The Themes of Love and Lust in Moonstruck


“Why do men cheat?” is a subplot in Moonstruck. Rose poses the question to several men throughout the movie and the answer at which she arrives is that it is “Because they fear death.” Many of us enter middle age and are struck by the idea that life might end and we’ve missed out of something by choosing to enter into a life-long relationship with someone.

Rose’s husband Cosmo is cheating on her. Rose’s brother Raymond remembers being awakened by a big full moon and looking out the window to see Cosmo looking longingly up Rose’s window. He calls that kind of moon, “Cosmo’s moon.”  In the movie the moon is back but Cosmo’s sense of romance with Rose is gone and he is trying to find it elsewhere. Rose knows he’s having an affair and tries to understand why.

She meets Perry, a middle-aged professor who dates his students and asks him why he does that. He tries to explain, “Sometimes I’m droning along and I look up …look at a young woman’s face, and see me there in her eyes, me the way I always wanted to be and maybe once was, then I ask her out on a date.” His lust is at least partially motivated by his desire to recapture the excitement and optimism of youth. When he propositions Rose she turns him down telling him, “I can’t invite you in because I’m married and because I know who I am.” Rose adds that she’s too old for him to which Perry replies “I’m too old for me. That’s my predicament.” His lust for younger women is really his desperate attempt to avoid growing up and growing old.

Loretta agrees to marry Johnny for all sorts of practical reasons. She’s married for love before only to have that husband die after two years. She is afraid of being alone, afraid of never having a family, afraid that this is her only chance. At thirty-eight Loretta has given up on romance. She’s experienced the pain that comes with passion and wants to protect herself from more hurt.  When Rose hears of Loretta’s engagement to Johnny she asks “Do you love him?” to which Loretta replies negatively and Rose says with relief, “That’s good.” She too wants Loretta to avoid the potential for heartbreak that comes with that kind of emotional investment.

Loretta is content with her safe and reasonable decision to marry Johnny until she meets his brother Ronny and realizes that love is still possible but that it isn’t safe. Ronny asks, “You waited for the right man the first time, why didn’t you wait for the right man again?” Loretta explains her thinking saying, “Maybe my nature does draw me to you, but I don’t haveta go with that. I can take hold of myself and say yes to some things and no to something that’s just gonna ruin everything! I can do that.” Loretta has self-control and logical thinking down pat. While these are indeed traits that help us avoid lust, they are not intended to cause us to avoid love and passion as well. What Loretta  doesn’t get is that passion and romance are part of the equation that makes love pure.

Ronny, on the other hand, represents total passion. He thinks only with his heart saying “The Past and Future is a joke to me now. I see that they’re nothing, I see they ain’t here. The only thing that’s here is you. And me.” This philosophy tends to get people into trouble because relationships can’t exist exclusively in these moments. Ronny goes on to say, “I don’t care if we burn in hell…I want you in my bed.” In the movie Loretta calls Ronny a wolf, referring to his impulsiveness and abandonment to passion.

Ronny goes on to say love is “Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”

Loretta initially rejects both love and lust for reason, fearing her opportunities for marriage are dwindling. Cosmo and Perry choose lust over love, acting out of fear of aging and, again, that sense that their lives are passing by. Both men believe that the lives they are living are less than the ones they dreamed about. Perhaps the life Cosmo envisioned under that moon long ago doesn’t live up to the one he has built with Rose.

Perhaps Rose is right. We do fear that our lives might end without achieving every possible satisfaction, fear that a different partner might have been more satisfying, fear that we’re missing something might cause us to abandon our commitments and seek love somewhere else. While willingness to compromise eternity for love is definitely a bad idea, Ronny is on the right track in saying that we are here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts. Entering into intimacy requires a willingness to have our fantasies ruined and our hearts broken. Love is risky. Imperfection does make all of us the “wrong” people.

Loretta comes to realize that intimacy is not about safety. When she and Ronny announce the news to her family Rose asks “Do you love him?” Loretta answers, “Yes, I love him something fierce.” Rose, realizing that love will make her child vulnerable replies “That’s too bad.”

We find the balance of intimacy and reason in Rita and Raymond who are Loretta’s aunt and uncle. Their relationship is both practical and passionate. They’ve been together for many years yet seem to enjoy one another. To them “marriage is happy news.” They are seen together in the movie as a unit. 

They are a typical older couple, he’s sort of pudgy and bald, she has a few extra chins. Not the typical, sexy movie couple we normally witness in a bedroom scene. Yet when the moon shines into their bedroom years together does not mean the end of romance and passion. After a night of intimacy under “Cosmo’s moon” Raymond and Rita tell one another how much they enjoyed one another.

Raymond is dancing around their store and Rita says “Shut up. They’ll hear you in the back.” To which Raymond replies, “So what? The pleasure of marriage is you sleep with the woman and then you don’t worry about nothing. Hey, how about a date tonight, Rita. Let’s eat pasta and roll around.” A marriage in which “you don’t worry about nothing” is indeed an emotionally safe and physically satisfying experience.

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