Why The Greatest Showman is the Most Mormon Movie Ever Made

Currently in US cinemas there is a new film called The Greatest Showman very loosely telling the tale of PT Barnum in an extravagant musical. I have seen the film twice now and after my recent visit I tweeted out:

I have to admit Greatest Showman‘s flaws are more obvious on rewatch but in many ways I think it is the Ultimate Mormon Movie

I then promised to explain this tweet and so here I am to elaborate!

SPOILER WARNING!!

First, I should state that I enjoyed the film. It’s an old school, classic family musical. It is written by the same people who made La La Land, and I honestly prefer it. I like the songs better. I like the message better, and I just think it is more of a fun time. Take your family and go enjoy yourselves at the movies!

Obviously The Greatest Showman has no Mormon characters and is not a faith-based film, so how can I say it is the ultimate Mormon movie? Well, it comes down to themes, style and messaging that will ring true for many Mormon people (obviously speaking in broad generalizations here but I have yet to find a Mormon who dislikes the film…).

So let me explain why I think The Greatest Showman particularly resonates with a Mormon audience:

Mormons are Misfits

The first reason is that Mormons see themselves as ‘peculiar people’. Several times in scriptures we learn that the “Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself” (Deut 14:2). This is something Mormons take very seriously and wear with a kind of pride. For example, each year BYU is voted “the most stone cold sober school in the US.”  Most of us are are very proud of this designation and boast of it when promoting the church. Look at this video BYU put out heralding the accomplishment.

But this idea of the Mormon Misfit goes back to the church founding where such practices as polygamy and communal living certainly made the people peculiar.We were literally expelled from several states and an extermination order written against us by a state governor (another source of pride).

However, this ‘rebelliousness’ obviously takes a very PG rated form and this is what makes The Greatest Showman so perfect for Mormons. The peculiar people of Barnum’s circus are different from the world but in a sweet, very clean cut way. This is a PG rated movie but it has a ‘freak show’ the whole family can enjoy

If you watch this video on ‘This is Me’ you will see what I mean about the clean cut misfits of The Greatest Showman

Mormons Love Marriage

Mormons have unique views on marriage that helps them bond with The Greatest Showman. We believe that marriage in the temple can be for time and all eternity and that the bond between a couple lasts forever. Children are an important and sacred calling for a couple but it is a marriage between 2 people that the highest ordinance of the church is based. There is nothing more important than a faithful marriage to most Mormons.

In The Greatest Showman PT Barnum is shown as a young child who is the son of a poor tailor. He meets a young girl named Charity who he bonds with immediately and the two are obviously destined to be together. These children grow up to be Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams and they leave her parents, get married and have two beautiful daughters. This is literally the dream of nearly every Mormon person.

In the movie Barnum’s marriage is tested by a woman named Jenny Lynde played by Rebecca Fergusson. In most Hollywood movies he would give into the temptation and betray his marriage. Not in The Greatest Showman. He stays true, even after she publicly shames him and implies scandal. He is true to his wife and the two make up and stay committed to each other. This is very appealing to a Mormon audience. It’s certainly more appealing than say the characters in La La Land who have premarital relationships and give up on their relationship fairly quickly. No such luck in a Mormon musical fantasy! LOL

Barnum is also very sweet with his daughters creating a world that shelters them from the troubles of his work and other stresses. This is encouraged in Mormon households as we have Family Home Evening and other family time to teach, fortify and bond as a family. The scene where Barnum gives the girls a special lamp might as well have come out of a church movie.

Mormons Are Theatrical

People that did not grow up in Utah or Idaho may not be aware of the theatrical traditions of the Mormon people. In fact, when the Saints arrived in Utah one of the first buildings they erected was a theater. Along the pioneer trek the Saints were known for having dances, reciting poetry and singing in choirs.

Today there are few places that support regional theater the way Utah does. Literally every town has their own little theater.  We also have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, Ballet West and the Utah Shakespeare Festival- all institutions that have received national recognition (to name a few).

Utah is very dance focused and whether it is team dance or ballroom dance students are taught young and are encouraged to display their talents. These performances are usually clean cut, boisterous shows that are very similar to what you get in The Greatest Showman.

Look at this video of the BYU Young Ambassadors and tell me it does not seem right out of The Greatest Showman playbook:

Before every temple dedication there are cultural celebrations with grand theatricals and BYU is famous for its acapella, dance and show choirs. People eat that stuff up and it’s just part of the culture.

This is totally the style of The Greatest Showman. Big boisterous and cheerful:

You could argue that Zac Efron became a star based off of the Mormon template of entertainment. All the High School Musical movies were filmed here and are very emblematic of the type of musical that is popular.

Mormons have a Pioneer Spirit

I am well aware that the version of PT Barnum we get in The Greatest Showman is mostly fictitious, but I think that is largely irrelevant for the effectiveness of the musical. Nobody cares that The Sound of Music is wildly inaccurate to what happened with the von Trapps. Certainly no one should be looking at a fluffy musical for historical accuracy.

So, if we just take the character presented in the movie it is a very appealing for a Mormon audience. He is literally the man who invented the phrase ‘show business’. He gathers his group despite everyone laughing in his face and Mormons relate to that spirit. I mean most Mormons are either returned missionaries or related/married to one. The idea of being a bold thinker and being rejected is very attractive.

He is also kind of a prophet type character that leads with great charisma and enthusiasm. This type of evangelism is encouraged as we have no paid clergy and must all be responsible for public speaking and motivating our fellow church members. Barnum might as well be a bishop in this movie! LOL

Conclusion

The Greatest Showman is not a perfect movie. The script could be better, but it does a good job selling itself to a Mormon audience and evidently the producers thought so as well because they did a very early screening of it in September here. Whether that will turn out to be a good approach to take across the country will be interesting to see. It certainly selling out here! Pretty much all my local friends on facebook and twitter who have seen it, loved it.  Just it being a PG live action film alone is enough to excite people here but you add in grand musical spectacle and you have a winner!

It’s not often we get an old fashioned family friendly musical so go see it! Have fun and enjoy it whether Mormon or not. My Dad hasn’t seen a movie in the theater since Les Miserables but I know he will love this. 🙂

24 thoughts on “Why The Greatest Showman is the Most Mormon Movie Ever Made

  1. It would be better if the real P.T. Barnum had not been such a reprehensible person. Naïve moviegoers who may become curious to learn more about him are in for a rude shock when they find out the truth.

    1. I guess but those people are pretty stupid imo so they deserve a rude shock. If you are taking history lessons from a musical than I don’t feel very sorry for you

      1. If everybody will simply take it for what it is – the ultimate high school show choir movie – perhaps no harm will be done. Unfortunately, there are people who expect there to be a substantial factual basis behind any form of entertainment that isn’t obviously from the science fiction or fantasy/fairy tale genres.

        1. There are such people but I don’t think the moviemakers need to cater their movie to them. They are singing and dancing through the streets. Realism went way out the window. Just like with The Sound of Music. The responsibility is to make a good movie and then it is up to individuals to learn for themselves history. Even with something like Disney’s Pocahontas. The problem isn’t that it is historically inaccurate. The problem is it’s a bad movie with a terrible trite romance. Every movie that’s not a documentary takes artistic license and especially one that’s a fluffy musical. I really think it is irrelevant who Barnum was in real life to this movie. Shrug

        2. No, they don’t need to cater to people who expect to get a college education from their entertainment choices. It’s just too bad the moviemakers didn’t see fit to complete the fictionalization by leaving Barnum’s name out of it. Additionally, some scenes convey messages which, taken with a tiny dose of historical reality as justification, could conceivably be taken the wrong way by people who would find in them an excuse to cause grief to others. (The 1950 MGM musical “Annie Get Your Gun” could have the same kind of effect.) At any rate, you’re certainly right about the irrelevancy of the real Barnum, as far as this movie is concerned.

        3. What scenes? If anything it shows him being nicer than he was so I don’t see it inspiring people to be unkind or give grief to others? Anyway I guess they could have given him a different name but I don’t think the inaccuracy argument holds much weight. The script could develop the side characters better but it’s a fun feel good family musical imo

        4. I suppose it has to do with experiences I’ve had as a disabled person (in other words, “you had to be there”). But as I said in an earlier comment, if it succeeds as a souped-up version of a high-school show choir performance, all well and good. I don’t think you and I are in fundamental disagreement about it. I just wish they’d have gone about it a little bit differently.

        5. Interesting perspective. Unfortunately I think if they had gone realism route it would have been much worse in the treatment of the disabled but yeah I see what you mean

        6. Realism would have made it into a drama about the life and times of Barnum and those whom he exploited. But it’s a musical, and as you pointed out, that’s unreal in itself. Because of the disconnect between the real Barnum and the screen Barnum, it would have been better to have

        7. I guess I would be fine with either. The disconnect is a nonissue for me. If someone wants to make a realistic Barnum movie that’d be fine also

        8. Which begs the question… why ride on Barnum’s name anyway to make the movie? Why not just make one without his name if they’re going to get most things wrong? Because they want to mislead you. It’s mass marketing whilst riding on a big name for more reach and to get more bums in seats. If they didn’t advertise it as his life story, no one would have a problem with it.
          ]

        9. The movie’s big problem is the way it identifies people by their differences. This kind of thing turns all disabled persons into poster children. We want to be identified by our abilities, not our disabilities. We are not our diseases, canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. What matters is what’s inside our heads and hearts. But try being a disabled person who’s trying to get a job he or she is well-educated for and qualified to do: Good luck with that.

        10. I can see your point but I actually think that message of what’s in your hearts is there too. PT gets them to stop being afraid of what others think and only then can they own who they are in all parts. No movie can give every message but there is definitely a message of be bold, be who you are and go out and get that job. Anyway you don’t have to like the film but I do and found it a joyous celebration and an old fashioned family positive musical.

        11. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the disabled, but all a potential employer sees in disabled applicants is whatever obviously makes them a liability due to a “pre-existing condition,” so they inevitably hire a “more qualified” candidate who just happens to be able-bodied.

          I’m sure that a real 19th-century “bearded lady” would much preferred not to have had the disease that caused her condition, but to have lived the kind of life most women aspired to at that time. Unfortunately, she had to settle for being a circus attraction.

          Depicting Barnum’s freak show in a sympathetic light allows the able-bodied to continue to dismiss the disabled: “Why not be proud of what that disease or assistive device makes you look like, and make the best of it?” Why not? Because that denies our personhood; therefore WYSIWYG is not the mantra of the disabled.

          After FDR was disabled, he never marketed his disability, and nobody else made an issue of it. People elected and re-elected him President because of what he had inside his head, not because he was wheelchair-bound.

        12. It’s a valid interpretation but not the interpretation I have. These people were hiding and he got them to come out and find a family. They went from a mother not acknowledging that she has a son publicly to being an audience before the queen of England. They found acceptance in each other even if the whole world didn’t accept them.
          But it’s an old fashioned family values musical about marriage and saying to the world this is me. All of me not just your disability, sexuality, race or gender but the whole person.
          But I think we will have to agree to disagree on this film. Oh well

    1. Thanks so much. It’s so nice to get such positive feedback. I honestly like this movie more each time I see it

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