There will come a moment when a movie hits you with a just-in-time inspirational message, and you receive it not as a critic, but as the targeted recipient. It's been a year since The Greatest Showman was released. I raise my hand, admitting that I'm late to the review party.
Everything that had to be said or written about this musical has been said and done, right? Well, I beg to differ, because one year later, the show continues, for it's a story that will have a meaning to any human being with a dream or anyone who desires to be in a better place than where they are now. Are you looking for some inspiration as you launch your goals into action, and reach for greater heights, however small your beginnings are? Do you wish to sustain your newly-found success, without destroying yourself and others in the process? Then you're in the right place: Ubuntu Courtyard brings Ten Great Life Lessons, thanks to The Greatest Showman musical released in December 2017.
Yes, there will be spoilers if you haven't watched the movie yet, and if you have, you may well view this movie from a different perspective and find your own inspirational nuggets to sustain you on your personal journey. I am very aware that The Greatest Showman has received both negative and positive feedback, but as I pointed out at the beginning, anyone who has lived life and understands what it means to struggle will most likely find this movie genuinely inspirational. Millions of people watched this movie and rightly chose to focus on the positive messages behind it. The world could do with a bit more cheer, so here we go, as we give you the best lessons we could glean from the movie.
1. Life changing moments happen within an instant.
As the lively background music, The Greatest Show plays, the scene fades back in time and we are transported to when the story begins: a poor little boy with a father who struggles to make ends meet as a tailor. We're taken back to a boy who, at a very young age, meets the girl of his dreams. Charity is her name. He's brutally slapped in the face as a wake-up call from her wealthy father, reminding him of his place and to stay away from her. However, in that short moment, two tender hearts have already been sealed, despite the two different worlds of “haves and have-nots” that separate them.
"Father is sending me to a finishing school, I don't know what my future would be." "I do," the poor boy says, as he takes her into a world where “a million dreams” await. Cue the soundtrack, taking us into a world he'd like to call his own, a world that he desires. You can see that in life, there are usually two worlds, the one you're in and another world which you dream of. It's a place where “no one has ever been, but it feels like home...they can say it all sounds crazy…"; the little boy seals the promise as Charity dreams along, coming into agreement with him. She too is looking for a different world, despite her riches and all the things that money could ever buy. She doesn't care how grand or small his dreams are, she just wants to be a part of it, and that's what they pursue. Which brings us to our second lesson.
2. Find a Charity as you go after your dreams, someone who can see your visions too and believe in them.
I've had the honour of hearing real-life success stories from people who made a choice to leap into the unknown, against all the odds. That relationship that everyone frowned upon, yet many years later, they're happily married. That career choice which wasn’t supported or the business idea that wasn't popular at the beginning, but now it's flourished. Some of the famous people we know never had it easy when they first started. How did they make it, when the odds were stacked against them? There's usually someone like Charity behind it all, either male or female. Your Charity could be a parent, friend or anyone who believes in your dream. Someone who doesn't only raise the voice of cheer when there are spectators so they can take credit. You need that kind of person who believes in your dream, even when you go through the doldrums of life, where nothing but fear and uncertainty reside. The truth is, disappointments and despair will come. You need someone who won't be afraid to walk through the darkest places of loneliness and rejection, those times when you're reminded that yours is nothing but a dream, despite your best efforts. It's a painful place to be; being broke and broken, despite your prosperous outlook, and most vivid dreams. Find someone who is happy to be with you anyway, even when you sometimes struggle. I hope you can find a Charity who will be there with you, whether you're right or wrong. Together, you'll go places!
3. True love has to rise above resistance to thrive.
Where there's a good thing, there's usually some form of internal or external resistance. However, only those who are brave or mad enough to pursue real love, whatever the consequences, will reap the sweet reward of joy and happiness. Not only does Charity keep in touch with the now homeless boy, whose father has sadly passed on, they uphold one another by writing letters, even though she's been sent away to a finishing school where the posh of the posh go. There she is, taking etiquette classes so she can be fit to mingle with the upper class, yet she never stops writing letters to a boy who now lives on the streets, and sometimes resorts to stealing food to survive. Ever read or watched The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks? Noah never stopped writing, even when Allie was whisked away by her rich parents, away from this poor boy who they thought would amount to nothing. Let's throw in Persuasion by Jane Austen. Anne was persuaded by her family to let go of the love of her life because he wasn't rich enough.
We could go on and on about books and movies that have been written or produced, based on the topic of forbidden love. The Greatest Showman showcases the beauty of unconditional love, where two people see each other for what they are and still want to be together. Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) also commits the biggest sin of all, falling in love with Anne (Zendaya) who is not only a circus performer (a far cry from their classic plays) but also someone who is mixed race! His wealthy parents associate only with the rich, and strongly disapprove of the budding relationship. It doesn't stop there, the fella in love loses his inheritance as a result. However, towards the end of the movie, he utters some of the most beautiful words worthy of your consideration: "When I met you, I had an invitation to every party, an inheritance…reputation. All that's gone now but what I have is what is of true worth: friendship, love and work that I adore".
True love can be regarded as a terrible sin by outsiders when it's not perfect in their eyes. However, those willing to rise above these difficulties are likely to experience happiness, without regrets.
4. Words have power.
Charity wants happiness for her family; at no point does she ask for riches and wealth, although she is receptive of her friend's grand promises when he has nothing but “a million dreams”. She knows too well that those things alone don't necessarily bring happiness. Although she comes from an affluent background, she isn't happy. She never stops yearning for happiness, even when her husband becomes rich. One daughter wishes for ballet slippers, at a time when it seems like a far-fetched dream. Ballet later becomes significant in her life. Barnum maintains grand ideas despite the dire outlook. I've come to realise that even in prayers, most people ask for little, or material wealth, which can bring misery. King Solomon asked for wisdom so he could be a good leader, and wisdom and riches are what he got. Ask right, and it shall be given to you. Barnum, unlike some, doesn't want to get rich for himself, he wants a better lifestyle for his family. Don't short-change yourself any longer. Dream big if that's what you want, but remember, it always helps if your dream transforms other lives for better.
Dream more significantly than your enemies, and those who would rather see you fail so that they can feel better about themselves. Charity's father finally relents and sends her away into the arms of the only man she's ever loved, but he doesn't bless the union. "She'll be back," he snarls. "She'll tire of having nothing." Words can either be used to bless or curse, but if what you speak upon your life is greater than what your enemies say, their negativity will not bind on you. Barnum himself says, "Men suffer more from imagining too little than too much." In the Bible God says, "Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8). Don't say I didn't tell you!
5. Don't stop believing!
This is going to sound much like a message from a Disney musical, but it couldn't be any more accurate. Belief and hope will keep you alive, even when circumstances haven't changed. For many of us, it usually takes a while before dreams manifest into reality. You'll put in the hours, and you'll need patience before you harvest any fruit. When you're open to your ideas, you connect dots wherever you go, and notice things that many people around you wouldn't. There's another favourite saying of mine by Paulo Coelho, found in his book Manuscript of Accra:
"A rose dreams of enjoying the company of bees, but none appears. The sun asks: "Aren't you tired of waiting?" "Yes," answers the rose, "but if I close my petals, I will wither and die."
So true, many people die, spiritually, when they stop dreaming. When you keep your hopes alive, you'll see opportunities where others see doom and gloom. When Barnum first comes across Charles, it isn't his height that he first notices as he waits in the queue, waiting for a loan application outside the bank manager's office. He sees his shoes which are similar to the ones he himself used to wear as a poor little boy. His antenna picks up on his and Charles’ shared rejection; for that moment it was a bit closer to home, having gone through similar experiences in his life.
I believe it marks the actual conception of the dream, that moment when fortune favours the brave. Barnum later convinces Charles that in him, he saw a soldier who wouldn't be laughed at, but the kind of soldier that people would salute. He sees beauty and the extraordinary in the rejected as he encourages Charles and the others to Come Alive. In the song, he urges anyone with a dream or anyone looking to break free to stop worrying about what others will say.
Although he is later criticised for taking advantage of the vulnerable by the very people who would never give the so-called "oddities" a chance, B.T. Barnum is a champion of spotting opportunities. I believe it is because he never stops dreaming.
The bank manager tells him that his proposed venture is somewhat risky and bizarre, to which he responds, "People don't want to admit it, but they're fascinated by the bizarre and macabre." Upholding dreams and visions leads him to discover Phillip Carlyle, who takes them to Buckingham Palace and paves the way for Jenny Lind's performances. Opportunities will knock on the doors of those who believe, so don't you dare stop believing.
Despite the ups, downs and mishaps along the way, Barnum manages to provide for his family the way he'd promised he would when he was just a poor little boy. He buys the big house that he dreamt of and provides the luxury that he always thought his wife and girls deserved. He travels the world, meets the Queen and his shows manage to bring joy and happiness to theatregoers. That's one thing that Philip Carlyle could not do, despite having access to a wealthy market and a high-flying lifestyle. He even says himself, "People leave your show happier than when they came in."
6. Everyone wants and deserves a chance to shine.
Almost all of the performers recruited by P.T. Barnum were members of society who had spent their lives in hiding thanks to judgements from society. Barnum focuses on their talents and seeks to bring out the best in them. The circus performers work hard to bring excitement to many with sterling performances. Yes, there’s a bit of exaggeration when it comes to animation and movement, and yes, they experience stage fright when they take the stage for the first time. However, despite cries for abusing the vulnerable, they wanted to be a part of the circus, even when nothing was guaranteed. Most of them responded to Barnum’s advertisements for unique people by themselves, while others were busy calling them freaks. Everyone needs a chance to shine! The very people who used to shy away from the light became stars because P.T. Barnum saw them as dimes, not castaways.
7. Take risks, lest you'll be stuck in your comfort zone.
Risk-taker might as well be Barnum's middle name, but who has ever been successful without taking a risk? He is a risk-taker from the word go and sometimes gets burnt for it. Remember when he takes a mighty slap from Charity's father when he speaks, and proclaims that he'd made her laugh? Although it's not clear in the movie how he makes his money, he most likely took a risk and responded to an advert that brought him to the American railroad. Had he not taken that risk, he would have languished on the streets for much too long, and who knows what would have become of him? He comes back wealthy enough to marry the girl of his dreams. Even with a clerical job, Barnum never stops dreaming and seeing opportunities. He still approaches the boss with ideas capable of propelling the company to another level. We later see him as a man without a job, yet again, he looks at the new situation as an opportunity to follow his dream as an entrepreneur. He takes a risk by recruiting Phillip Carlyle and encourages him to come to the other side and feel free. Phillip tells him that associating with him will cost him his inheritance to which Barnum responds, "Oh it could cost you more than that! It could cost you everything, but it just might gain you your freedom."
Phillip takes the leap of faith and lands a role for himself as Barnum's apprentice. That move leads him straight into Anne's path as she trapezes into the limelight, marking the beginning of yet another adventure. Charity is the queen of taking risks; had she let her rational mind make a decision, she would have never entertained Barnum the first time they met. She wouldn't have waited for a man without a certain future to marry her. She would have never led the life of her dreams, she is happy and content. Anything worth fighting for involves risk-taking.
Philip even manages to pull a few strings and gets the whole group to perform at Buckingham Palace. He has a few words of risk-taking inspiration for the now world-class performers who outgrow their fears of being laughed at, having spent most of their lives hidden in the dark. "You want society to accept you, you may as well start at the very top." And so, they go to the palace.
Risk-taking is the order of the game in The Greatest Showman. Phillip Carlyle is a risk-taker from the very time he is discovered by Barnum. But he isn't happy; I would say his wild lifestyle is probably a cry for help because he feels trapped, despite his parent's fame and success. Although reluctant at first, he eventually embraces his love for Anne, standing up to his mother who tells him to remember his place. "My place?" he asks. "Mother, if this is my place then I don't want any part of it." Jenny Lind takes a risk and goes on to perform in America, something she'd never done before. She later quotes Mr Barnum's words after one of her performances, "A man's station is only limited by his imagination."
8. Be good to the people on your way up the ladder, you'll need them on the way down.
I had to borrow this line from a song called The Way It Is by the late South African singer, Lucky Dube, in a bid to drive a point home. An essential aspect for that matter, because we see it happen time and time again in real lives. There comes the point when you have to let go of some of the people you started the journey with, especially when their season is over or if they continuously sabotage your progress. Such people will also cry foul for being shown the door, now that you're rich and have made it!
But don’t forget about the very people who cheered for you as more doors of opportunity opened; you can become “star struck”, such that you forget about the people who brought you to that place. The Greatest Showman does justice to that lesson by portraying Barnum as star-struck and forgets who he is doing everything for in the first place.
When Jenny Lind opens her mouth and captivates the audience by singing Never Enough, for once, it isn't about Barnum giving and showing up. He says he is on the receiving end of something real. I'm aware that the critics have frowned upon the portrayal of Jenny Lind as someone who falls for a married man, but it happens a lot. How many times have we seen married men or women cheat on their Charities, and turn a blind eye to their friends as they collide with the bright lights that often accompany fame? Maybe Barnum wasn't in love with Jenny as much as she'd fallen for him, but he indeed was star-struck and had lost his senses, ignoring all voices of wisdom to slow down. He forgets about his show and follows Jenny Lind as she tours the Americas. Charity starts enduring long days and nights on her own, as she is left to look after the children. Not only that, Barnum himself closes the door on his beloved “little people” who had stood by his side through thick and thin so he could mingle with the rich and famous. He wants them to be seated somewhere less visible. Forgetting about the people who took him to the top turns out to be a mistake that leads to his downfall.
Luckily, P.T. Barnum realises the error of his ways, admitting that, "A man learns who is there for him when the glitter fades, and the walls won't hold." He promises that From Now On, he will focus on what and who matters, and not allow his eyes to be blinded by showbiz lights.
9. Let go of anger and past hurts, for they will show up even in your moments of success. The man who everyone relied on makes some mistakes and errors of judgement that cost him what he'd worked so hard to achieve. True. But his heart was always in the right place. He never really abandons his wife nor stops loving her, even though he is visibly captivated by Jenny's aura. In his defence, she'd fallen for him, and in him she'd found someone who, although successful, was a wounded animal. Jenny Lind says "I was born out of wedlock, and that brought shame on my family. Life always manages to remind me that I don't deserve a place in this world, and that leaves a hole that no ovation could ever fill." Charity warns her husband about his relentless need to prove a point to her father, and all those people who had rejected him when he was a nobody. "You don't need everyone to love you," she says. "Just a few good people."
We all carry some sort of baggage from our previous experiences and, indeed, we've used some of it as fuel to power our dreams. “Prove them wrong”, it tells you. “Let them see that despite their negative criticism and unsupportive tendencies, you made it!” That is a dangerous mantra, for in most cases, you end up living your life just to prove a point. People will see you flaunting your success or riches, clap their hands if they have to, but deep down, you will know that they're not truly happy for you. Or they will still choose to see where you've come from, instead of your success. Charity's father quips "You're still a tailor's boy!" at the height of Barnum's success. Go after your dreams, be happy, but don't waste your energy trying to prove a point, otherwise, you'll never have enough, despite your success. Cue Never Enough, a song so beautiful it warms Mr Bennett's heart; the very "critic who couldn't find joy in the theatre."
10. There will come a time when nothing will stop you.
In the spirit of bringing joy to many, Lettie Lutz and the gang decide to show up in appreciation of Jenny Lind. That isn't part of Mr Barnum's agenda; he has champagne to pop and glasses to clink as he rubs shoulders with the rich and famous after Jenny's dominant performance. He reminds the circus performers that it isn't their time yet, shutting the door in their faces. The man who had gone out of his way to encourage each and every one of them has done the unthinkable and rejected them. The man who had coerced and inspired them to get out of their comfort zones and find themselves, despite what they'd been through, in a sense, just tells them to get lost.
Others would have gone home, or done as they were told by waiting somewhere until they were called on stage. But they choose not to wallow in self-pity, they know how much they have worked to get to that point, and are in no mood to wait for the right time. They had spent many days of their lives in the dark, hiding, for their loved ones saw them as embarrassments. They had faced ridicule and criticism and fought the good fight to become warriors. Nothing is going to stop them, not even other people's sharpest words. They use everything inside of them, including tears, to wash away anything cast at them that suggests they are not worthy of love and acceptance. It's no wonder This Is Me won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. It brings out a life-changing moment, that moment when you accept who you are, and all your flaws, “no apologies”! If anything, that's when they're well received by society, the very people who Barnum wants to hide them from. "I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I'm meant to be, this is me!" they declare. This song resonates with most people who love The Greatest Showman, for it speaks of real freedom.
The kind of freedom that you and I need to become our best selves! Accept and love who you are first, and others will love you in return.
Despite some negative reviews which revolve around what some critics deem as over-stretching artistic licence, millions of people around the world have widely received The Greatest Showman with open arms. Although the movie was inspired by a real-life story, and augmented with fictional scenes and characters, The Greatest Showman delivered on so many levels to its targeted audience. In P.T. Barnum’s fashion, the movie evoked joy, and wonder while highlighting some of the best life lessons a movie could ever give. We’ve merely scratched the surface! The Greatest Showman remains one of the most inspirational movies to date, for it is packed with valuable lessons about overcoming, achieving goals against all the odds and embracing scars. It brings music to our ears, tantalising us with uplifting messages and motivational quotes that encourage audiences to never give up on their dreams. Indeed, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”
This season, we hope that you find good cheer from this review as we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year.
Merry Christmas to you all!
From books we love to the box office, there is always an intriguing tale that captures hearts and minds.