I managed to catch The Greatest Showman in a cheap theater near my house, and I’m so glad I saw it on the big screen- one with great, surround sound speakers. It’s a wonderful, fun spectacle, and you should see it if you haven’t already.
I loved how happy of a movie it was. P.T. Barnum’s goal (when he was focused), was to make audiences smile. The movie itself never got too dark. And it wasn’t just a fluffy story, either. The point of it was that happiness can be meaningful- it’s not lesser than more serious works.
I enjoy movies and books that make me sad, or make me think. I’m assuming that, if you follow this blog, you do too. And as a writer, my books tend to reflect that.
But look at Philip from the movie. He was a playwright who dealt with ‘deep’ themes and ‘intense’ questions. But he can “finally live a little, finally laugh a little” only once he joins the circus- once he makes people happy.
Although happiness is just one part of life, it is a part of life that’s worth exploring. It doesn’t have to be trivialized, or just for ‘certain types’ of people.
The movie itself supports this. It sets out to make its audience happy, through rousing musical numbers and a sweet story. It never gets too dark- Anne and Philip struggled with admitting their feelings, but it ends with them together. Barnum is tempted by an affair with Jenny, but leaves before he (purposely) does anything. The circus burns down, but Philip is able to get it back on its feet almost immediately.
There’s dramatic tension, as needed in any story, but it never gets so tense that the audience is upset.
And there’s meaning behind this- The Greatest Showman isn’t just trying to be a ‘crowd pleaser’ or taking the easy road.
As Bennett (the critic) eventually admitted, the joy of the circus and everyone in it could be considered “a celebration of humanity.” In the same way, The Greatest Showman itself could be considered a celebration of humanity with all of its characters.
From Barnum’s ambition, to Anne’s hesitation, to Charity’s contentment, to everyone else, there are so many different types of people and lives and dreams. They may seem disadvantaged at first, but they all end up where they want to be- happy. Seeing these characters succeed, despite everything stacked against them, means something more than seeing them fail.
So, don’t be afraid of getting dark. But also, don’t be afraid of celebrating, either. Happiness does have a place in fiction, even, maybe especially, in meaningful fiction.
What did you think of The Greatest Showman?