What did I get out of The Greatest Showman? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
My wife and I had a Fandango gift card and so we went with another couple from our church to see this movie yesterday. There are no doubt some readers who are more familiar with the history of P.T. Barnum than I am. I cannot comment on if the history in the movie is accurate, so what I’m going to do is to just take the story as is. If we granted the story presented was accurate, what can we get from it? Also, as should be obvious, there are spoilers here. I will tell where spoilers end.
The story starts with Barnum growing up in a poor society and trying to impress a girl who has the rich snobby parents. He writes to her regularly while she’s at finishing school and then shows up at her door to marry her. Her father is sure that she’ll be back where there is money.
Barnum loves his wife, Charity, and their two little girls, but wants to be able to do more for them. He goes with the idea of starting a show where he has wax figures of dead and gruesome figures from the past, but his daughters suggest that he needs something living. Barnum starts by going to find a midget he had seen earlier in the film and from there, gets the oddest and most talented group he can, such as trapeze artists, a dog boy, a man covered in tattoos, the world’s tallest man, the world’s heaviest man, and the bearded lady.
Barnum’s show is a hit with many of the masses, but the critics of society do not like it. Also, there regularly show up people in the community who are angry about the glamorization of the freaks. Barnum’s whole point throughout is encouraging those who society has shamed to rise above. Let themselves be themselves and let people love them not because they are like everyone else, but because they are different.
Barnum gets himself a partner in Phillip Carlyle. After that, he’s invited with his troupe to go see the Queen of England. There, he runs into the star singer Jenny Lind. He offers to take her on tour in America with him, leaving his family and his entourage behind there. On the trip, Lind and he start getting close. Nothing happens until her last performance where she kisses him live on stage where the cameras see it.
Barnum returns where his troupe he gathered around him feels rejected by him and his wife is leaving him because she’s seen the pictures and says he doesn’t love her. He loves himself. There is a fight also between the protesters and Barnum’s troupe and the building where the shows are at burns down. Barnum has hit rock bottom.
It’s at this point he is reminded by that band of misfits that he found that they are why he started this and he remembers what is important. He is able to reunite to his wife and he and Carlyle agree to be partners. They don’t need a building. A tent will do. The show does indeed go on!
As my wife and I left, I told her I figured I would blog on this to which she replied there wasn’t anything religious in the film. I told her that that was quite mistaken. Everything is to some extent religious. Christianity has something to say about everything and despite what many skeptics might think, our world has been greatly shaped by Christianity. So what are some things I gleaned from this film?
We could ask what is a human first off. The characters Barnum had were all considered freaks by the protesters and shouldn’t be put on display. But why? We could all understand not wanting to put bad behavior on display, but that’s not what was going on. The people were being rejected because of who they were. They were different. They didn’t fit in.
As someone on the spectrum married to someone on the spectrum, this is something I definitely resonated with. Yet here, Christianity has something else to see. All human beings are valuable because they are in the image of God even if they’re a dog boy or a bearded lady. Everyone is someone who bears the image of God and was made to be loved by Him and by us.
Second, what does it mean to be successful? Barnum wanted more and more, and to an extent that’s understandable, but at times, he lost sight of his family. It as if he got so caught up in providing for his kids that he forgot about his kids. He wanted to provide what would make his wife happy forgetting that she loved him when he had nothing and he is what made her happy. There are many people that can be successes in ministry, but sadly their families are left damaged due to them neglecting their family. Ministry to God does not mean that you neglect your ministry to your family.
Third, we could then ask what is a family and what is friendship. Many of us know about friends that we have that we would consider them family. When I lived with a roommate for awhile, we went to a bookstore and I knew he wanted the apologetics study Bible. I went up to the counter asking if they had it in thinking I would surprise him if I found it for him and got told, “Oh. Your brother was up here already asking for it.”
Biological brother? Not at all, but there is a way that a friend can be closer than a brother. Many have also had families that were less than stellar and they turn to friends to be a surrogate family of sorts. Barnum’s friends managed to come together to form a unity based on their being the rejected misfits of the world. The acceptance they missed with others they found with each other.
This isn’t to say that a family is just any relationship you want. Still, we can have such great friendships that friends will seem like family. If you have a bad family, you can find comfort and support in the good people that you do allow in your life.
Also, I think this movie would not be possible without a Christian worldview that says that each person matters and that something should not be despised for being different. Chesterton said the same about Christianity making childhood something special and so we have Peter Pan. If Christianity is true, everyone has something they can give to the Kingdom.
If you’re wanting to know about how the acting was and such in this, I’m not the one to comment on that. It is a musical and I think the music is great. My wife and I are planning on getting the soundtrack soon. Definitely, this is a film I am glad I went to see and is quite memorable.