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Do You Want to Go?

This is the question that every book and show and movie asks.
| Jan 31, 2018 | 2 comments |

The Greatest Showman (now in theaters!) opens with an exuberant musical number titled – this follows logically – “The Greatest Show”. It’s on YouTube, of course, though merely listening pales against viewing it and, even more, viewing it in theaters. Part of the brilliance of this song is that it captures what made the greatest show and it was, above anything else, the greatest showman.

And what made the greatest showman? The song spins out an answer to that, too: his peerless ability to draw his audience into a world of his own construction. Call it persuasion or illusion, call it seduction or a con, but it is what he does. The song is an invitation and a promise. Here, beneath the colored lights, is the answer to the ache in your bones and the end of your search in the dark; this is what you’ve been waiting for. This is where you want to be, the greatest showman tells you, and this is what you want to have. “Tell me,” he asks, “do you want to go?”

Do you want to go? This is the question P.T. Barnum put to the crowds that flocked to his circus. The greatest showman was not without a touch of the conman, and he knew the great secret of the con: The “mark” participates in his own deception. A true conman doesn’t outwit his victims; he sells them what they want, and their own desires override their judgment. A true showman is also in the business of selling people what they want, and if they forget it isn’t real, it’s only because they want to. Barnum never had any pretension of hoodwinking people who didn’t take it as a pleasure.

Do you want to go? This is the question Hugh Jackman puts to anyone who ventures to his film. No one with a fine sense of balance, to say nothing of humor, could make a movie about P.T. Barnum and not mix in a dose of malarkey. The Greatest Showman lives by this. Happily anachronistic, luxuriating in the idea of 1800s New York without any undue attachment to the facts, making its nineteenth-century subjects reflect a little too clearly the values of its twenty-first century audience – it cannot be the way it was. But you’re willing to forget that for the spectacle and the joy and the thoughtful examination of a dreamer and his dreams.

Do you want to go? This is the question that every book and show and movie asks. A great deal has been said and written about how that movie strains human credulity or this book breaks the facts clean in half. Dramatic courtroom revelations aren’t really a thing, a punch to the face is enough to end any fight, love at first sight could get you into a car with a serial killer, it’s ridiculous that anyone – even with superpowers – would choose to save the world wearing a cape and tights. There are more solemn warnings of more pernicious falsehoods, reminders that we can’t really believe in the heroes and the happy endings, the perfect love stories and the last-minute rescues.

Yet I wonder – how often are we really fooled? Are these constructed worlds really so persuasive? But we want to go.

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Steve
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Steve

I’m a huge film fan. From Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” to “West Side Story”, from “White Heat” to “The Iron Giant”… I love films of every style and genre.

So, when my daughters said they wanted to go to the movies I was more than happy to take them. I had absolutely no idea what this film was about. I only knew that Hugh Jackman was the star, and my wife assured me it was good for the kids, so yeah… let’s go to the movies!

I have to say… I have NEVER had a reaction to a film like I did with this one. To say I hated it would be an understatement. I literally was squirming in my seat, trying everything I could to find ways to pass the time that DIDN’T involve actually watching the movie. It was straight downhill from the very first song. I tried falling asleep but it was too darn loud. I tried reading my phone but it hurt my eyes. Eventually, I just got up, left the theater, and paced in the lobby eating over priced peanut M&Ms and glancing at my watch from time to time.

I can usually find something to appreciate even if I don’t like a film. Not here. The story was next to nonexistent, and what story there was a clichéd and predictable as possible. The acting was juvenile, as was the dialogue. I had a hard time believing adults wrote this thing. And the music… I’m sorry, but it was quite literally the worst movie I’ve ever seen. (And I’ve seen some stinkers.)

Now, maybe it was because the directorial style was more akin to MTV than to modern film making. It seemed like a collection of musical youtube videos more than a solid film. I don’t know… maybe this was just made for a younger generation and I’m just getting old. That’s possible. I do find myself yelling at kids to get off my lawn from time to time.

My girls loved it, and the row of young teen girls in front of us cheered and whooped while credits rolled. Me? My hands hurt from making fists.

I’ve never had a reaction like that before, and I left the theater knowing a little more about myself. …If I’m ever interrogated by Russian spies asking about the location of the secret microfilms that reveal the plans to building weapon X you all better hope they don’t sit me in front of “The Greatest Showman” because I’m telling you now, I will sing like a canary from the first note of the first song.

Teddi Deppner
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I don’t usually watch movies in the theater. But I’d heard creative friends raving about how this movie made them feel (all good things), and my sister and I were looking for a fun outing, so we went. Well… I didn’t realize it was going to be a musical.

Not that musicals are bad, but here’s the thing: I had no defenses. The music wasn’t something I could avoid (too loud) and it got under my skin and made me FEEL and wouldn’t let me keep emotional distance. So yeah, I pretty much happy-cried through the whole thing.

Or rather, not just “happy” crying, but crying because I could feel the raw emotion of the characters: yearning, excitement, longing for dreams to come true, desire to be loved, hope for a future better than the miserable “now”, the beauty of imperfect humanity.

It’s definitely NOT a film about the history of P.T. Barnum. It’s NOT a film trying to be “well written” or “well acted”, and honestly it *still* bugs me that they had an “opera singer” who didn’t sing a lick of opera.

It’s a film in the SPIRIT of Barnum and all the showmanship of the circus, it’s a film in the SPIRIT of today’s yearning misfit creative masses. We are in an age of social media and wide open opportunities for creative entrepreneurship that has given everyone the desire to see their dreams come true — and the hope that they really could. “The Greatest Showman” is a work of art, and the heart-cry of many creative people put to song.

And for that, I love it, and I love the people who brought it to us. I’ve seen some of the behind-the-scenes interviews with the actor/singers, and it’s so obvious that Hugh Jackman and his colleagues put their hearts and souls into it. It’s a thing of beauty and bravery, the baring of souls and the reminder that *people* are more important than fame.