*** Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the movie cyrano And the play on which it is based. ***
Something missing from Joe Wright’s lavish musical Cyrano. No, I’m not talking about the nose.
Edmond Rostand Cyrano de Bergerac1 It’s my favorite play, so you can believe I watched this remake like a hawk, awake to any and all adaptations. It was, of course, impossible to miss the change in the nose. If you’re also familiar with the original play, you know that it was Cyrano’s massive nose that made him too shy to attract his love, Roxane. However, in Wright’s movie, Peter Dinklage stars in, and his dwarfism becomes the feature that makes the character reluctant to speak up.
It is an important mod for anyone who knows the game well. But amid all the other changes in this version – the addition of musical numbers, the truncating or cutting of letters, updating the language here and there – it becomes just one change and it can work well in context.
It’s hard to pinpoint the missing item I’m talking about, unless you know to look for it. It comes down to the fact that this Cyrano doesn’t wear a hat.
The white plume on Cyrano’s hat in Rostand’s play isn’t just a fashion statement. It symbolizes a state of mind, a whole way of living. This column is, for him, “One thing without stigma, unstained from the world, though my soul perishes.” In the original French, he calls it his “skill,” and since the play was first performed in 1897, this word has been used to denote the kind of playful, unabashed confidence which the heroic warrior-poet of Rostand displays in all but matters. from heart.
This confidence stems from a stubborn character’s independence and integrity, and their refusal to participate in the constant flattery and compromise that make up 17 people.yThe world of the century, even with a little surrender would make life much easier and more comfortable for him. This integrity, to me, is what makes Cyrano so lovable and memorable. He ranks as an immortal hero, standing up for his beliefs with unyielding courage and intelligence, even when the cost seems impossibly high. And this integrity also forms the paradox at the heart of the story: Although Cyrano deceives Roxane—in writing love letters that another man would use to win her over, in a misguided attempt to please her—we remember him as a man of honor and truth.
Joe Wright and screenwriter Erica Schmidt didn’t rule out this element entirely. We get baffling glimpses of Cyrano’s idealism – for example, we see him reject an offer by a dominant noble to become his patron and show his work to the right people, because the right people want to manipulate that work before it is presented to the public. And we hear excerpts from Cyrano’s famous “No Thanks” speech – my favourite – which reads in part in the original play:
What would you have me do?
Seek the patronage of a great man,
Like a vine crawling on a tall tree
Crawl up, where I can’t stand alone?
No thank you! Dedicate, as others do,
Poems for bookies? be a clown
In despicable hope to provoke a smile
On a cold face? No thank you! eat frog
For breakfast every morning? make my knee
stiff, flexible spine implant, –
Riding my cramped tummy in dust?
No thank you!
But other examples of this fiery independence are underestimated or cut out entirely. Even the climax scene of the play, where we find that Cyrano is physically attacked for his taunting of a powerful person, is altered so that he suffers from other causes. Interestingly, instead of giving one last speech about his talent, this Cyrano regrets his pride.
Keep in mind that he is not wrong in doing so. As Rostand acknowledges in the original play, pride and pride are two sides of the same coin. “I am very proud to be a parasite,” Cyrano explains in the letter you cited. Cyrano’s fear, pride and independence are inextricably linked, and his demise are shades of his virtues. It is a wonderful depiction of the struggle in every human heart, because the same qualities that lift us up one day can bring us down the next.
I don’t doubt that Wright and Schmidt had nefarious motives in their dealings with Cyrano. It’s clear that they chose to focus on romance rather than exploring the depths of the character, and this romance they portray so beautifully, with gorgeous visuals, lush layouts, and every other tool at their disposal enhances the grandeur and pathos of the love story. Perhaps that was the reason for the fact that they both ended up emphasizing pride over skill – because it was more related to romance.
Panache is what keeps Rostand’s Cyrano alive, it’s what allows his spirit to survive and even thrive in the harshest conditions, but pride, in the end, is what prevents him from loving his life. It’s not malicious or malicious pride—it’s born of deep insecurity and a desperate desire to preserve his dignity in Roxanne’s eyes—but nonetheless, as pride would do, it destroys his chance of happiness.
In the end, despite the missing white column and sometimes contradictory modern language, I loved this version of cyrano. I wasn’t sure at first that I would, but in the end it just couldn’t help me. What the movie does so well is that it does so well, creating such a rich romantic atmosphere that it simply sweeps the viewer away. And even that modified finish, though it threw me at first, was satisfying in its own way. I would recommend the movie – but then I’d recommend continuing to read the play and/or watch one of the earlier versions of the movie (the 1990 French version is particularly good).
After all, at 21St century as in 17yWe all sometimes tend to cheat, grovel, and compromise – just the smallest part! – With what we know is wrong. Let’s face it – most of us could use a little bit of skill.
1All quotes from Cyrano de Bergerac They are from Brian Hooker Translation (Bantam Classic Edition, 2004).