I suppose you can call me a pessimist. I was never a fan of those “believe in yourself” shows, even as a kid. I suppose I always forced myself to live in a world where hard work was the only thing that could get me anywhere, and the sappy shonen belief that true power comes from inside – is just a joke. But as I lived my life working harder and harder, I realized that I wouldn’t be working so hard if I didn’t believe that I could do whatever it was that I was working so hard to do! So the whole time, I really did simply, “believe in myself.”
There is one book character I can think of who worked incredibly hard towards his goal of winning over the love of a beautiful woman, but at the same time, he didn’t think he personally ever had a chance at achieving his goal in his own strength.
Cyrano de Bergerac is one of my favorite pieces of classic literature. The play was originally written in French, so you know it’s quite dramatic. The story follows Cyrano, a very skilled swordsman and poet. He falls in love with his best friend and cousin Roxanne, but he is afraid she will never return the affection because he has a hideously large nose. Cyrano refuses to allow himself even entertain the idea that Roxanne could love him and his nose, but he does know, that Roxanne could fall in love with his poems and his way with words.
Cyrano begins the quest in the year 1640 to get Roxanne to love him by writing beautiful poems and feeding them to his cousin Roxanne through the use of a good-looking young man named Christian.
CHRISTIAN: I need eloquence, and I have none!
CYRANO: I’ll lend you mine! Lend me your conquering physical charm, and together we’ll form a romantic hero!
Christian: What do you mean?
Cyrano: Do you feel capable of repeating what I tell you every day?
Christian: Are you suggesting . . .
Cyrano: Roxanne won’t be disillusioned!
Together, we can win her heart! Will you let my soul pass from my leather jerkin and lodge beneath your embroidered doublet?
Cyrano identifies that he is half the making of a romantic hero. He has the words, but Christian has the looks which to him is so much more important. By combining their powers, Roxanne would fall in love with the perfect man a mixture of the two men without any of the bad qualities each possessed. No ugly nose, no choking on words. Only eloquence worn on a beautiful face. Cyrano admits he has confidence in his poetic ability, but the lack of looks discredits any poetic ability he may have. By shaming himself like this he believes that he needs to lie to Roxanne in order to win her love. His self-denial leads him to obscure right and wrong and this example also leads young Christian astray as well.
ROXANE: His face shines with wit and intelligence.
He’s proud, noble, young, fearless, handsome. . . .
ROXANE: What is it? What’s the matter?
CYRANO: Nothing. . . . It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s only a twinge of pain from this little scratch.
It’s the way Cyrano interpreted Roxanne’s words that leads him to fall down a path of falsehood, prejudice, and compromise.
Kiki is a young girl who beings her journey confidently. She works hard to establish herself in a new town and win the affection of the town members. She doesn’t need to hide behind someone else like Cyrano does for her to try her hand at everything new. She does have something to prove by this.
Kiki: (To Jiji) “Smile so we can make a good impression!”
She wants to show her capability of living successfully in a new place. This is the motive behind her confidence. Cyrano has no such motive. He won’t allow himself to believe he can achieve the goal on his own so he really has nothing to prove to himself or others.
Kiki’s story draws the moral from the loosing and then finding of confidence. Cyrano never had any confidence to begin with, and he even dies without truly understanding what it is. Cyrano’s story is driven by him finding replacements for the confidence he never had, such as his honor.
For a family and children’s movie, Kiki’s moral is pleasant and easily applicable. The journey of this girl who goes through trial and error, picks herself up and learns from her mistakes, and listens to the advise of others so she can better herself, is a wonderful example for young girls. Small ones have someone they can relate to, a character who is quite ordinary, but does not let that get in the way. Kiki is a safe movie to influence hard working younglings because it ends in a positive way quite unlike Cyrano. It sticks to our hearts because it’s so dainty and adorable. These emotions are safe to let live in our hearts, but the emotion Cyrano festers in our hearts is dangerous and emotionally damaging, at least for me it was.
Cyrano’s story isn’t quite supposed to be seen as an example of how to live one’s life – the audience is quite different from Kiki’s to prove this. Cyrano was supposed to be a character everyone knew was not a good role model. He is the perfect example of what not to do. As we read his play (or watch it) we see the choices Cyrano makes out of a lack of confidence are only detrimental to him. The more Cyrano writes letters of love to Roxanne, the more she falls in love with Christian and the more Cyrano has to suffer. It’s a never ending cycle that Cyrano is not willing to break.
Kiki and Cyrano hit their rock bottom when they believe they’ve lost everything, like any character would, but these two characters act very differently when facing the bottom. Kiki realizes that without her witch magic, she’s lost her whole livelihood. If she can’t fly, she’ll have to return home a failure – an unimaginable tragedy for her.
Kiki: “If I lose my magic, that means I’ve lost absolutely everything.”
Cyrano runs out of time when Roxanne’s husband Christian dies on the battlefield. Cyrano knows that he has no place to reveal the truth that he was behind the sweet words when Roxanne is mourning the death of her husband so. He has lost all chance of winning the love of Roxanne.
The difference between Kiki and Cyrano is that Kiki has support around her to help her wait for her magic to come back. By spending quality time with Osono, Ursula, and even Tombo, Kiki had a safe environment to vent, and look inside herself.
Kiki: “Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it.”
I don’t believe that Kiki could have every flown again if she didn’t have the love of others to inspire her.
Cyrano also has a degree of support after Christian dies. He still finds the strength to visit Roxanne who’s become a nun, everyday for fifteen years afterward, but their relationship is different now and more painful. Cyrano hold the secret of his love for her, keeping his relationship with her from being a safe and secure place.
Kiki finds herself again in the classic endeavor to save someone else – Tombo. She saves the day and everything can go back to the way it was. She’s even a celebrity. She reaps the hard work she’s sewn, showing kids that hard work really does pay off. Cyrano does not have such luxury. He lives with the fact that nothing will ever be the same again. After Kiki finds her confidence, she goes back into a happy healthy life with a blossoming business and a new gentleman friend. Such things are to be expected in a family film, but I believe that there is much more material to learn from the way Cyrano de Bergerac ends badly then the cheerful way Kiki ended.
In many ways, Kiki’s Delivery Service is the Opposite of Cyrano de Bergerac, but I chose to compare them because of how one is mature and the other is not. It is the immaturity that provides more lessons to learn then one figures out the puzzle inside her soul. By choosing the wrong path time and time again, the audience of Cyrano is forever wondering what would happen if Cyrano had chosen the other path. This constant wondering is what lingers so strongly after the curtain has been drawn. It’s what the audience is more likely to apply to their own lives then something so cheery and easily forgettable.
Kiki is a role model because she is mature. Parents like that. Cyrano is an immature mess who’s tragic story entertains the audience with the complexity of such a character as himself. He goes through a trial and error period of learning like Kiki, but Cyrano is too shy to learn and take responsibility. But this aspect of his character is supposed to be attractive in how incredibly tragic his life becomes after mistake after mistake. We’re supposed to feel deeply for Cyrano and he tries to replace confidence instead with the honor of an overworked man.
Cyrano’s life is supposed to teach us how deep the sadness of lost love is and the damage of a lack of self-confidence is to all relationships a person has. Here is how such a tragic life ends.
Cyrano gets hit on the head with a giant log and rushes blood running down his head to Roxanne’s side. He asks if he can read the last letter Christian wrote to her before he dies. She gives him the letter and he begins to read, but continues even thought it becomes quite dark. Roxanne realizes that it was Cyrano the whole time, but this news strikes her like a dagger. She cries she loved the same man but she lost him twice. This is all Cyrano’s fault- He let his lack of confidence hurt himself so much that he ended up hurting those around him.
In his last moments of life, Cyrano stands up and decides to have one last fight with his enemies to preserve his honor. He pretends to slash falsehood, prejudice, and compromise, until he falls dead smiling up at Roxanne. His famous last words live with me forever. The last thing he had when he died was,
Cyrano – “…My White Plume”
The Plume symbolizing his honor…
Kiki’s Delivery System was indeed not as dramatic, but it is quite interesting to see how shows with completely different tones can end with the same moral – the importance of confidence. It seams backwards. The young thirteen year old is tremendously more mature then the old man searching for love. Perhaps, since Kiki was not looking for love in the first place, she was not blinded by “Falsehood, prejudice, and compromise” as Cyrano was. Is the moral of the story between this comparison that the pursuit of love is tragic, but the pursuit of bettering one’s self is always follows with reward? Cyrano is a tragedy because he should have been stronger, he should have told Roxanne sooner, he should have got the girl, but he just kept limiting himself. He was his won worst enemy. Cyrano was beat by a teenage girl, but don’t tell him that because it would only make it worse.