Metaphysically Moonstruck

By Jeanne Fiorini

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen the movie Moonstruck. Really. The number of times I’ve watched Cher and Nicolas Cage fall in love measures around 50, give or take. Really.  

This movie is a treat when you’re happy, a consolation when you’re sad, an entertaining diversion when you’re lonely, and goes marvelously well with all known food groups. After reading this article, you may say to yourself, “This girl has way too much time on her hands!” But you may also soon find yourself at the video store taking another look at Moonstruck.

Cher plays our heroine, “Loretta,” a name that means “little victory.”  As the opening credits roll and Dean Martin sings “That’s Amore,” Loretta traverses the side streets of New York City as she makes her way to her job at the undertaker’s. Moving along past her on the streets are the scenery and prop vans for Puccini’s opera “La Boheme.” It’s Christmas time and that cheery tale of love and death is about to open at the Metropolitan Opera House. 

The first scene of our story shows a corpse resting in the salon, an image that very much resembles the Four of Swords.  This is only the beginning; once you start looking for the metaphysical symbolism in this movie, it is revealed at every turn. And the juxtaposition of opposites is almost as remarkable.

Loretta Castorini, age 37, lives at home with her parents at 19 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn. (#19 is the Sun card; cranberries are a round, red, summer fruit; “Castorini” translates to “small light”; all of these images directly reference the solar principle.) 

Mom’s name is Rose (alchemical symbol of the passion for physical life: see the Death card, Magician, et. al); Dad’s name is Cosmo (the cosmos, the universe, The World card.) 

Despite being the daughter of “Passion” and the “World,” Loretta’s life is about as dull as it gets. Her job is about numbers, taxes, and receipts. Her mass of graying hair is restrained by clips and pins. She wears neutral tones, minimal make-up, and might as well be dressed in a nun’s habit. Even while dining with her soon-to-be fiancé, she wears her black and white. With her simple gold cross and her hair respectably held back at the neck, she is as untouched and removed as the High Priestess.

Loretta becomes engaged to Johnnie Camereri. (“John” in Hebrew means “God is Gracious,” Johnnie Camereri must be only a “little gracious.”) Loretta admits to not loving but liking him, to which Rose replies, “That’ good, ‘cause when you love ‘em they drive you crazy ‘cause they know they can.” True to her namesake, Rose has much passion for life, which lately has not found a home with her husband Cosmo. (His energies are being spent elsewhere.) Grey Loretta is content to be fond of a husband.

The colors of Loretta’s life begin to change when Jonnie asks Loretta to invite his estranged brother Ronnie to their upcoming wedding. (The name “Ron” means “song” or “joy.”)  

Ronnie toils in the cellar of his family’s bakery, kneading his bread and feeding his misery over his life. But unlike Loretta, Ronnie is passionate in his misery. Loretta has already deemed him “Animal!” after their introductory phone call; now she’s face to face with a sullen, unkempt, angry man who looks for all the world like the wolf she thinks him to be.  A wolf who is not happy about the impending nuptials: “I should be happy? … Where’s my wedding? …I lost my hand! I lost my bride!” he rants, throwing loaves like javelins into the fiery oven and wondering why no one understands his pain and loneliness.  

For some unknown reason, Loretta asks Ronnie if they can go somewhere to talk. For some other unknown reason, he agrees. Ronnie unlatches the cellar door that is flanked by huge sacks of Sunburst brand flour as they make their way from the basement toward the light of day and Ronnie’s upstairs apartment. (Subterranean, murky Moon energy gives way to clear awareness/Sun energy.)

Ronnie’s apartment is brightly lit, sparsely neat, and neutral in tone but for the crimson bedspread. Loretta, in her usual gray and white clothing, cooks him a bloody steak as they chat politely. They sip J & B Scotch, learning each other’s stories as the afternoon passes. (The letters on the black and white pillars of the High Priestess card are B & J.)  During their conversation, city bus #1336 passes by out in the street (1+3+3+6=13/Death card … something is about to shift.)

Soon they’re on the bed. “I was dead.” “Me too.” And so it’s done. 

Loretta awakes the next morning in Ronnie’s bed with a shocking start, and insists that, “We will take this to our coffins.”  She is going to marry Jonnie Camereri. Ronnie tells Loretta that if she accompanies him to the Opera, he will let her go from his life even though he’s already professed his love. (“Opera” = “Opus” = the alchemical work of transmuting the material world to spiritual riches.) Of course the presentation that night is La Boheme.

As Loretta readies herself for her first-ever trip to the Opera, the transformation that took place internally on the previous day begins to show up physically. She visits the neighborhood Cinderella Beauty Shop (Cinderella, an alchemical story of transformation) to have her “ugly grays” removed, dyed black, and styled loosely around her face. She paints her nails, buys herself some lipstick, and gets a sexy maroon dress with shoes to match. The black and white High Priestess is transmuted into a woman dressed in full-throttle red. 

Although she makes a valiant attempt, Loretta cannot talk herself out of her instinctive attraction to Ronnie. When he proposes marriage to her in front of her family on the morning after the Opera, she admits, “I love him awful,” to which Rose groans, “That’s too bad.” We laugh, we cry, and we believe they will live happily ever after.

This movie is a classic because the archetypes are played out before our eyes: Life, Love, and Death in their eternal dance. The film’s color palate mirrors the restorative powers of these three forces, the neutral tones combined with various splashes of red paralleling the white/red/black combination of the maiden/mother/crone archetype.

A scene particularly reminiscent of the Tarot involves Loretta’s grandfather. The Old Man is making his late-night stroll with his five dogs. (Five is the number of the human senses and makes reference to humankind’s physical existence; dogs, as seen in the Moon card, represent the wild but trainable instinct.) They find themselves on a Brooklyn pier overlooking Manhattan, the monstrous full moon shining above. With the prominent moon reflecting in the water below, the howling dogs, and the Twin Towers (pillars of duality) in the background adding an extra edge of eeriness, we are literally looking at the Moon card. 

“La bella luna” is depicted at its most powerful and magical moment at the same time that the sun projects the least of its light: Christmastime and the winter solstice, when the sun is being reborn. We respond intuitively to this juxtaposition, to the alchemical unification of opposites (solar/lunar, male/female, passion/death, youth/old age) and the transformation from one recognizable form into something brand new. In Moonstruck, the force that drives this transformation toward its completion is the “wolf.”

A viewer can find many references to “the wolf’ throughout the film. A traditional interpretation of the wolf in Tarot, and specifically in the Moon card, is that it represents the untrainable, unbiddable power of the instinct. Instinct doesn’t always make intelligent sense. As Ronnie tries to explain to Loretta, “Love doesn’t make things nice. It ruins everything. … It breaks your heart.” It is the acknowledgement of this wolf at their door that pulls Loretta and Ronnie from their lives of non-participation into reckless engagement in life, love bites and all.  

In the same way that Loretta transforms her nun-like High Priestess into a lusty, participating member of the human race as a result of meeting Ronnie, Ronnie’s animal-like demeanor is softened and humanized by this same event. (His face in the Opera scene is downright dewy.) If you needed an example of what alchemy is about, there you have it. 

By the movie’s end, we understand that falling in love is a death, but that it can also become a joyful victory worth celebrating.

Now go get your favorite munchies, a comfy chair, and spend a few hours with the Castorinis. A la familia!

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Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2008

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