Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Million Dreams {the greatest showman}

via Pixabay
I fell irrevocably in love with The Greatest Showman soundtrack on a Saturday morning.

I had been wrestling with the second draft of War of Honor. All the best scenes in the first draft were melancholic bittersweet, and you just can't write a melancholic bittersweet book that you'd like readers to read a second time. There was something missing--too much sadness.

don't be scared, it's all going to be ok. well, maybe not all

Then I flipped on "A Million Dreams."

I'd already listened to it--in company with Tightrope and Rewrite the Stars--several times. But that Saturday morning, curled up in our fluffy red recliner, I put the soundtrack on repeat--and the outline for Folkestone Files 2 flew out of my fingers as fast as I could type. It was more balanced. More fun. It was the missing piece. It made me feel like this was the story that would match up to book one--the book I loved so much.

When you find a piece of music that unlocks the words in your brain, you put that baby on repeat and you keep it on repeat.

The Greatest Music 
Eventually, I branched out of those three songs into the entire soundtrack--a kaleidoscope of feisty circus music and contemplative longings. It's far from typical musical fare. Channelling a more contemporary sound, the lyrics pump your imagination with adrenaline and the emotions of the human experience.

After that, I saw the behind-the-scenes videos on Facebook. As a creative, the deep dreaming inside of me reached out to the years of dreaming that had put this movie together--a love so great that they kept the project in mind until all the right pieces fell in place. That awesome electric moment cannot be beaten--when Hugh Jackman got so excited in rehearsals that he just had to sing, even though he had eighty stitches in his nose from a recent surgery. I watched it over and over, as a matter of fact. I kind of wanted to see the movie. The longing grew until finally a friend texted me and said "we just got the DVD, do you want to come?"

Yeah, girl!

Sis and I set out on a bright Friday morning drive in company with The Afters. We smiled the whole way home. It was a thing of beauty. Of joy. Of fiery colors and beautiful screenwriting and incredible talent. Watching the scenes along with the music this time created so. much. gladness. The movie branched into the realm of dreams bigger than life

...a huge, gorgeous moon backdrop

...dancing on the parapet of a city apartment building

...that awesome slo-mo movement of P.T. Barnum throwing on his red Ringmaster coat for the first time--desperate for this new venture to work after all the risks he's taken.

He's an absolute swindler, but he knows how to swindle out smiles all along the way.

The Greatest Character Arcs
I've watched TGS three times now, processing the story of P T. Barnum starting his circus with the rich, young Phillip Carlisle. As the movie tackles present-day conversations about racism and diversity, it follows the Barnum as he creates a joyful hoax that captures the middle classes and alienates the press, until ever so gradually, he starts to swindle himself. By the third viewing, I had so much fun noticing the character arcs in even more detail.

Barnum starts with small swindles--making a tall man a little taller; a fat man a little fatter; changing a giant's nationality. But after being needled by his daughter's rejection from her rich friends, Barnham starts his downward spiral. When his troop meets Queen Victoria, Barnum and Carlisle have coattails while the rest of his people are in their costumes. He shrugs it off when the bearded lady questions him about it. His second downward step starts when he seizes the chance to bolster up his pride. When he invites the famous singer, Jenny Lind, to tour the US, he stops the hoodwinking and starts the fraud in earnest. The next time Barnum steps on the stage, he deliberately lies to the audience--and the glow of support we've seen so far on his wife and daughter's faces stills to frozen expressions. It's a subtle but powerful moment.

As he starts gaining the hearts of all the classes, no one is his master. Not even the nearest people who should be able to require accountability. Barnum deconstructs until he faces the last swindle of all--cheating on the wife he loves best. (This plot was handled really well.) In the climax that follows, his worst fears come true in a few scenes of solidly written and redemptive story screenwriting that still leaving you loving and rooting for him to find a happy ending.

In contrast, Phillip Carlisle has a positive character arc--starting as a half-drunk rich playwright without ambition. After a rollicking, swindling deal with Barnum (semi-cool for the rhythm and semi-uncomfortable because of all the alcohol) he throws in his lot with the circus. While Barnum starts shunning the circus freaks to feed his pride, Phillip starts embracing their identity. He refuses to accept an audience with the queen without them. When Barnham shrugs the circus freaks aside at Jenny Lind's concert, Phillip stays with them in the standing room section. And while he stumbles with Anne when his parents catch sight of them, he later makes it up to her. With the circus freaks, he recognizes the love and genuineness he's been missing, culminating in a willingness to sacrifice his own gains on their behalf.

The Greatest Inspiration 
While that just might have gone deep, my two favorite things about the movie are the theme and the joy. The theme of pride leads to self-deceit and self-praise which wounds those nearest and dearest to us. It was woven through the script and acted out with subtle artistry, shown without being told. Pride hurts--it exchanges valued people for the sham of accolades, trades the best you can be for the worst you can be--and ultimately leads to the burning of your empire in a painful grace. In the scene where Barnum's wife stands looking out to sea, a deep well of hurt hidden under her thoughtful expression, you see a woman who has forgiven much--and is big enough to forgive again.

But while this theme goes deep, I honestly didn't think about most of that until the third showing. The first two times I watched it, I loved it just for its own sake. (And I really love it most for the happiness it contains.) The story itself is a pageantry of color and imagination, perfect for a Friday movie night. It moves fast, showing the sheer joy of creative imagination, colorful costumes, skillful acrobats, and sweet romance. And the soundtrack, which kept me company all the way to the last night of Camp NaNoWriMo, gave me a missing ingredient to a story that was way too melancholic and a character whose passion I wanted to honor.

jaeryn, who else could we be talking about 

While I could be a lot more comfortable with a lot more fabric on the bearded lady's circus costume, this circus tale provides a happy ending in a world of drama and angst. I love the drama and angst as much as anyone, but sometimes--many times--the world needs a reminder of happiness. And P.T. Barnum, in his glorious, larger-than-life world, gives us just that.


  1. This is awesome. Good thoughts & let's watch it again sometime. ^_^

  2. Beautiful article; loved hearing your take on the movie!


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