“A Moon for the Misbegotten” begins as a tale of Connecticut tenant farmers in 1923 who struggle to pay the rent. Then each character grimly tries to out-scheme the other in a web of under-handed power plays. The landlord, Jim Tyrone, has jokingly deceived the farmer, Phil Hogan, that he will sell their farm to their rich neighbor. So in turn, Hogan has convinced his daughter Josie to try to seduce Jim to force him into marrying her. But as soon the plot seems to reach its comical or tragic conclusion, the schemes fade into the background as the real plot bursts through. “A Moon for the Misbegotten” is instead a story of guilt, confession and peace.
In a stunning portrayal of the illusion of identity, each character is not as they seem. Jim Tyrone is not the ruthless landlord, but a walking dead man in guilty grief over the death of his mother which coincides with the return of his alcoholism. Instead of being the big-shot womanizer, he has long been deeply in love with Josie. Because of his love for Josie, Tyrone rebuffs her advances in hopes for real romance. Similarly, Josie is not the sexually experienced woman she claims to be, but she too has long loved Tyrone. As Josie and Tyrone talk, they move illusion of their outer-selves and speak honestly with one another about their love and the brutality of reality. This leads to the most insightfully honest confession scene that even surpasses Godfather 3.
TYRONE– You said I looked dead. Well, I am.
JOSIE– You’re not! Don’t talk like that!
TYRONE– Ever since Mama died.
JOSIE– I know. I’ve felt all along it was that sorrow was making you– Maybe if you talked about your grief for her, it would help you. I think it must be all choked up inside you, killing you.
TYRONE– You’d better look out, Josie… I might develop a crying jag, and sob on your beautiful breast.
JOSIE– You can sob all you like.
TYRONE– … You won’t believe it could have happened. Or if you did believe, you couldn’t understand or forgive– But you might. You’re the one person who might. Because you really love me. And because you’re the only woman I’ve ever met who understands the lousy rotten things a man can do when he’s crazy drunk, and draws a blank–especially when he’s nutty with grief to start with.
TYRONE– But I didn’t draw a blank. I tried to. I drank enough to knock out ten men. But it didn’t work. I knew what I was doing. No, I can’t tell you, Josie. You’d loathe my guts, and I couldn’t blame you.
JOSIE–No! I’ll love you no matter what–
TYRONE–All right! Remember that’s a promise! … When Mama died, I’d been on the wagon for nearly two years. Not even a glass of beer. Honestly. And I know I would have stayed on. For her sake. She had no one but me. The Old Man was dead. My brother had married–had a kid–had his own life to live. She’d lost him. She had only me to attend to things for her and take care of her. She’d always hated my drinking. So I quit. It made me happy to do it. For her. Because she was all I had, all I cared about. Because I loved her. No one would believe that now, who knew–But I did.
JOSIE– I know how much you loved her.
TYRONE– We went out to the Coast to see about selling a piece of property the Old Man had bought there years ago. And one day she suddenly became ill. Got rapidly worse. Went into a coma. Brain tumor. The docs said, no hope. Might never come out of coma. I went crazy. Couldn’t face losing her. The old booze yen got me. I got drunk and stayed drunk. And I began hoping she’d never come out of the coma, and see I was drinking again. That was my excuse, too–that she’d never know. And she never did. Nix! Kidding myself again. I know damned well just before she died she recognized me. She saw I was drunk. Then she closed her eyes so she couldn’t see, and was glad to die! … I stood looking down at her, and something happened to me. I found I couldn’t feel anything. I knew I ought to be heartbroken but I couldn’t feel anything. I seemed dead, too. I knew I ought to cry … But there were several people around and I knew they expected me to show something. Once a ham, always a ham! So I put on an act. I flopped on my knees and hid my face in my hands and faked some sobs and cried, “Mama! Mama! My dear mother!”
TYRONE–… Wish I could believe in the spiritualists’ bunk. If I could tell her it was because I missed her so much and couldn’t forgive her for leaving me–
TYRONE–(unheeding) She’d understand and forgive me, don’t you think? She always did. She was simple and kind and pure of heart. She was beautiful. You’re like her deep in your heart. That’s why I told you. I thought … I’ll grab the last trolley for town. There’ll be a speak open, and some drunk laughing. I need a laugh. (He starts to get up.)
JOSIE– No! You won’t go! I won’t let you! I understand now, Jim, darling, and I’m proud you came to me as the one in the world you know loves you enough to understand and forgive–and I do forgive!
TYRONE–(lets his head fall back on her breast–simply) Thanks, Josie. I knew you–
JOSIE–As SHE forgives, do you hear me! As SHE loves and understands and forgives!
TYRONE– Yes, I know she–
JOSIE– That’s right. Do what you came for, my darling. It isn’t drunken laughter in a speakeasy you want to hear at all, but the sound of yourself crying your heart’s repentance against her breast. SHE hears. I feel her in the moonlight, her soul wrapped in it like a silver mantle, and I know she understands and forgives me, too, and her blessing lies on me. There. There, now. You’re a fine one, wanting to leave me when the night I promised I’d give you has just begun, our night that’ll be different from all the others, with a dawn that won’t creep over dirty windowpanes but will wake in the sky like a promise of God’s peace in the soul’s dark sadness.
Tyrone wakes up and remarks that he had a “sound sleep, without any nightmares” and for the first time he is, “Sort of at peace with myself and this lousy life–as if all my sins had been forgiven.” Tyrone’s character demonstrates the how the heavy burden of guilt paralyzes us and holds us captive against our wills. Like Tyrone, we try to self medicate – through television, work, music, sleep, alcohol, sex, anger, denial, or despair– yet all our attempts to deal with our guilt only make it worse. But equally like Tyrone, when we are confronted by a Love which is stronger than death and fear and true forgiveness is given, we are given peace. As St. Paul says,
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”