The Greatest Showman is my anthem, speaking to me as a dreamer and a mom.
If people can have spirit animals; mottos they live by; patronuses; soulmates; and the like, then I think it’s fair that people can also have movies that truly speak to them. That capture their essence. For me, this is The Greatest Showman, the award-winning film from 2017 starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, and Zendaya. Rarely can I remember going to the movies and watching something that had my entire sensory system firing from all cylinders.
It gave me all the feels and I knew then this was my movie.
While the movie is supposed to be the musical biopic of P.T. Barnum (you know, the circus guy), I watched it from the lens of a writer and mom (and musical fan) rather than someone who loves the circus or is interested in Barnum’s life. Some critics found fault with the way Barnum was portrayed, saying that in reality, he was not as accepting or kind to his performers as was depicted in the film. If that’s true, so be it. Shame on him. But what I saw in the movie was an orphaned and impoverished boy who held onto the hope and dream of a better life, and who became a man who wanted to provide for his family.
In short, I look at this movie as one about a parent and dreamer. This is why it speaks to me.
Forget the circus. Forget the lights and dazzle. Strip it all away and what you’re left with is a person, with ghosts and demons, dreams and aspirations, with love and hope, and, most importantly, a family he wants to provide for and make proud, even if there are some faults that come along the way. I totally get that. In every way possible – okay, minus the orphaned and impoverished part.
I’ve always been a musical lover. As a little girl, my favorites were Grease, Oklahoma, Annie, and the Wizard of Oz – just to name a few. In that order, I can tell you why I loved each: the era and the soundtrack; the love story; the child cast and search for a family; and the magic, adventure, and wonder. I love them still even if for no other reason than nostalgia. As a little girl, I did get lost in their music and stories, did watch them over and over, and had memorized their soundtracks. No movie (or musical) has done that since childhood until The Greatest Showman.
Could it be that becoming a mom has changed the entire way that I see the world? Could it be that in the same year that The Greatest Showman came out, that I was going through a terrible time and trying to find myself and my path yet again?
Whatever it was, this film has stuck with me. I downloaded the soundtrack on my way out of the theater, desperate to listen to the music again, to feel the way I felt when I sat there staring at the big screen. I was completely in awe of the spectacular performance in front of me. For the first few weeks after seeing the film, I listened to the soundtrack every day at least once. I jammed out to it in the car on my way to work. Listened to it while I cooked dinner. Made it my workout soundtrack when I hit the gym. I asked everyone I knew if they had seen it yet and talked to anyone who had, at length. I should have been getting a commission due to how heavily I was promoting the film.
While my frequency of listening to the soundtrack has lessened, the way I feel when I hear it hasn’t changed. We are nearly in 2019, it’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen the movie on the screen, months since I’ve watched the DVD (which, of course, I bought for myself and my mom for Mother’s Day), and weeks since I’ve listened to any of the songs. But I went to the gym this week, for the first time in a long time, and I found myself warming up to the opening song: The Greatest Show.
Just like that, I was struck. Again. As though it were the first time I heard it. Every part of my being touched, lit and sparked. I feel love, hope, angst, anticipation, fear, and excitement when I listen to this song. I’m a mother and parent, dreamer and creator, friend and protector. Everything surges together.
I want to cry and laugh, smile and shout, dance, jump, run, collapse into a heap on the floor completely overwhelmed with the enormous amounts of energy coursing through my body.
I relate to Barnum as a little boy, with HUGE, “The sky’s-the-limit” dreams and visions of a life of grandeur. Why? Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of the writer’s life. My name splashed across covers of books, gold and embossed. My books turned into movies; found on shelves at local stores. Traveling on book tours. Signing in coffee shops and libraries. Teaching writing courses. Providing for my family – immediate and extended.
You realize quickly when you’re a dreamer that many won’t find your hopes and plans to be realistic. They’ll either try to dampen your spirit because they worry for you and don’t want you to be disappointed, broke, or hungry. Or, they’ll dampen your spirit because something about your dreaming strikes fear or longing or envy. You’re going after something they can’t fathom or reach, which casts some kind of light onto themselves and their own failures. Their lack of support has nothing to do with you, of course, but it still impacts you. So, you either fight and go after the dream or surrender to reality, the safer path, the more traditional avenue.
In The Greatest Showman, Barnum becomes a man that pushes his grandiose dreams into the back of his mind until faced with unemployment and a wife and children to provide for. It’s this moment that pushes him to take a risk rather than move on to the next safe step. This whole boy-to-man transformation, dreamer-to-parent-to-provider happens against the backdrop of the song A Million Dreams.
It’s this single song that encompasses me as a dreamer and mom.
I was a dreamer as a girl, I’m still a dreamer now. The largest difference is that I’m now also a mother. I have a small person looking to me to guide him, protect him, provide for him and inspire him. For a long time, it seemed that providing simply meant financial security that awarded shelter, food, clothing, and the other necessities. Yes, of course, you need to also provide love and all the amazing warm-fuzzy things. But the way that you lead your family, was to do real things that ensure basic needs are met. Thinking outside this box was a risky endeavor.
Now, as a divorced mom, living independently on my own income, I think all the time about the worst-case scenario. I am so incredibly lucky that my son’s father and I split custody 50-50, that he’s an active father and is involved, and financially supportive of our son’s needs. But if something were to happen to him, would I be able to make it on my own? What is my plan? And would that plan automatically mean I would have to give up my dream of becoming a writer?
This scene and song in The Greatest Showman captured instead how dreams can be shared; dreams can be possible; dreams can be valued and valid. Dreams can even be lucrative.
The song made me realize that my dreams don’t need to be feared or ignored. That I can go after what I had always dreamed of and also provide for my son. I began to understand how my dreams can benefit him. That my envisioning something and working hard to go after it was a good lesson, if not a great one. I can be both a dreamer and parent. A creator and a mother. And, should my son also become a dreamer, with big hopes and plans, thinking outside the box, wanting to go after the beat of his own drum, I am the perfect person to be there for him because I’ve been there myself.
I am there.
Perhaps in 2017, the Universe knew I needed something to push me in the direction of my own dreams, and so I saw this movie on the big screen. At the beginning of 2018, I got my butt in gear and really started to actively work on my writing life. Furthermore, I started on the path of entrepreneurship, business ownership, and envisioning a different type of career that I will create for myself. Now, I look at 2019 and the sky IS the limit.
I can’t say that The Greatest Showman was the only reason for my inspiration and growth, but something about the timing of the movie, the messages in the songs, the energy called to me, motivated me and made me see myself as a dreamer and mom differently. It was validating and empowering. It granted me permission to dream. It granted me permission to also allow my son to dream, too. Permission for us to dream together. And this is perfectly encapsulated in this one part of the song (A Million Dreams) that always makes me cry:
However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you’ll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world, I close my eyes to see
I close my eyes to see
I now see my million dreams as possible. I see them as lessons and legacies to share with my son. And, if he has a million dreams of his own, I see how I can learn to be able to lift him up to reach them.
What movie(s) speaks to you and why?