Now Reading: The Themes and Lyrics From ‘The Greatest Showman’ Are So Important


The Themes and Lyrics From ‘The Greatest Showman’ Are So Important

February 11, 20186 min read

Around 2 months ago, The Greatest Showman was released in the USA, causing a flow of mixed opinions. Some described it as a “disjointed, glossy, sugar-coated mess that just skates by on Jackman’s natural charm and charisma” or as something completely artificial while others salute the dancing show Michael Gracey has put on. Nevertheless, most of the critics you can find online only disvalue this movie, finding many flaws. On the contrary, many people I knew who went to see it loved it, so I decided to go make an opinion for myself once it got released in France in late January. From High School Musical to La La Land, musicals are originally my favorite type of show but the musical dimension is not what caused most of those negative opinions. Indeed, some consider the film does not explore enough the backstories of the “freaks” Barnum creates the circus around, and I’m not going to lie, it is true. These characters deserve more minutes onscreen, telling their stories. However, saying this film lacks emotion and substance is, in my mind, overexaggerating. The Greatest Showman explores the racial and differences problems of the 19th century, and that unfortunately still exists nowadays, bringing its lot of positive messages. In fact, these characters show their strength of spirit when performing the song “This Is Me” after Barnum rejects them from a worldly cocktail.

“Hide away”, they say
“‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts”
(…) “Run away”, they say
“No one’ll love you as you are”

This song, which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, by exposing the crude words one can say to another, offers a powerful message to which everyone can relate due to society’s high expectations towards many aspects of our life and appearance. This troop unite in their pain to show the world that they can be loved, that they are worth it, that they are not “freaks”: it is “a celebration of individuality. Its message is to be one’s self, without any shame or apology.” Among the lines showing this positivity:

But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us (…)
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

However, there is another, perhaps less visible, message to some people: the realization of dreams. In the movie, Barnum is born poor and considered as inferior by the father of the girl he is in love with. As he tries getting money out of boring jobs, he decides he wants to offer her wife the life he promised her back in the days. He, therefore, decides to risk it all and create the museum he has been dreaming of, which will, with the ideas of his daughters, turn into a circus. Throughout many difficulties, he gets people to like his show, and by the end of the movie, Barnum finds himself somewhere he never thought he would be: joyful and with a bunch of realized dreams, which teaches us that you are not defined by where/who you were born. This facade of the story is exposed in the song “A Million Dreams” in which he and his wife share everything they dream of.

Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake

Lastly, Barnum’s quest for popularity and its uselessness is something worth pointing out. As said earlier, he was always overlooked by society and had this want of proving his wife’s father and every socialite wrong. He is, consequently, trying during a large part of the film, to get people of higher social categories to like him and his show, which will lead to the unfortunate scene before “This Is Me”. Nevertheless, he realizes, in the song “From Now On”, that he has changed for the worst and need to get in the right path: he does not need to change because what really matters is not how many people like him but his family’s and troop’s love.

I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became (…)
And from now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight

As a conclusion, even though this movie surely has some flaws, as every production, I believe the messages shared by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon with the help of La La Land’s writers, Pasek and Paul, are worth hearing and pretty relatable. In addition, the brilliant cast including Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya or Keala Settle brings a magical dimension to the already amazing musical that is The Greatest Showman.

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Charlotte Yung

Charlotte is a 16-year-old French girl who is very much into music, books, and writing. She likes to believe that dreams do come true. contact her here: [email protected]