Why is Lloyd Dobler shaking?

I just saw “Say Anything…” for the first time.

The scene everyone knows is John Cusack with the boombox over his head, playing “In Your Eyes.” I actually decided to watch the movie because I was writing a blog post that said reading Sex at Dawn made me feel like John Cusack in that moment; the girl I love is evolutionary science, and “In Your Eyes” was the research and the scientists who had turned my brain inside out, right? It’s an analogy, kids.

So I watched the movie, and the moment that actually fascinated me was the scene right after they had sex for the first time.

DIANE: Are you shaking?
LLOYD: No.
DIANE: You’re shaking.
LLOYD: I don’t think so.
DIANE: You’re cold.
LLOYD: I don’t think I am.
DIANE: Then why are you shaking?
LLOYD: I don’t know. I’m happy.

Now, I had the sense when I watched it that that scene was written from Cameron Crowe’s experience, and I had the sense that he didn’t know why it had happened. Indeed the commentary confirmed my guess. Crowe said,

I remember finally being in a situation with a girl that I really really really really… but I shivered. And she felt protective of me and I was so embarassed about it. I was embarrassed for a very long time that I was just so unused to being in this position with something that’s unattainable that I shook.

The reason I guessed it was written from experience is that it’s not the intuitive response of a boy in those circumstances, but it IS a deep true physiological response.

So why is Lloyd shaking? Why did Cameron Crowe?

Because his body is completing the cycle.

In In An Unspoken Voice Peter Levine writes:

We frequently shake when we are cold, anxious, angry, or fearful. We may also tremble when in love or at the climax of orgasm. Patients sometimes shake uncontrollably, in cold shivers, as they awake from anesthesia. Wild animals often tremble when they are stressed or confined. Shaking and trembling reactions are also reported during the practices of traditional healing and spiritual pathways of the East. In Qigong and Kundalini yoga, for example, adepts who employ subtle movement, breathing and meditation techniques may experience ecstatic blissful states accompanied by shaking and trembling.

All of these “tremblings,” experienced in diverse circumstances and having a multiplicity of other functions, hold the potential for catalyzing authentic transformation, deep healing and awe…. These gyrations and undulations are ways that our nervous system “shakes off” the last rousing experience and “grounds” us in readiness for the next encounter with danger, lust and life. They are mechanisms that help restore our equilibrium after we have been threatened or highly aroused. They bring us back down to earth, so to speak. Indeed, such physiological reactions are at the core of self-regulation and resilience. The experience of emergent resilience gives us a treasure beyond imagination….

Learning to live through states of high arousal (no matter what their source) allows us to maintain equilibrium and sanity. It enables us to live life in its full range of richness – from agony to ecstasy.

Lloyd’s shaking is him returning to Earth.

What makes it so deeply poetic in the context of the story is that the earth to which he is returning is a new one, in which everything is different and beautiful and Right in a way he can trust. The film is about optimism as a revolutionary act. There around the midpoint of the story, Lloyd stops having to fight for his optimism and can begin to ALLOW it. The shaking is his body letting go of the fight, so that he can open up to the allowing.

And then, inevitably, she gives him a pen.

Me, I find it powerful and thrilling beyond words when science can deepen my understanding of a poetic moment. Some folks think that explaining a mystery makes it less mysterious, but I think the truth is even more awe-inspiring than the puzzle.