Rocketman: The Journey of Accepting Who You Are
Accepting who you are sounds so simple, but that’s not many people’s experience. Rocketman, the recent film of the life of singer Elton John illustrates this powerfully.
Rocketman is the story of a man who is very unusual in some ways. As the movie shows us, he is also a very vulnerable man. Basically, the whole film turns around the question of whether Elton John (born Reginald Dwight) is able to accept himself, have compassion for himself, and stop being so paralyzed by the opinions of others. In this respect, even though Elton John cuts an unusual and at times even bizarre figure — he has a great deal in common with us.
It’s clear from very early on in the story that young Reginald / Elton is really going to get very little from his family of origin. His father seems incredibly cold, while his mother is portrayed as deeply narcissistic. The only supportive person seems to be his grandmother — and she is the one who figures out that her grandson is a piano prodigy.
The Problem of the Public Self
As the story progresses, we gradually see that young Reginald Dwight realizes that there is no acceptance of who he really is in his family of origin. The way he copes with this is the way that many of us do: by developing an outer mask to present to the world that hides the pain. In Reginald / Elton’s case, this mask gradually takes on the form of the outrageous, bombastic, manic piano man: Elton John. On stage he has an unstoppable Dionysian energy — but away from the adoring crowds, an appalling loneliness.
It’s clear that the outer presentation is not just a complete counterfeit. There is a lot of the inner Reginald Dwight that wanted to be accepted and loved; those parts shine through in the defiance embodied in the outer presentation. The persona presents itself in a ferocious “couldn’t care less” way on stage, alongside an unspoken but insatiable demand: love me. But despite his enormous stage presence, and his ability to sweep people up in his music, love eludes him. He is surrounded by artificiality, superficiality, and, frequently, just gets used by others.
When the Mask Gets Too Painful
As is often the case in real life, the film conveys the sense that people looking at the formidable Elton John persona often seem to have no idea of how much difficulty the inner person is confronting. In Elton John’s case, this suffering inner person is further masked by numerous addictions, and by a blinding, breakneck schedule. The inner Elton John is confronting tremendous inner pain, but the world would never know it. In fact, Taron Egerton, who plays Elton, does a masterful job of conveying the sense that he does not know himself how much agony and depression he really carries.
Ultimately, however, we start to see that the pain is intolerable. John’s behaviour becomes more and more self-destructive. There is a battle raging between an enormous need to hide his vulnerability from the world, and a desperate need to acknowledge his own pain, and be affirmed for who he most fundamentally is — by both himself and others. Tensions of these kinds are often found at the heart of an individual’s journey toward wholeness.
Accepting the Exile
Finally, something happens that breaks the tension, and Reginald / Elton embarks on a course of action that is best seen as the action of the individual’s true self. I won’t spoil it here, because it’s a visually stunning movement in the film’s progression. However, I can say that it’s a moment in the film character’s life when he finally seems to stop valuing the opinions and valuations of others over himself, and begins to connect with the pain he has experienced in the relationships in his life, and with his own desire to be loved — by himself and others.
The challenge of accepting and loving the parts of ourselves that others may have rejected, rather than despising them and disowning them ourselves is a key movement in the journey to wholeness, and often can be a central part of a major life transition.
Throughout his long therapeutic and literary career, Jung continually emphasized the importance of extending self acceptance to the parts of ourselves that we might find easy to hate and to shun, continually emphasizing the healing to be found in such places.
Depth case studies at its best continually emphasizes this process of accepting the parts in ourselves that we might find least acceptable, and finding strength in the parts of ourselves that may seem most vulnerable. As the movie Rocketman seems to affirm, accepting who you are is fundamental to finding the meaning and value of your own individual life.