Why “The Greatest Showman” Is Secretly About Hugh Jackman’s Mid-Life Crisis

Matthew Loffhagen
20th Century Fox
(Photo: 20th Century Fox)

With a current movie climate that’s entirely swallowed up by big-name Marvel blockbusters, I can’t help but think of Hugh Jackman.

Perhaps I have “Deadpool 2” to thank for this.

This is the first summer blockbuster season since the start of the comic book movie boom that we’re not expecting a visit from Jackman as Wolverine. In previous years, we’ve either been anticipating a movie that he was scheduled to star in, or enjoying a film in theaters.

I imagine this probably isn’t easy for Jackman. He’s watching a lot of people strut around on red carpets, doing the whole superhero thing, and for once he’s not part of the show.

At the same time, I suspect he’s probably pondering plans for a future Oscar. If “The Greatest Showman” proves anything, it’s that Jackman has lofty ambitions that he’s struggling to commit to.

(Full disclosure: I’ve only recently discovered the wonders of “The Greatest Showman”, which is why this hot take is nothing of the sort. Sorry about that.)

On the surface, “The Greatest Showman” looks like it should be a movie about a group of social outcasts coming together to create something extraordinary. This very revisionist view of the life of PT Barnum and his circus suggests that the movie is a “celebration of humanity” (the movie’s words, not mine, I think making Barnum a hero is gross and lame).

That’s not what this film is about. All the freaks and sideshow oddities are pushed to the side, as Jackman takes center stage.

In the film, he plays a talented entertainer who has been very successful in creating low-brow media that high society snobs automatically look down on. Over the course of the film, he attempts to go legit, desperate to win the approval of the rich and powerful.

Finally, at the end of the film, after these plans fall apart, he embraces the freaks and the weirdos, and, more importantly, his family. He accepts that he’ll never be the great, grand, legitimate entertainer that he wants to be.

Instead, he focuses on raising his children, as his name remains forever attached to a circus.

Talk about an obvious metaphor for Hugh Jackman’s life!

(Jackman, by the way, was the instigator of the project – it was his idea to attempt to sanitize PT Barnum’s life for the big screen, and he was the driving force behind the movie and its story.)

Never Enough

I can feel for this guy. He’s clearly struggling with the challenge of moving on from Wolverine, and his desperate attempts to finally win the approval of the Motion Picture Academy. At the same time, he seems to be worrying about the amount of time he’s spending away from his family, and he’s not sure whether his efforts to gain greater glory are worthwhile.

In the movie, a character sings a song about how all the spotlights in the world will never be enough. There’s a deep, empty hole within every entertainer that can never be filled. This life is apparently very addictive.

I think it’ll be interesting to see what Jackman does next. I think we’ll see a little less of him over the next few years, even as he occasionally pops up for an Oscarbait film as and when he pleases.

It’s not often you get to see an actor’s mid-life crisis play out in a feature length musical. I only hope that Jackman isn’t suffering too much as he watches Ryan Reynolds soak up the limelight this week in the wake of “Deadpool 2”.