Sequence Analysis: Princess Cyd, on asexuality and finding joy

“Hear me: it is not a handicap to to have one thing and not another, to be one way and not another.”

Cyd and her aunt Miranda are clearing up after a party when Cyd makes a poorly judged comment about Miranda’s sex life (or lack thereof). Rather than tearing her down for the inappropriate comment, this prompts Miranda to give her niece a speech about working your way through life and finding your own joy. To understand how their relationship got to this point, and really feel the significance of this interaction, we need to take it back.

At the soirée, Miranda gives Cyd a flower from the garden for her coat.

This scene takes place around an hour into the film (more details below if you want to watch along at home!). Cyd is spending the summer with her aunt Miranda, who she hasn’t seen since the death of her mother (Miranda’s sister) eight years ago. Miranda is an author, and throws monthly “soirées”, attended by literary friends and academics. The scene takes place post-soirée, just as everyone has left.

Towards the end of the soirée, Cyd goes upstairs with Miranda’s gardener Ridley, and the two teenagers make out and smoke weed in Cyd’s room. As my chosen scene begins, we see Cyd reading a message from a boy back home, then sending a message to a girl she’s kissed here in Chicago, Katie. We are reminded that Cyd is fluid in her sexuality and open to exploring her options.

As Miranda clears up the kitchen, sounds of plates seem extra loud in the silence of the night as she and Cyd make awkward small talk. There is an obvious tension in the air ー as the soirée was winding down and the attendees were telling stories to one another, Cyd sneaked out with Ridley during Miranda’s story. As the conversation in the kitchen turns to this moment, Miranda is overly insistent, repeating that “it’s fine” or “it’s okay” too many times for it to be truly fine or really okay. Miranda struggles openly with her position of responsibility for her niece: Cyd is 16 and not her daughter, but she’s still living in her house.

With nighttime outside and under harsh overhead lighting, the air ー just as the plates ー seems to clear, and Miranda offers Cyd some cake, which she declines. As Cyd turns away and makes to leave, glancing down at her phone and giggling, she goes too far with her aunt, telling her: “Maybe if you had sex once in a while you wouldn’t want to eat all the time.”

It’s been well-established at this point in Princess Cyd that Cyd is crass and overly candid, and this has been a small obstacle in her relationship with her aunt. So far, Miranda has been carefully spoken and hesitant by comparison. At this point, their conversational positions switch. In fact, when Cyd tries to speak or to apologise, Miranda is the one to interrupt. She speaks up as if she knows exactly what she wants to say, and her determination is not to be tarried.

The camerawork mirrors Miranda’s conviction, staying on her without moving for most of her speech. There is a static visual background and no music to distract us, only the faint hum of chittering cicadas lingering in the soundtrack. The camera flicks occasionally to Cyd to track her reaction, but never for longer than a couple of seconds. While Cyd looks on ashamedly, Miranda is confident and casual: still half-eating, she takes the cake fork out her mouth and decides to teach her niece a lesson. She doesn’t shout, but she speaks with authority; she doesn’t chastise, but she also doesn’t sugar-coat.

Miranda’s new attitude keeps hold throughout. When Cyd leaves after the speech, Miranda looks away and carries on wiping surfaces down: her feelings have been cleared up, and now it’s time to clear up the rest of the party.

While the label “asexual” is never used, it is heavily implied: Miranda, in her speech, is saying that she has no or little interest in sex ー she’s not diametrically opposed to the idea of sex, but she’s also not making any efforts to pursue it. Instead, she finds joys in other areas of her life ー “reading Emerson or Melville or Virginia Woolf, discussing TS Elliot or James Baldwin with a dear friend until dawn […] going to church, reading theology, reading science, praying” (I’ve included full transcript below) ー and that makes her feel fulfilled.

Cyd has asked her before about the last time she had sex, and Miranda struggles, unbothered, to remember how long it’s been. Cyd is convinced that Miranda and her friend Anthony are attracted to one another, but this is shut down when, in a scene towards the end of the party, Miranda quietly resists any hints Anthony throws her way and bids him goodnight.

It appears that this speech is the closest we’re going to get to a discussion of identity by Miranda. Then again, she seems comfortable in herself, and would have no reason to discuss this with anyone. She has a comfortable life: she’s a successful author with her own house and a busy social life filled with fun literary friends. So who does she have to answer to?

I said in my full review of Princess Cyd that the film is about learning more about yourself through interpersonal connection, and this rings true here. Once again, Miranda and Cyd learn from one another: Miranda speaks with Cyd’s candid confidence; Cyd listens with Miranda’s quiet respect.

As their conversation ends, Miranda thanks Cyd for helping her. Though the moment is curt, I think Miranda’s appreciation for her niece’s assistance can be extended beyond just the bottles and plates.

Princess Cyd is available to watch on Amazon Prime. The sequence analysed above runs from 1:02:11 – 1:06:41

Miranda’s Speech Transcript:

Miranda: Let me just say something super quick.

Cyd: [I really am sorry]

No, no, no, no. That’s okay, but I need you to listen to me, okay? Yeah, I wish I could… I wish I could share with you the utter joy it brings me to spend three hours in the afternoon reading Emerson or Melville or Virginia Woolf, or discussing TS Elliot or James Baldwin with a dear friend until dawn. The fulfillment that I get from going to church, from reading theology, from reading science, from praying… but I can’t… because I am me, and you are you. I can’t relate to you the total fulfillment that I get from these things. It’s impossible.

[I know]

And I understand you’re finding your own joy. You’re engaging your own stuff and it’s great. That’s how it should be and it’s a beautiful thing. But hear me: it is not a handicap to to have one thing and not another, to be one way and not another. We are different shapes and ways and our happiness is unique, there are no rules of balance.

[I’m sorry-]

Don’t be sorry. But I got a quarter of a century on you, Cyd. So let’s just enjoy ourselves. Okay? Let’s just thank… respect each other’s selves. Hey, stop talking.

[I guess I just feel like-]

Are we done in here? ‘Cause I really need to be done in here. Did you get all the bottles?

[Yeah, everything’s clear]

Okay, thank you for helping.

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