The other week we managed a cinema trip as a whole family!! (a good reminder that miracles do happen!) We watched ‘The Greatest Showman’, and absolutely loved it. Each of us enjoying the music and dancing, the editing, the story.
As usual we came away with plenty to talk about – as well as new songs stuck in our heads, that have to be sung. And this film left us with questions that needed answers.
Based loosely on the life story of Mr Barnum, the man who dreamed circuses into being the story depicts society misfits – through class, colour and through disability – coming together to forge themselves a place in the world, to be accepted and recognized as valuable. And so it deals with big themes; rejection, prejudice, contentment and discontent, affirmation, belonging, the human spirit, community…
Now the film depicts Mr Barnum as a lovable flawed hero whose dream creates a family by bringing a group of people together who have only ever found rejection. It does wrestle a little with his own sense of rejection and his striving after social acceptance which leads to him turning his back on his troupe in pursuit of his ultimate dream. But even so he is the film’s hero. Yet as my A quickly found out when we’d got home the real Mr Barnum story was almost exclusively the struggle to make it in the world – and none of the creating of a family. Yes he did collect together social misfits but he didn’t even come close to treating them kindly or as equals. So is the way the film lets us believe in a better version of history at best misleading, at worst glossing over the reality of the prejudice and inhumane treatment of those of different race or of different abilities by society in the past? Or does it actually give us a vision of something to strive for – a community of equality and respect?
So how can I talk with my children about these things?
Is Hollywood history? Is it right for film makers to tell history in a better light? How important is it to find out truthful history? What really happened? Does God ever ignore the tragic or wrong, does he ever only see the good in our lives and our stories?
‘these hands could hold the world but it’ll never be enough’ What did the characters want most in the world? Did they find it? Can we ever find and get everything we long for or think we need? Are we wanting the same things that God wants for us I wonder?
I am the Lord your God. I brought you up out of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Ps 81:10 NIRV)
Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants. (Ps37:4 NIRV)
Can we ‘rewrite the stars’? In 2017 headlines were telling us that hate crime against people with disability had increased by 150% over 2 years in the UK. And statistics showed a marked increase in race and faith based hate crime following the Brexit referendum in the UK. Prejudice is still very much an active part of society in the here and now. The characters Philip & Anne wanted it to be different but didn’t know where to begin. What can we do to change things? Is it possible? Does God also have a dream to change things? What will things look like and be like in the world he’s going to make?
‘Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make (Lyrics from ‘A million dreams)
‘I am brave, I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.’ These are words from the song Lettie sings when she sees that Barnum has also let them down. ‘Won’t let them break me down to dust. I know that there’s a place for us. For we are glorious.’ Barnum is the main character of the film, but who are the other heroes? Why are they heroes? Have you ever felt let down like Lettie? Have you ever felt brave like Lettie? Who or what makes you brave?
‘a celebration of humanity’ the newspaper reporter concedes that another reporter might even have said his circus was a celebration of humanity. In what way are all unique? Is difference something to celebrate and value? Does God celebrate difference – does he value all of humanity? How does our understanding of God change how we behave towards others?
For the love of Christ puts us into action. We are sure that Christ died for everyone. (2 Cor 5:14 NLT)