I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
The first time I watched Moonstruck, I was 12 and thought it was boring and unromantic — plus, why did everyone keep yelling at each other? The second time I watched it, almost 15 years later, I was hypnotized and couldn’t get enough.
At the time, I was living in New Orleans and had suddenly broken up with my boyfriend and moved out of the pink shotgun house where we were living with my best friend. The relationship wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t right, and I was never going to become a person who enjoyed hot weather and parades. I was homesick and wanted to go back to New York.
As I got ready to leave town, I stayed in a friend’s family’s house. They had moved out, and let me crash while they prepared to sell it. It was still half-furnished, but creaky and dark and breathtakingly spooky at night. There was no internet, and to keep from getting too lonely or too scared, I watched DVDs from the library on my laptop. Of the library’s limited selection, Moonstruck was the only thing that made me feel right. I watched it almost daily for months.
At the beginning of the movie, Loretta (played by a warm and funny Cher) gets engaged to a man named Johnny. She doesn’t love him, but she wants to get married and he’s nice enough. Johnny asks her to do him a favor: Will she call his estranged brother Ronnie and invite him to the wedding?
Ronnie (a classically frenzied Nicolas Cage) says no, so she goes to talk to him in person at the bakery where he works. He reveals that he has a prosthetic hand, which he blames on his brother — years ago, Johnny distracted him, Ronnie accidentally cut off his own hand in the bread slicer, and his girlfriend left him because of it. Ronnie shouts and rages and theatrically threatens to slit his own throat.
When he is done yelling, Loretta invites herself up to his apartment above the bakery. She cooks him a steak, they drink some whiskey, they sleep together, then they fall rapidly in love, which they’ll spend the rest of the movie figuring out.
It’s right after the whiskey and before the sex that the really good stuff happens. Loretta tells Ronnie that he’s totally deluded for blaming his brother for his misfortunes. The truth of the matter, she says, is that he wanted to lose his hand in the slicer, and he wanted his girlfriend to leave him. He had to cut off his own hand to free himself from the relationship, like a wolf chewing off its own foot to escape a trap.
Oh yeah? Ronnie fires back. Then why is she — so dazzling and bossy and wise — marrying his helpless cornball of a brother? Ronnie got distracted around him and he lost his hand. If she looks the wrong way, she could lose her whole head!
Loretta: I’m looking where I have to, to become a bride.
Ronnie, furious: A bride without a head!
Loretta, also furious: A wolf without a foot!
They glare at each other, and then Ronnie knocks over the table between them, the whiskey glasses and bottle go flying, and they kiss.
Whenever Moonstruck wasn’t playing on my screen, this exchange was playing over and over in my head. I’m still obsessed with the campy exuberance of the imagery — Cher as a staggering, headless bride; Cage as a rangy, desperate wolf — and with the drama and silliness of their passion for each other. I’m captivated by these two characters mercilessly calling out the other’s self-deceptions, not as a gesture of anger or ill will, but something closer to a gift.
“I’m telling you your life,” Loretta said to Ronnie, and in spite of myself, I felt seen too. Was I an idiot for staying too long in a relationship I knew was wrong? Sure — I was a bride without a head. Was I making a mistake by leaving New Orleans so abruptly, leaving my friends and my good job? Maybe! But what else could I do? I was a wolf without a foot.
Years have passed since then, but this scene is permanently stuck in my head. I see wolves and brides everywhere. It’s become a compulsive, instinctual framework for understanding actions that seem self-sabotaging.
I see a photo of Britney Spears shaving her head, and without even thinking about it I know: She’s a wolf without a foot. The Bachelor gives his final rose to someone who’s clearly wrong for him: He’s a bride without a head. Dave Chappelle leaving his show: a wolf without a foot. Chris Christie standing glumly behind Donald Trump at the podium: the world’s most obvious bride without a head.
Not long after I left New Orleans, the friend whose family’s house I stayed in embroidered a wolf without a foot image for me. Last year, another friend mailed me a wolf without a foot collage, and it sits in a frame on my desk now. It isn’t so bad, being a wolf or a bride. And if you’re lucky, eventually, someone will come along to tell you your life.