I have a confession to make. I’ve seen The Greatest Showman four times. One might think that was more than enough, but I have already checked Amazon to see when it will be available on Blu-Ray. Critics didn’t care much for the movie, but my wife and I loved it. The music and the story resonate with me in a powerful way.
It is not the story of the circus and its performers that stirs me as much as it is the story of the Barnum character himself. The movie portrays him as the son of a poor tailor, scorned and mistreated by the wealthy father of the girl he loves. He finds motivation in the man’s rejection and dedicates his life to a single endeavor, showing he is deserving of respect by achieving worldly success.
As a result of this consuming passion no amount of success satisfies him. Making his circus a success is not enough, he needs to be considered a serious producer of art. City wide fame is insufficient, he needs to be known around the world. Touching the lives of those he is close to does not bring satisfaction, he needs the adoration of strangers.
The futility of his pursuit is described in the words of the song sung by another unsatisfied character in the film, the world-famous opera singer Jenny Lind-
“All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it'll
Never be enough… for me”
This is Barnum’s curse. He is so consumed with the praise of people he has never met that he fails to appreciate the love of those around him, those who should mean the most to him. It takes the burning down of his circus building and financial ruin for him to recognize his mistake. The moment when these tragedies lead him to realize his foolishness is a powerful point in the film, expressed in the song “From Now On”-
"For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for"
At the end of the movie we see that Barnum’s transformation is complete. As he sits in the theater, his arm around the woman he loves, he watches their children and sings, “This is the greatest show.”
This scene is profoundly moving for me. I grew up unwanted, unloved and abused, the child of a father held me in disdain. I spent years of my life trying to prove to him, myself and others that I was good enough, that I was worthy of praise. I drove myself to succeed in every area of my life, in education, medicine and even church. Toiling in the shadows was unthinkable, I needed to be the best, I needed recognition.
It took too long for me to realize that the only love and appreciation I needed was from those who love me. My wife believes in me, supports me, encourages me and loves me. Together we have built a family, a home filled with love and laughter. When I stop and consider my wife and my children I realize that they are indeed, “enough” and “I remember who all this was for.”
Forget the praise of the world, ignore the awards shows and the faint, vanishing praise of strangers. The moments of love spent with family are the Greatest Show.