In the last week I saw 2 charmingly told stories from the Hollywood stables.
One was The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman enacting the lives and challenges of P T Barnum of the Barnum Circus. And the second was a tour de force performance of the hoary Christopher Plummer playing J P Getty, THE richest man in the world, the original oil billionaire. Both the stories are presented grippingly in the real Hollywood style and grandeur, transporting us into the magical world of the past and immersing us into the trials and tribulations, and mindsets of the 2 great personalities who lived very very different lives. And yet they reach out from the past and hold us enthralled today with insights into what they went through in their lives!!!
The Greatest Showman is an original musical and it traces the life story of Mr Barnum. When a poor tailor’s son falls in love with a rich man’s daughter Charity and she follows him despite objections from her father to lead their lives, tragedy strikes with Barnum losing his job as a shipping clerk. His sadness that his wife and daughters are at abject poverty level propels him to create a Museum of Curios. When that fails to attract audience in the 1820s his daughters inspire him to “put something live” in the midst of all the dead and old stuff. This innocent suggestion takes the shape of his searching and assembling an ensemble of “human living curious” to form the Barnum Circus and conduct song & dance and trapeze shows to galvanize ticket sales.
At a sublime level bringing out Tom Thumb, the Dog Boy, Tattoo Man and the singing Bearded Lady from their hiding and putting them on stage gives a truly fundamental message of celebrating humanity in all it’s glorious diversity. So what if Barnum is not above lying and presenting a 450-pound man as a padded 750-pound Irish Giant (when he is actually Russian)? The message is beautifully captured in the song ” Look at me/Here I come/ I’m not scared/To be seen/This is me” speaks beautifully to all of us who have tried to hide our foibles and stay away from the public eye: it is a celebration of oddity which is amongst all of us; and making this centrestage with spunk and elan!! The “freak show” becomes an aspirational display and encourages all of us to confront our fears and things we hide as ” “you cant go back again/ to the world you were living in/cause you’re dreaming with your eyes open”.
The energy of Hugh Jackman; the songs and the lyrics; the impressario dances and trapeze plays; the backdrop of the charming love story of the rich girl Charity who lives under a leaking roof still consumed by love and avers “I have everything I need”; Zac Efron’s brilliantly underplayed spoilt, rich brat who finds his true calling and love in the eyes of a black trapeze artist and tries to tell his old-school father that “the world has changed”; the entire interlude with Barnum’s pursuit of fame and legitimacy by pursuing the Swedish Opera singer Jenny; the moment he realizes the truth of her song and message “Never enough”; and then his return to the “freak circus” and accepting their reality rather than running away from them: all of the messages are a true reflection of open acceptance of all as they are and not being judgmental about differences. The Greatest Showman leaves us with one basic learning: ” You do not become famous by being like everyone else” Viva la Difference!! Celebrate humaneness and celebrate diversity!!!
The second movie All the Money in the World is sombre and even dark in comparison. It has Christopher Plummer playing an aging J P Getty, the original oil billionaire. He says it with arrogance in reply to a journo: if you can count your money; you are not a billionaire. The story revolves around the kidnapping of his grandson Paul by the Italian gangsters and the refusal of Getty to negotiate anything on the ransom. “I have 17 grandchildren and if I pay a ransom I will have 17 kidnapped grandchildren” A tough hardnosed money making machine, bereft of any emotions, save and except for his prized arts de object and his wild desire to be collector.
Christopher Plummer brilliantly plays the tough old man to a perfection. His zealous guarding of his privacy is known to us from folklore. All this is brought to life in the movie. But for us Indians, focused as we are on family, it does become a bit of a challenge to understand Getty’s refusal to part with any money for his most favorite grandson’s ransom and still put his Security head ( played by Mark Whalberg) on the job of helping the dispossessed daughter in law, during the hostage crisis. The tribulations and pain of the fiercely independent mother of Paul and daughter in law of Getty is enacted beautifully my Michelle Williams ( a role very different from the Charity she plays in The Greatest Showman).
The frustration of being the richest man in the world and still being at the mercy of fate is shown very well. Getty’s angst when he cannot control the happenings are captured in a manner which makes us feel happy that we all are far far away from all the money in the world. The transient nature of relationships and the impermanence of pecuniary power are contrasted well. The movie is held together by a brilliant Chistopher Plummer. Though so much is happening around Paul, the mother and the chase to rescue him at the end the movie is scathing comment on personal relations and how they get vitiated when you have too much: Too much ego, too much money, too much assumed control on other’s lives. The movie is long ( 2 hours 16 mins) but engaging. Ridley Scott as director and Mike Scampa as sript writer have come up with a tour de force. But see it only if you are ready to question your values : what is important: Material possessions? or the people in your life that you try to possess??
Love Hollywood for challenging you and me: vikas