Memory can be a tricky thing; sometimes we choose to remember; other times it’s just easier to file it away in the corners of our mind. Yet, through it all, the songs that accompanied the moments seem to be there as a reminder—whether we want it or not. Rocketman is more than just another biopic; it captures memory in a winding wrap of fantasy and introspection that holds music for dear life.
It’s hard not to watch Rocketman without finding your personal storylines somewhere interwoven in Elton John’s journey to music icon. Addiction, family issues, broken romances, lack of confidence, loss of control, loneliness—pick your special poison. The very open acknowledgment of this and so much more leaves everyone in the audience thinking about their wounds; both self-inflicted and caused by others. That connection seamlessly reaches viewers in such a way that this becomes more than his story; it’s our own as well.
You may have not experienced the ravages of drug addiction, but you’ve felt the longing and inevitable pangs of hunger for something; the search for something to hide the pain or the sadness just for one moment outweighs even the noblest of intentions. As he meets with the support group that frames the film, the revelations are true and deep. It is a catharsis and therapy that holds such magnetism to the songs we’ve heard a million times and will indulge in a million more.
There’s no mistaking the breaking down of the myth and the revelation of the man as he carefully removes the devilish costume; each piece deconstructed with the careful details of a life lived to excess, even disaster. The devil and the character itself is far from the child, far from the person he wanted to be, but has become. It speaks to the dreams we chase with such abandon that we damn the consequences. Would you have it all if it came with such a price? For so many, they would answer yes without thought; after all, only fame matters. Or does it? Not really at the end of circumspection. The thought is one John reaches as he progress continues and he finally forgives what could have been, what was, and what is—embracing the innocence of Reggie Dwight and coming to terms with Elton John.
What a humbling, but human, moment as the musician—fresh from years of touring and worldwide adulation—is humbled by mopping the floors as treatment. It pulls back the “curtain” and shows every viewer that there are no barriers between their demons and his struggle. Somehow, people find it easier to make some sort of device that takes the human out of the star. Instead, there is nothing more human than the loss of your privacy and anonymity signed in blood with a contract that can last a lifetime. The demons come with every life lived, and each moment spent; no one is better than the other, only different-crippled only by the fears, desires, and problems that linger under the skin. Pure burdens are what bring us all together, janitor or rock star; it’s a human condition.
Like any good (or bad) memory, we lose our way, replace the facts, heighten the emotions, and get the details jumbled in an attempt to bring them to the surface. Unlike some other contenders in the musical biopic category, this story is Elton’s alone; most of the film is spent in his recollections of the past. That simple element not only opens the film up for a truth serum, it also gives the entire canvas license to play at will.
Some of the film’s memorable sequences not only reveal details and important moments, but they also do so with complete fantasy. The playground of shots and visuals are a testament to director Dexter Fletcher’s vision for the film; this is a minefield of potential errors, but he lets the dreams and delusions expand, instead of tamping them down. It is frenetic and fast-paced, full of true sound and fury like any vivid memory often is—everything true fantasy allows.
One of the most haunting and beautiful visuals, in a movie full of them, is Elton’s descent into the depths of his swimming pool. Fresh off his pronouncement of a suicide attempt, sinking into crystal clear blue waters leaves you with a sensation of drowning yourself among his sorrows. All the while, one of his most famous songs and the film’s namesake Rocketman beginning its famous notes. The underwater sequence, complete with young Reggie Dwight and numerous party attendees gives off an otherworldly aura that could be akin to someone in the throes of their final moments. Once rescued, the song carries on next to the frightening reality playing out; including Elton’s fanciful take on having his stomach pumped at the hospital.
Not to be outdone by his rescue, the film litters its fantasies throughout. At the Troubadour, newcomer Elton and songwriter Bernie are exposed to their first taste of music’s revolving door between reality and fiction. In Elton’s memory, he and the crowd are flying above ground with a buzz that only comes from those organic moments. Of course, that’s only one side of the music industry, the other shows itself as the gleam starts wearing away.
In a quick juxtaposition, Elton and Bernie are whisked away to Mama Cass’ house for a party; it creates one of the arguably “realistic” fantasy sequences of the film. What’s real among all of the party can be solely given to the imagination. Left alone, he wanders the party while singing the memorable Tiny Dancer as his friend spends the night with a woman he met. In one of the film’s lingering themes, he’s left alone again and quite vulnerable to whatever “wolves” might be lurking. What a wolf indeed as Elton encounters John Reid and has a one-night stand that turns into much more. There’s something to be said that this person who would both help and harm the musician would truly be introduced in such a setting, fire and flames as romantic liaisons and shadowed images play against white backdrops.
The Bennie and the Jets sequence is when the song and fantasy crash into one another. As he pushes himself further and those around him want more than he can ever give, the temptations and the exhaustion play out among the club like crowd. Everything is hitting a fever pitch in his life; you know that he has not only hit the wall but crashed through it. Whether you’ve hit that “wall” in your own life is unimportant, because we’ve all faced some wall or another with varying consequences. For Elton, that proverbially push only sent him further down the rabbit hole.
It’s interesting to note among all the fantasies, he winds up with a truth just as it was lived. Elton breezes through the I’m Still Standing video in a perfect recreation featuring the addition of John’s cinematic stand-in, actor Taron Egerton. The punctuation of surviving against the odds, the loneliness, the doubters, is far removed from what people face every day; just on smaller scales. They don’t cover the front pages of blogs or news reports, their pains will never be part of the interviewer’s questions. Still, we have our definitions of what it means to survive. Music star or man alike, there’s a symmetry in the sameness. Something is hidden in the recollections and fantasies that transpire in all of our memories.
Rocketman speaks not only to a career full of ups and down; it reveals something about the memories we all keep. It’s a testament to the film that flies above cliches and rose-colored recollections to show us all that we’re all still standing. Much more than a biopic, therapy gifted in the classics that signify one hell of a lifetime.