The Greatest Showman – it’s the inside that counts (1Samuel 16:7)
I recently went to watch The Greatest Showman, what I considered to be one of the greatest screen musicals I had seen in a long time. Not since the film version of Les Miserables have I been moved by music and story. It’s no surprise here that Hugh Jackman is in both and his passion for musical theatre, and the genre of screen musicals, shines through. The film is a testament to the human spirit rising against adversity, the ability for us all to rise from the ashes of poverty, circumstance and social standing. It’s main message of the spirit within is powerful.
Not everyone thinks so though. The Greatest Showman has its critics, a lot of critics. To name but only one, Stephanie Merry of the Washington Post (Dec 20th 2017) says the movie feels ‘artificial’. She points out that at one point in the film a critic asks Barnum if he’s bothered that everything he sells is fake. He responds by saying ‘Do the smiles seem fake.’ Others have suggested similar complaints and though no critic has doubted Jackman’s exuberance, the film has certainly not satisfied them. But it has satisfied ordinary cinema going folk.
It is exactly this the critics have missed. Yes The Greatest Showman may have a slight artificial feel, there’s no doubt that some auto-tuning may have taken place (though I dare you to watch the showcase video on YouTube, where Jackman sings his heart out despite recovering from a nose op, and then claim the possibility of auto-tuning). But the point is this: Barnum’s story is all about selling entertainment to the masses, not to satisfy the critics, but just to entertain and have people leaving with a smile on their faces. I did after watching The Greatest Showman. In fact it is only when Barnum tries to satisfy the critics does he really fail. This film has been shown to be a success by its target audience. Read their reviews online and you will see. The Greatest Showman could be seen as a commentary on the way professional critics view entertainment and how often they get it so wrong.
However, I want to focus on one key message the film explores, that beauty and purity is found within. It’s not the outside shell that matters, it’s not even a complicated, ill fated past that dictates our future. It’s what is in us that matters. In 1Samuel chapter 16, of The Bible, we read about the future King David being chosen by God’s spokesperson Samuel. In the story David’s brothers are cast aside in favour of the young shepherd boy David. Why him? Why choose a rugged farm boy with no kingly status, nothing on the outside that might suggest such a royal role? The reason is this: ‘Man looks at how someone appears on the outside. But I [God] look at what is in the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16:7).
One of the key songs in The Greatest Showman is called This is Me. A shout to accept the inner person, despite what they look like or have been through. It calls us all to accept as we truly are. It’s a tough call but one we need to make. In Galatians 3:28 the Apostle Paul says in regard to faith in Christ: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ.’
Keala Settle, playing the bearded lady in the film, would make a similar plea: there is neither bearded persons, male or female, nor dwarf, nor coloured trapeze artist, nor Siamese Twins, nor even Dog Boy. They are one. She would claim, that whoever they are then this is who they are. It’s a message for us all.
Of course, you will get your critics. They will want you to fit into their mould much like the critics of The Greatest Showman. Don’t let them. Stand tall, be who you are meant to be, be proud. God sees in your heart, He knows your troubles but He also know your future.