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Scene Breakdown: “Overcome” From ‘Cyrano’

"overcome" from Cyrano balcony scene
©Metro Goldwyn Mayer

“Overcome” from Cyrano has haunted me since the first time I watched the film back in February. Truly, it’s haunted me, following me everywhere I go, echoing in my mind from day to day. It’s the constant ring in my ear, begging to be written about. I hope by writing this, my heart will know peace, and this melancholic tune will finally let me go. 

Directed by Joe Wright, Cyrano is the musical telling of the famous Cyrano de Bergerac, a man who was helplessly pining after his dear friend who was in love with another. Through his poetic words, he wins the object of his affections for his fellow soldier, Christian de Neuvillette. However, this arrangement is doomed from the start and ends in heartbreak. In this movie musical adaptation, Cyrano, played by Peter Dinklage, helps Kelvin Harrison Jr’s Christian woo Roxanne with his poetic letters of romance and longing. 

The scene and song I’m focusing on come at the midpoint in the story. Growing frustrated in his waiting, Christian meets Roxanne and attempts to win her over on his own without Cyrano’s help. Though she’s physically attracted to Christian, Roxanne is disappointed that his words in person don’t match the seductive wit of his letters. She leaves frustrated, singing through the streets about how she needs more — cue the song “I Need More.” In it, she expresses how after years of receiving similar attention from men over the years, she longs to hear “I love you” without using these overused three words. Cyrano finds Christian, and together they go back to Roxanne’s and wait for her to stand outside her balcony. Here’s where “Overcome” begins.

“Overcome” from Cyrano

From below, Christian attempts to repeat the words Cyrano whispers to him from the shadows. Roxanne is confused about how his earlier words don’t match the words he’s spouting now. Christian starts to stumble, so Cyrano steps in and begins to sing “Overcome.” 

“I might lose everything if I lose the pain”

From the shadows, Cyrano explains Christian’s speechless nature is due to being overwhelmed by his love for her. He’s afraid of the vulnerable nature of his love, and before he acts on it, he turns and runs, hiding behind the protection of the words on the page. As the song progresses, Cyrano drops the artifice of acting as Christian and pours his soul out for Roxanne. He expresses his own cowardice to Roxanne, afraid to lose the agony he feels by not really being with her. In his own masochism, Cyrano would rather hold on to the pain of pining from afar, even losing Roxanne to Christian, than having nothing at all. Cyrano loses himself in the freedom of the anonymity he finds from the shadows. He slips up, mentioning an event before Christian strolled into town, something Roxanne calls him out. It doesn’t destroy the moment, but it reveals how fragile this arrangement really is. It’s set up to break at a moment’s notice, but that could be enough for Cyrano.

“Hearing your voice now, I can see everything clearly”

From the balcony, Roxanne joins in on this duet, asking “Christian” what he’s afraid of losing and expressing how his words are music to her. She confesses that she’s equally overcome by her love for him. Nothing feels real anymore to her outside of his letters, and his singing now only confirms that “Christian” is the man she’s been waiting for her whole life. What’s tragic about this scene for Roxanne is that though she’s out in the open, pleading for “Christian” to come to her, she’s the one really in the shadows. She is left in the dark about Christian and Cyrano’s arrangement. As a penniless orphan, she is the most vulnerable, with everything to lose, refusing the hand of De Guiche to be with the man of her dreams. Unfortunately for her, “Christian” is nothing more than a fantasy she allows herself to get swept up by. Even after this song, Roxanne doesn’t find out the true nature of Christian’s letters for another three years, after his (spoilers) death and right before Cyrano himself dies. 

“It’d make you laugh to think someone like me could keep someone like you”

The National‘s Bryce and Aaron Dessner crafted the music and lyrics for this musical, and for “Overcome,” their lyrics anchor the gravity of this precarious deal and hold the tragedy of this love story together in this song. This song doesn’t hold the same impact without the symphony of Haley Bennet’s angelic, hopeful voice mixed with Peter Dinklage’s low, downcast voice. Combining the music, lyrics, and performances of this scene captures the beauty and angst together in this haunting song that leaves a sense of hope even though it’s doomed.

Though it takes two to tango, this love triangle has three active members during this song. From the shadows, as Cyrano and Roxanne continue their duet, Christian watches and begins to piece together for himself that there is more to Cyrano’s assistance than meets the eye. That maybe his admiration for his closest friend runs deeper into loving her madly… the way he loves Roxanne. At the end of the song, as Roxanne sings, “just tell me what to do,” Christian seizes his opportunity to regain his footing and boldly comes out of the shadows asking for a kiss. Though he may not carry the same wit as Cyrano, Christian has the courage to jump in and fight for what’s his. Roxanne allows him upstairs, where the two share their first kiss, as Cyrano walks alone in the streets away from the one who has captured his whole heart. 

“Look what I’ve become”

Cyrano’s words have transformed the three lives of this tragic love triangle. Their innocent views of love and romance are changed through the delicate balance of this agreement between Cyrano and Christian. Roxanne has become a woman obsessed with receiving the next letter from Christian, falling deeper in love with the man behind the words on the page. Christian has become a soldier of love, taking a back seat to take action for himself and letting someone else call the commands in order to win the battle for Roxanne’s affections. Cyrano has found a way to become the desirable man of Roxanne’s dreams without having to change the status quo, facing the vulnerability of being fully known (and potentially rejected) by Roxanne. 

As mentioned, this arrangement is not meant to last. De Guiche plays his hand and tries to coerce Roxanne to marry him; instead, she takes matters into her own hands and marries Christian before De Guiche arrives. However, for one scene (and one song), Cyrano got to tell the woman of his dreams exactly how he feels about her with his own words. Roxanne got to hear the words she’s only read on the page. Christian got to reap the benefits of Cyrano’s wit and interaction. “Overcome” from Cyrano is miserable; it’s magical, and it has consumed my being for months. Indeed, look what I’ve become.

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