It’s been 24 hours since I left the theater with my wife, and since then we’ve been absolutely obsessed with all things “Greatest Showman”. We’re looking up videos, downloading the soundtrack, wondering when this thing is going to become a Broadway show. Never have I become a SUPER FAN of something so QUICKLY.
Quick Warning: This post will contain MAJOR SPOILERS! If you haven’t watched this movie, do NOT read this post. But DO watch the movie ASAP. Seriously. Then come back and read this!
OK - you've been warned! Before I dive into things, a few thoughts/disclaimers:
First - This is not my attempt at reviewing the movie. I’m trying to write about a specific theme I noticed. I will say though, I don’t understand how it got a 55% on rotten tomatoes. Thank you for letting me know I can never trust you again, RT! Well guess what - this is easily one of my favorite movies of all time! So there. If this means I am wrong about the standards by which I’m supposed to critique a movie, I NEVER want to be right! I can probably write for days about everything I loved: the breathtaking performances by the actors, the incredible attention to detail, the mesmerizing choreography - and the songs. Oh my goodness. THE SONGS. Which I now listen to on repeat.
Speaking of which - by the time we get to “THIS IS ME”, I’m done. I’ve lost it completely. The “celebration of humanity” is already happening deep in my heart at this point - and if you’ve watched the movie but for some reason haven’t watch the version of this song in the video of the workshop session to get the movie greenlit, go and watch it now.
Go ahead…… No… I’m not crying. You’re crying!
Secondly, kind of related to “not reviewing the movie”, I want to add that I actually know very little about the life of PT Barnum, and at least before writing this piece - I’m doing my best to refrain from reading up on him because 1) from the little i hear, i fear that it will deter me from writing this post 2) i’m focusing on the Barnum that is portrayed specifically in this movie and not from real life. I have mixed feelings about going this route, but my purpose is to focus in on what I saw in the movie. So for all intents and purposes, we’re going to be talking about a “fictional character”.
So with all that said, let’s jump right in.
Among so many of the beautiful and important themes being covered in this film, one thing in particular jumped out at me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been studying the Enneagram a LOT these days, and maybe it’s because it takes one to know one - but my hunch is that PT Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman, who is now my man crush for life) is a fellow THREE, and this movie (again, let’s treat it as 95% fictional) is the redemptive story of someone who is dominant in Type THREE.
I started suspecting this early in the movie, and by the time it became even more apparent I realized I should probably start taking notes - but of course I wanted to enjoy the movie, so I didn’t do that. Then after it was all over, I kept thinking about it and remembered more little clues in retrospect. So, keep in mind that a lot of times I’ll be paraphrasing lines from the movie (but thankfully because the lyrics for the songs are available on the interwebs, I’ll get those references right!)
I should also note that I’m not an EXPERT on the Enneagram, but I am an enthusiast so I hope these observations will do the Enneagram fans some justice.
Here’s the journey of the THREE as I saw it, and I’ll break down each part in detail:
1. CHILDHOOD WOUND
2. THE SPIN
3. SUCCESS & ADMIRATION
6. THE CRITIC
The actual childhood wound which confirms/reveals that you are a three is when children are rewarded only for how well they did something. This eventually leads to admiration being a substitute for real love. My guess is that this scenario doesn’t play out well in a movie, so they made things a bit more dramatic. In the scene when Charity and Barnum meet for the first time (when young Phineas makes Charity spit out her tea, making her laugh) - he gets rewarded with a slap (punch?) in the face by Charity’s father for being honest and taking the blame and admitting that he made Charity act “inappropriately”/spitting out her tea. You immediately think that the biggest wound is that he gets hit in the face. While that was certainly a terrible thing to have happened, what struck me even harder is that his own father stood there, watched it happen, and didn’t come to Phineas’ defense. No “Excuse me? Did you just hit my son?!?!”. If the person I’m working for lays a hand on my son, not only is it the last day I’ll be working for that person, but lets just say he’d experience much more than just a few choice words from me. I am not a violent person in general, but it’s just true. Papa Bear is going to emerge in a situation like that. But we didn’t see that happen. PT’s father stood there and watched. He was too afraid to protect his own son, because it would have jeopardized his job and place in society. What is the unspoken message here? Defending and protecting son not as important as keeping connections in his professional world. Perhaps not a typical THREE childhood wound, but I can see a connection. I might summarize as “Sorry son, keeping this job is more important than guarding and cherishing you as my flesh and blood. But I will continue to provide for you”.
When Barnum has his eureka moment for what would eventually become the “circus”, you can see his wheels spinning. When he thinks about social outcasts, yes, he does see them as people. In fact, as people who hold a special place in his heart. He remembers the person who handed him an apple when he was down and out as a young boy. But true to THREE form, he also sees them as an opportunity. After all, he is hard-wired to achieve, so he’ll see the potential in just about anyone if it suits his plans for success. In the real world, this actually means that THREES might make good managers or recruiters for businesses as they can probably see what roles specific people are naturally suited for and can thrive in. At one point, he asks a heavy set man how much he weighs. When the man sheepishly whispers that he is 500 pounds, Barnum blurts out loud “750 pounds?!?”. He spins the truth to serve “achievement”. It can be used for their advantage! THREES in health will strive to be authentic at all costs, but when unhealthy, can have a tendency to manipulate and exaggerate. Chris Heuertz (Author of The Sacred Enneagram) describes it this way: THREES play a role to get done what needs to be accomplished, and to be accepted. When they come to believe the role they are in, everyone else believes it too.
SUCCESS & ADMIRATION
All that focus, hard work, attention to detail, and empowering people - it pays off! He gets the right team on the bus, gets a loan from the bank (with a bit more of that spinning) and gets his business off the ground. This is when THREES are in their element! While this is the case - almost immediately after a small taste of the glory - well… watch out for that slippery slope. Success is like a high, like an addiction, and it is extremely short lived. The circus is a hit, but instead of being satisfied and maintaining what works well - another ‘chase’ begins and he sees an opportunity in Jenny Lind to bring his success to another level. It is appropriate that Jenny’s theme song is “Never Enough” (my goodness, THAT VOICE!!! ) — although for slightly different reasons, this is where Barnum and Lind’s issues overlap. As the need for success elevates, the deeper issue of hungering for validation, affirmation, and respect begins to rise to the surface as well. And as mentioned earlier, admiration = love.
“All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough, never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it'll
Never be enough, never be enough for me”
The ennegram Institute describes a healthy THREE as “Self-accepting, inner-directed, and authentic, everything they seem to be. Modest and charitable, self-deprecatory humor and a fullness of heart emerge. Gentle and benevolent.” This does not describe where Barnum is at this point , but this is a redemption story, so we’ll get there. :)
BETRAYAL & APPEARANCE
Every great story has what Andy Crouch refers to as the “full catastrophe”. While this doesn’t quite happen until later in the story when the circus burns down, we see the beginning of it start to unfold the moment our “what’s happening here?” radar goes off when Barnum meets Jenny Lind for the first time, and we can’t quite seem to tell if he’s attracted to her or not. He charms her, and wins her over by saying “I’m known to hoodwink people, but for once I want to give people something real (referring to Lind)”. The look in Barnum’s eyes when he sees Lind singing seems to indicate that he is falling for her - but if this is all that you’re getting out of that moment, you will have missed the point. That look in his eyes is extremely complex. He is amazed, just as the audience is. He is moved. Maybe even a little smitten. But later on, Charity is the one who ends up summarizing it best when Barnum tries to defend himself saying he wasn’t in love with her. She agrees, she says he wasn’t in love with her, OR with Charity, but only with himself. *Knife in Heart*
The 2nd betrayal is to his original group of friends, the misfits, his squad, if you will - when he tries to hide them in the audience during the Jenny Lind performance. For the first time he was afraid to be associated with them. The very people who brought him success in the first place. He plays it off and says that the acoustics are better in the standing room. Why? Because he cared more about his appearance and his pursuit of being taken more seriously in the world of entertainment. But I’m kind of glad that happened because that’s when Bearded Lady busts out “This Is Me”, then it’s game over. Tears ensue. I’m kidding about that last part, but the important thing to notice in these two betrayals is how he uses and misuses the gift he has to connect with people. In a relaxed state (or in integration), he is loving to his family and friends and adds so much value to their lives. He's successful, and provides more than enough for his family. In a state of unhealthiness, all he cares about is his reputation. In a THREE, I would argue that this is a wound from earlier on in life that needs to be addressed and healed. When he buys Charity a huge mansion, she insightfully asks if he is doing this just to rub her father’s nose in his success. He doesn’t deny it. To make matters worse, when Charity’s father, Mr. Hallett, shows up at Jenny Lind’s performance, Barnum handles the moment with immaturity, STILL carrying the hurt from his childhood. Hallett comes back with “all this success, and still the son of a tailor”. Hallett is going for the jugular, and attacking Barnum’s self-worth. It only gets worse from here, and eventually into the full catastrophe. Barnum ends up going on tour with Lind to chase acclaim, and abandons the circus when they need him the most. This is not something to be overlooked. Yet again, as a THREE, he doesn’t even realize his value and worth - even in a community that loved him and was thankful to him for everything he’s done for them. He needs to keep filling the bottomless void with more accomplishments, and if you’ve watched the film - you’ll see that it ends in a devastating way for him because of the way he blurs the line between personal and business in his relationship with Lind. The pattern you might notice in an unhealthy THREE is his carelessness or thoughtlessness in his relationships which usually results from his need to get a job done or to preserve self-image. The bridge builder becomes the bridge burner.
In the aftermath of the full catastrophe, where he loses everything - you see Barnum sitting alone in a bar, grieving, completely enveloped in hopelessness. Then enters grace. He might not fully deserve it, but his band of misfits join him at the bar in an effort to show support and cheer him up. Instead of kicking him while he’s down, they have compassion for him, being fully aware that Barnum has messed up royally. Barnum is remorseful and moved by the loyalty of his friends, and this is where the redemption begins. From here on end, the lyrics for “From Now On” perfectly capture his realization of where things went wrong, but also what he wants to do about things going forward:
“I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became
For years and years I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop and see you here
I remember who all this was for.
From now on these eyes will not be blinded by the lights…”
The people who suffered the most were actually the people who loved him the most. At the end of the movie, Barnum “passes on the baton” of the circus to Carlyle - but this time for, for the most important reason - his family. In the last scene before the credits, Barnum is sitting in the audience with his wife Charity at their daughters’ ballet performance (which is something that Barnum missed while being away on tour), and the last words being sung in the movie are the ones he started out with:
"It’s everything you’d ever want
It’s everything you ever need
And it’s here right in front of you"
Only this time, referring to his family.
At this point, I’m sitting next to my wife in the theater - sobbing - because of the ironically striking resemblance this moment had to the season of life I’d been experiencing as of late. We watched this movie on a rare date-day where we hired a sitter to watch both of our kids. It had been such a long time since I’d connected with my wife in this way, and I’d forgotten just how much I really enjoyed alone time with her. Zooming out, the last few years have been a complete setting aside of our own dreams and aspirations after having two kids of our own. Our lives revolve entirely around these little nuggets, and while it’s among some of the toughest seasons we’ve experienced, it’s also been the most rewarding.
At the end of the day, a healthy THREE is self-assured, energetic, and competent with high self-esteem (E institute), and I would even add that being heart-forward people, we just want to belong. We want to feel loved, accepted for who we are, and feel that we don’t have to “turn it on” or be on the “silver screen” (Sleeping At Last) adjusting to the environment around us.
What my family has taught me over the years is just that. My wife actually couldn’t care less about my ‘talents’ and ‘success’. She might appreciate it, and from time to time offer an encouraging word about some of my skills/abilities - but what she loves the most is when I’m around, and I’m connecting with her and our kids who also happen not to care too much about all the things I’m able to “get done”.
Often times when people used to ask me “hey, you used to do music, right?”, it would cut so deep - and little did I know what was really happening. The very thing I tied my identity and worth to was gone, and therefore - I no longer mattered. I no longer had value as a person.
In the same way my family helped me find love and healing from this mindset, Barnum was also beginning his journey of healing and repair from years and years of chasing after success and admiration - when in reality, he had it right in front of his eyes all along. Everything he’d ever want, and everything he’d ever need.
“I never wanted anything more than the man I fell in love with” - Charity Barnum
And finally, the critic. I write about this last, because only thinking about the movie in hindsight did I notice the role that he (James Gordon Bennett) played. Barnum has an interesting relationship with him. He’s not really an enemy, but not quite a friend. It almost feels as though he’s lurking in the background, and is always present - especially during all of the significant moments. Barnum notices when he’s there, but especially when he’s not. During Lind’s performance of “Never Enough”, the first time he looks out into the audience, it is to check that Bennett is there, to see if he is enjoying it. His approval matters a lot. Of all the enneagram types, THREEs are the ones that need affirmation the most. But Bennett’s role as a critic is unique in that he doesn’t seem to put much focus on the show (the mask, so to speak). He’s mostly interested in Barnum’s motives. At one point he calls him out as a fraud, but in another moment also helps him to recognize that as long as he is genuine, that what he’s doing can be a great thing. Perhaps he is Barnum’s conscience personified - and that is why Barnum needs him in his life. He judges his character and not his works and acts as a mirror, or an amplified inner voice for thoughts that might be buried deep within. The critic is there to help him be more in touch with himself and operate out of authenticity.
Wow, that was a lot to read through and I hope that if you’re an Enneagram Type 3, this post has been meaningful and insightful to you if you are able to relate! As I mentioned in the past, I feel a bit exposed and vulnerable in analyzing Barnum’s character in this way, because in so doing, it feels like I am revealing a lot about myself. On the spectrum of healthy to unhealthy (true self/ false self, resourceful/less resourceful), I feel that I’m usually somewhere in the middle, and that on a bad day I can dip down into unhealthy, and in other seasons thrive in healthiness.
Whether it’s identifying w/ a movie character like this, or hearing a song like THREE by “Sleeping At Last”, it always feels good be understood and to know that I’m not alone. I find encouragement knowing that I truly want to be the healthiest version of my type - it is what I aspire to be.
With that, fellow THREEs, I’m gonna wrap up by saying something I’ve often said to myself from time to time because I needed the reminder: You are loved for who you are, and not merely because of what you can do.