The Truth of The Greatest Showman

By Thursday, June 28, 2018 ,

As often happens, I was late to the party on seeing a popular movie. In that vein, about two weeks ago I finally watched The Greatest Showman. The stunning visuals, colorful design and production, and vibrant music captivated me instantly. And let’s be real – Hugh Jackman is always a show-stealer.

But amid all the color and dancing of The Greatest Showman lie age-old questions about identity and purpose. P.T. Barnum lives with constant shame from his low-class ancestry and is determined to prove his worth to his wealthy socialite peers of late 19th century New York. The performers he recruits for his circus have each been deemed societal oddities and outcasts for various reasons. The songs, dialogue, conflicts, and almost everything else about the story continually pose the same questions: 

-What proves a person’s worth? 

-Is dignity earned or inherent? 

-Do you need to prove your own worth to others, and if so, what will have finally proved that? 

Photo Credit: Best HQ Wallpapers

Barnum works obsessively to create the most unique and exciting forms of entertainment for New York in hopes of becoming the wealthiest and most respected show master. He’s also hungry for his wife and daughters to earn the respect of their peers. But in the process, he slowly forgets to be the husband and father they need and doesn’t know how to stop chasing the next best thing in the entertainment business. 

On the other side are Barnum’s performers. Each of them has a unique quirk or socially unacceptable aspect, whether it be facial hair on a female face, an unusual skin color, an odd height, or something else. Barnum gives them an incredible gift in one another and in the outlet of performing to show their talents. But in his constant chase for more, he forgets to see them correctly too and treats them as means to an end. 

It isn’t until Barnum loses everything in dramatic fashion that he comes to grips with his failings towards his fellow man. And perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s when he reorients his attitude towards the people he loves and works with that he does indeed produce the greatest show. The final note of this musical mostly answers each question – it says that dignity and worth is innate in each person simply because of personhood, and that trying to prove yourself will only exhaust and hurt both you and others. 

I was refreshed by these messages, but also grateful for the even clearer answers I have for these questions as a Christ-follower. My worth was decided and proved before time because Almighty God set His affection on me and stamped me with His image. And the Christian believes that each person is not only a person, but a fellow-image bearer of that God. That proves innate worth more than anything else could and utterly dwarfs any attempt to do so on our part. That kind of worth is immune to the opinions of others and gives lasting peace, something that no job, talent, or great show could ever offer.

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