[The following essay contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
Early on in Cyrano, Joe Wright’s delightfully maximalist musical adaptation of Edmund Rostand’s classic play, Christian—the dullest point of the story’s convoluted love triangle—laments (through song, naturally) his utter inability to articulate his feelings:
I’d give anything for someone to say / All the words I don’t have and I can’t put together / I’d give anything for someone to say to her / That she’s all I can think about / And I can’t live without her.
His distress is hardly unjustified: in the movie’s melodramatic setting, words are everything. Indeed, Roxanne, the object of Christian’s affections, somewhat foolishly correlates eloquence with outward beauty: “He is beautiful; he must therefore express himself beautifully.” Hers is the attitude of the archetypal “hopeless romantic”; from her perspective, the simple act of exchanging love letters is inherently intimate, sensual, and even outright erotic—in one particularly memorable scene, she literally writhes in borderline orgasmic euphoria as she reads her admirer’s poetry aloud, caressing her trembling body with the crumpled paper.
Roxanne’s beliefs are not totally naïve, however. For a woman of her relatively humble socioeconomic status, words represent some modicum of power—her only weapon against those that would prey upon her. When the amorous and arrogant Duke de Guiche attempts to force the issue of their “engagement,” for example, she manages to indirectly reject his advances with a few tactfully phrased lies and thinly veiled insults. Her wit is her sword, and she desires a partner that can match her skill in verbal fencing.
Thus, Christian’s metaphorical “muteness” is as great a disadvantage as his eponymous rival’s physical deformity; consequently, they must combine their respective talents in order to successfully woo this fair but uncompromising maiden:
My words upon your lips. I shall make you romantic, while you shall make me… handsome.
Of course, this deception ultimately renders their mutual “victory” hollow; Cyrano’s sentiments do not belong to Christian any more than Christian’s face belongs to Cyrano:
She told me that she loves me for my soul; you are my soul!
The film’s entire conflict, in fact, revolves around the most essential words of all: those that remain unspoken. Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett subtly imply that each of their characters is painfully aware of the other’s silent pining; both are merely too afraid to acknowledge their obvious mutual attraction, lest they tarnish the platonic relationship that they’ve already built.
And their stubborn refusal to communicate honestly—to confront the undeniable truth—inevitably culminates in tragedy.