Moonstruck in the best possible way
“Loretta, I love you,” says Ronny Cammareri (played by Nicolas Cage) in “Moonstruck,” a 1987 movie by Norman Jewison. Ronny continues: “(It is) not like they told you love is … 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. The storybooks are bullshit.”
The movie’s original title was “The Bride and the Wolf,” but Jewison, the director, felt that “Moonstruck” was a better name, because the movie is “about the moon. Everybody’s talking about the moon. The father’s talking about the moon, the full moon. We keep shooting the moon … So we called it ‘Moonstruck.'”
In “Moonstruck,” under the full moon, love strikes with ferocity.
The influence of the moon is mot limited to its effect on love. In Shakespeare’s play, for example, when Othello is informed about foul murders that were committed, Othello responds: “It is the very error of the moon; She comes more nearer earth than she was wont, And makes men mad.”
From moonstruck lovers, through the sinking of the Titanic, to foul murders, the moon has always been implicated as a co-conspirator. Even the word lunatic — used to describe the mentally ill, the extremely foolish, and the eccentric — is derived from luna, Latin for moon.
So, on a dark night in December (the moon wasn’t full, I swear), I asked myself: what else could the moon, full or eclipsed, be blamed for?
In the entertaining Christmas 2017 issue of the prestigious and very serious British Medical Journal, I found a surprising article: Donald A Redelmeier from the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and Eldad Shafir from the Department of Psychology at Princeton University examined the question: Does a full moon contribute to motorcycle-related death?
Redelmeier and Shafir report that motorcycle crashes in the U.S. account for nearly 5,000 death a year, and that the average motorcyclist faces a greater risk of death than a drunk driver without a seatbelt.
Redelmeier and Shafir analyzed safety data from the U.S. Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They included information from January 1975 to December 2014 with a total of 494 full moon nights (typically one or two nights a month). They compared the rates of motorcycle-related death during full moon nights to mortality during the nights a week before and a week after a full moon (a control group).
The authors found that a total of 13,029 people were killed in motorcycle crashes during 1,482 nights (494 full moon nights and 988 control nights).
The typical motorcyclist-victim was a middle-age man riding a street bike with a large engine in a rural location. Less than half of the victims were wearing a helmet.
The authors found that the risk of fatal motorcycle accident was greater on nights with a full moon (9.1 fatal crashes per night occurred in full moon nights, compared with 8.64 on nights without a full moon). The risk of fatal crashes was even greater during supermoon nights, when the moon was about 50,000 kilometers closer to Earth, and its light brighter.
Similar results were seen in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
How do the authors explain the association between the full moon and the increased risk of fatal motorcycle accidents?
Perhaps it is because the full moon travelers ride their motorcycles more often, faster, or farther. Perhaps it is because, on these nights of full moon, the travelers’ hearts follow a road less travelled, or a route less familiar.
But a different explanation is more plausible: “A full moon,” the authors write, “is infrequent and spectacular …” The full moon is large and bright against a dark sky. It can appear abruptly between buildings, past trees, and over hills. It engenders wonderment and awe. In short, a full moon is a natural distraction.
I want to write to Redelmeier and Shafir, asking them to examine correlations between a full moon and other aspects of life. Is there truth in Shakespeare’s observation that when the moon “comes more nearer earth …” it makes men mad? Was the old man in Moonstruck right when he looked at the moon and declared: “La bella luna! The moon brings the woman to the man.”
I want to ask them whether men and women are destined to be distracted, forever searching the skies for answers, always wondering at the moon for clues, yearning to mend their heart, untangle the mess, and love the right people.
Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist working in several locations in the Upper Peninsula. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at DrMadjar.com.