon on this night.  Everybody is too busy thinking about death to notice the full Moon.

Johnny is off to Palermo
The following night is when Loretta slept with Ronnie and they both admired the full Moon.  So did Raymond and Loretta’s grandfather and his dogs.  This is the same night Rose notices the Moon.  This is night number three.

Night Three
The final night in the movie has Ronnie and Loretta, and Cosmo at the opera, Rose at the restaurant, and the grandfather again with his dogs.  There it is again! – Another full Moon.
In case you didn’t know, a full Moon does not last four nights.  Either something magical is taking place here or the full Moon is really just in the eyes and minds of those who choose to see it.
There are some more Moon references where the filmmakers got a little cute.  Look at the way Moonstruck is written on the movie poster or DVD cover.

See how the two “O’s” are intertwined?  It’s intended so your subconscious will associate two round objects together with the title, and more specifically, with the Moon.  We first see it, of course, during the opening credits.

Although not together, the two “O’s” are lined up in the word “Metropolitan” shown on the truck containing items for the upcoming opera.  It can also be noted that the word “Metropolitan” begins with “M”, ends with “N” and has two “O’s” inside.

At the Grand Ticino Italian Ristorante, the two cups of expresso form the two O’s.  Okay, maybe I’m reaching here but why is the camera following the coffee and not the waiter?  Why did the filmmakers care about showing the cups at all?

  In the Castorini home, see the plates on the wall?

  Then we get the eggs cooking inside the bread.

   …And the medallion on the wall.

 In Ronnie’s apartment, the electrical outlets are arranged in an unusual way.  Have you ever seen them on their side like this before?  Even if you have, this seems very odd.

  Now, we have glasses.

And finally, the two ancestors shown at the very end suggest the two “O’s” in the way they are framed.  The portraits, in fact as they are shown at the end, tie in the intertwined themes of the Moon, love, and family.

Carmine the Florist:  “Red roses – very romantic, oh! Oh, the guy who sends these really knows what he’s doing, eh?

Loretta:  “The guy who sends those spent a lot of money for something that’s going to end up in the garbage.”

"The guy who sends those spent a lot of money for something that's going to end up in the garbage."
Another symbol of life is the color red.  Actually, red seems to symbolize the combination of life and love and when you find one, you find the other.  The romantic florist gushes over red roses while Loretta only notes their mortality.  Later, after Loretta had her first encounter with Ronnie, she impulsively decides to buy a red dress for her date with Ronnie at the opera.  This is a real sign of change for Loretta as we had only seen her in subdued colors up to this point.  Of course, it’s because she’s falling in love with Ronnie that is causing this change.  Note how Loretta drank white wine with Johnny, but when she prepared for her date at the opera with Ronnie, she drinks red wine.    At the opera, Loretta shows up with a full-length black coat hiding her new red dress.  She has her guard up again.

Ronnie:  “Hi.”

Loretta: “Hi.”

Ronnie:  “You look beautiful – your hair!”

Loretta:  “Yeah, I had it done.  You look, uh, beautiful too.”

Ronnie:  “Thank you.”  (Ronnie leans over to kiss Loretta)

Loretta: “No!  I said I’d go to the opera with you, but that’s all.”

              Loretta is not ready to give in to love with Ronnie and this is symbolized by her covering the red dress.

The Red Dress is Hidden
They enter the opera house, which has red carpeting and red seemingly everywhere.  The opera house is a place of life and like the Moon; it draws those who seek life once they’ve found their mate.  Loretta eventually succumbs to all the signs of life around her and removes her coat revealing her red dress.

Ronnie:  “Wow!  Thank you.”

Now We See it

Cosmo is at the opera too.  He is apparently seeking new life with his mistress, who happens to be wearing red…well, not really.  She’s actually wearing pink – a false red and therefore, a false beacon of life.  Cosmo is on the wrong path to life with the wrong woman.

Pink is Not Red
As the opera is going, Rose is seeking life too.  She goes to the very red “Grand Ticino” restaurant – the same restaurant where Johnny had proposed to Loretta earlier.  Here, she encounters the ultimate wolf.  The professor, whom we had seen earlier, goes through a cycle of dating his students and inevitably alienating them.  Rose obviously is drawn to him and perhaps, even briefly, considers giving in to his charm.  Rose is strong, though, and soon realizes this would lead to disaster.  It actually gives her resolve to fix things with her husband Cosmo.

The Ultimate "Wolf"

Everything culminates in the final scene at the Castorini home.  Loretta and Ronnie are going to marry (for love, even).  Cosmo agrees to pay for the wedding.  Rose confronts Cosmo in a gentle way and reminds him that his life is not built on nothing and she loves him.

Ultimately, Moonstruck is a fable of the zest for love and life and how you can’t have one without the other.  Without them, you are just waiting for death.   It’s clichĂ© but the movie does this extraordinarily well with its story, characters, and symbolism.  At the end, everybody who found love is happy.  Even poor Johnny has some hope as the grandfather tells him he’s part of the family, even if he’s not marrying Loretta.  Family is love!  Love is life!