3 Stars – Redemptive
Fame creates an image bigger than life and often far from the truth. Even if you knew the real story behind the mask, fame has a way of seducing the voyeuristic public into an emotional state where they want to believe the make-believe caricature rather than the truth. Real life is so much more boring than the fantasy life.
Rocketman is the early backstory of Elton John (played by Taron Egerton), one of the most prolific musical performers of the last half century. His rock music career skyrocketed right from the beginning in the 1960’s and he is still one of the richest musical performers in the world with sold-out concerts on a global scale. His performance of “Candle in the Wind” at the funeral of the late Princess Diana in 1997 made him a superstar to a world outside of music.
On the scale of creativity, Rocketman is a triumph on multiple levels. This story begins by focusing on his life as a child when he was still Reginald Kenneth Dwight (born Mar 25, 1947, Pinner, Middlesex, England). Told in the form of a musical, we hear his entire family tell his story in song. The raw reality of his upbringing exposes the complete lack of love he experienced as a child, with the one exception being his grandmother. He is a musical prodigy from his childhood forward.
He longed for his father’s affection and was disgusted by his mother’s narcissism and infidelity. Throughout the story, which takes us up through the 1980’s, his rise in personal fame and his decline into the world of a drug and alcohol-induced despair are shaped by his sense of being alone with no one to ever love him for who is really is. The core of Rocketman is focused on his drive to survive in a love-starved world. This story of fame and isolation is a common one (think of Michael Jackson), but this tale has a happier ending as far as the movie goes.
Key to his success was his fifty-year collaboration with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). In 1967, young “Reggie” Dwight answered an advertisement in a British magazine for a musical tryout. When he admitted that he didn’t write songs, the agent gave Dwight an unopened envelope of lyrics written by Taupin who had answered the same ad. Dwight wrote music for the lyrics, and then mailed them to Taupin beginning a partnership that still continues to this day. Reggie, who changed his name to Elton John in 1972, admitted that all of his hits since the beginning, from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” to “Candle In The Wind” were poetic masterpieces from Taupin. The bond of Elton and Bernie is a deep love for music as well as for each other that gave Elton a level of redemption that he had always sought. Today, their collaboration is long- distance, with Elton remaining in England and Bernie living on a ranch in Santa Ynez, California near Santa Barbara.
Elton’s story begins and ends as a tale told in a Recovery Group when he decides to come clean about his addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, fame, and just about anything else. What we witness is a far more sympathetic understanding of the pain that he carried throughout much of his life. The story engenders a deep sense of empathy and ends 28 years ago when he became sober.
While the film does not explore the next half century of his life, we are left with a profound sense of sadness for the thousands, if not millions, of people who never had a loving childhood, and are walking around today with a façade or veneer of being okay. Beneath the surface there is a longing for acceptance and love that most of us cannot see. We are living in “a culture in the depths of despair”, as New York Times writer David Brooks puts it. It reminds us that we need to over-invest in building relationships with others in a way that offers an alternative in order to build hope which explodes in generous reciprocation.
The pain of many artists fuels their genius. How has your pain been an influence on your own creativity and life?
Fame is said to be a “dead-end cycle” leading to loneliness and isolation. Why do you think so many people long for it then? Do you long for fame? If so where does that motivation come from within you?
Recovery from addiction requires a community of people who walk with us both into sobriety as well as continuing in that path. Why do you think that is true?