Forget everything you know about P.T. Barnum. The Connecticut-born son of a tailor who so coveted high society that he swindled and cheated his way into mass fortune died 126 years ago. All that remains of him is the name of a circus.
The P.T. Barnum depicted in “The Greatest Showman” is a fictitious character, an energetic, benevolent man whose blind ambition led him to make occasional mistakes in his relationships.
Portrayed by Hugh Jackman, P.T. Barnum whisks his love, Charity, away by imploring her to use her imagination, adding that the world is what they make of it. A running theme throughout the musical is how they can change their stars, and create their own world, being limited only by their own imaginations. His love, dreams and enthusiasm lights the hearts of his wife and daughters, and inspires his followers, a rag-tag group of misfits including the bearded lady, the world’s smallest man, a theatre director and even a world-renown opera singer.
The movie maintains a happy tone, even when the characters deal with very difficult situations, ranging from rejection, personal pain, and hopelessness. The darkest of times are quickly abandoned for the next adventure, and the next song.
The ongoing theme of “The Greatest Showman” is that of acceptance. P.T. Barnum struggled to gain the acceptance of high society, while his cast of odd characters struggled to accept themselves, and struggled to gain acceptance of mainstream society.
Having gone from pauper to prince with the financial success of Barnum’s Circus, Barnum enlisted the help of a popular theatre director to “win the high brows.” This resulted in an audience with the queen of England, which connected Barnum to the famous opera singer Jenny Lind, with whom Barnum strikes up a partnership for a North American tour.
Regardless of all that happened, Barnum never really gains the acceptance of high society. He is then reminded of the true value of the friends he has, and learns to quit living to impress people that he doesn’t really like in the first place.
The cast of odd-characters struggle throughout the movie. Rejected not only by their own mothers, many had trouble accepting themselves. Throughout the course of the movie, they learn to accept themselves, and to see their oddity as a gift. They also find comfort in each other.
I came away from this movie inspired and happy. I was reminded to dream big, to be myself, and to love those around me. And for that reminder, I give the movie a thumbs up!