The Greatest Show(man)

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I watched The Greatest Showman for the first time at the end of February. I was surprised to not have heard of the movie until it was already released, although I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised, since I rarely make it to the movie theater and as a rule don’t watch movie trailers. Anyway, all I knew was Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, musical, and circus and The Greatest Showman became a movie I wanted to see. So one night I found it online (not ideal, but the movie theater is 45 minutes away and I don’t have a car) and watched the movie by myself. I had a LOT of feelings afterwards.

Since then I have listened to the soundtrack approximately 600 times. That sounds like an exaggeration, and it probably is, but I listened to Rewrite the Stars AT LEAST six times today, and that isn’t an exaggeration so 600 might not be too far off. Lately I’ve been wanting to give the movie another go so when my Friday night activity was cancelled due to inclement weather (inclement weather that never actually happened, unfortunately) I gave The Greatest Showman another go… on the new projector my parents just brought me! It was a wonderful experience.

After seeing the movie for the first time, I shared a brief Facebook status about how it felt rushed and like something was missing. One friend – another musical-enthusiast – commented that she felt much better about it after seeing it a second time, and that during the second go around she noticed a lot of things that passed her by the first time. Well, I totally get what she was saying. This time, having listened to the soundtrack a million times and being familiar with the story, there were certainly things I would have liked to have seen, but it didn’t feel like anything was missing.

This time around I was able to appreciate so much more the significance between every glance and gesture. For example, when Philip and Anne are standing next to each other at the Jenny Lind show, Philip inches his hand towards Anne’s. When they finally intertwine their fingers, without looking at each other, they both take these big deep, nervous breaths. I saw that. And I felt it. I felt the nervous butterflies that surely Philip and Anne were feeling. It was moments like those, just as much as the big, spectacular musical numbers, that told the story.

It’s interesting to me that I thought something was missing the first time because my style of storytelling tends to be very minimal. I know that if you frequent my blog you are gasping now. You are nearly fainting with shock. Because my 1,000 word blog posts are not minimal, I know. But, believe it or not, I have an ever growing collection of these tiny snapshot stories that tell entire stories, sometimes spanning months of character’s lives, in no more than 3,500 words – some are much shorter. Even in my novel (which one day I will actually finish and you will actually be able to read) I love playing with what’s not said, with what needs to be inferred or imagined by the reader. So I get it, now. I get the minimalist, quickly moving storytelling employed in The Greatest Showman – whether for art’s sake or to comply with the time constraints of film.

That being said, just as the first time, when the movie ended I wanted more. My first instinct was just to start it again from the beginning! But what I really wanted, what I still want, is to see the troupe moving forward, doing their show in their new home. What I really want is to get to know the “freaks” more and to enjoy more of their family bond. I can’t imagine they will be making a sequel, though, and that wouldn’t feel or be right, so I suppose I’ll have to imagine my own happy ending and behind the scenes extra content.

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After my first viewing, I would have gladly erased Jenny Lind’s character and story line from the film. I thought there was too much time spent on her and I didn’t like it. I get it, now, because I must have been paying closer attention this time. PT got from Jenny something he couldn’t get from Charity and something he thought he needed. He realized, almost too late, that he didn’t need someone else who never felt satisfied. He realized, almost too late, that he couldn’t go on using people just for his own gain. He needed Jenny Lind for that.

“When you’re careless with other people, you bring ruin to yourself.”

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I could write a whole essay or series of essays (and probably will one day) about the powerful messages behind so many of the songs. A Million Dreams makes my heart soar and encourages me to continue to dream big and work hard. A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make. A million dreams is all it’s gonna take. You want the life of your dreams? It just takes a million dreams. That’s all. Hard work and faith and thinking outside the box. I have a dream and a vision of who I want to be and what I want to be and where I want to be. A million dreams it’s all it’s gonna take.

This Is Me? Forget it. I nearly tear up every time I listen to it, which, we have already established, is a lot of times. Barnum’s story is powerful because he did what others weren’t doing in moving culture and society forward. He was a human being and wasn’t perfect, but he acknowledged, in whatever faltering way, that people who are different are still people. Culture doesn’t change overnight, it changes in small, brave, faltering steps forward. We must continue that brave, faltering march forward toward true equality. Which is why so many can relate to Lettie’s anthem.

I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be. This is me.
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum.
I’m not scared to be seen.
I make no apologies. This is me.

Rewrite the Stars is one of my favorite songs of all time now and I may or may not have downloaded some random video of the song onto my computer so I can watch it anytime I want. (Obviously I did.) I am totally here for people taking charge of their own destinies and going after what they want and not letting fear or tradition or other people’s brokenness keep them from dreaming big and accomplishing things and loving like fools. The push and pull and up and down of the choreography complimented the song beautifully. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the choreography and, as we have already established, the soundtrack as a whole.

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I love to see a character grow in a way that makes sense. I love when a character shows humility and admits that they were wrong. In PT’s transformation, however, something was missing. He never actually apologizes. I would have loved to have heard the words, “I’m sorry,” from his (ever gaping) mouth. (But seriously. Was that a characterization thing? Why is Hugh Jackman’s mouth open for the entire film? It was a bit distracting, and not in a good way.)

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What about you? Did you see The Greatest Showman? How many times? What did you think? Which song is your favorite? Which “freak” is your favorite? Mine is obviously the tattooed man (dream guy alert!) but Queen Lettie comes in a close second.

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