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Blinded by the Light ••••1/2

Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Screenplay: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha
Comedy/Drama/Music, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: August 16, 2019

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, don’t look now but it’s time to see the light and review the next movie.


Well I don’t feel the need to review with you – you’re not The Boss of me. Let’s recap…


It’s 1987 and we meet a high school student of Pakistani descent named Javed (Viveik Kalra). Javed dreams of becoming a writer but no one seems interested in his work. He is also bullied at school for not being a native Englander. Javed’s father (Kulvinder Ghir) is laid off from his job and the family now expects Javed to work menial jobs to support the family.


Javed is supported by his best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) who wants him to write lyrics for his band. And a teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) who sees Javed’s innate talent. And as Hollywood stories are wont, Javed pines for the affections of Eliza (Nell Williams) – a girl in his writing class. One day, as Javed is tripping through the halls of high school, he bumps into a young Sikh named Roops, knocking Roops’ cassette of “Born to Run” onto the floor. Roops gives Javed the tape telling him “The Boss speaks for us”. And thus begins Javed’s indoctrination into an American artist who speaks to a Pakastani kid in the suburbs of London, England.


Greg, the countercultural movement of the 1960s taught us that music has the power to change the world. Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, and many other musicians proved this to be true, and the generation of artists that followed – including Bruce Springsteen – also heeded the call. We’ve talked a lot about heroic transformation here at Reel Heroes, but only occasionally are musicians given credit for playing the archetypal role of change-agents. We get glimpses of their impact in films such as Jersey Boys and Rocketman. Now we have Blinded by the Light, a wonderful movie showcasing the transformative impact of the Boss on the life of a young Pakistani teenager.

Who knew that a singer from a small town in North America could change the life of an Asian kid living in Europe? If nothing else, Blinded by the Light teaches us that music has a universal healing property. Our hero Javed is truly hurting. He is bullied by bigots in his small English town. He is trying to find his voice as a writer but no one seems interested in his work. His father becomes unemployed and expects Javed to give up his dreams of writing to make money for the family. Javed’s life is in the pits until one day a friend urges him to listen to cassette tapes of Springsteen music.

Hearing The Boss’s music for the first time is the big turning point in Javed’s life. His head and heart are now filled with song lyrics about badlands, tenuous dreams, feeling pain and doing something with it. Life is about being born to run. These lyrics are now Javed’s life compass. No longer alone in the world, he has a roadmap for transforming his pain and fulfilling his dreams as a writer. The metamorphosis of our hero in this movie is powerful.

I’m currently writing an article entitled, The Hero’s Consciousness, in which I argue that heroes do not see the world in binary terms such as “right vs. wrong” and “us vs. them”. Rather than operating with dualistic consciousness, heroes see the world in broader, deeper terms, going beyond binaries to find third-force solutions to problems. Javed does exactly this. Rather than framing his life choice as either giving in to his father or striking out alone as a writer, Javed senses heroically that he can find a third solution that allows him to remain loyal to his family without abandoning his own life dreams. “Nobody wins unless everybody wins,” he quotes Bruce. I can’t think of a better message for a story to convey to us.


This film is based on the true-life events of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor. It’s a wonderfully directed and filmed movie. I was very taken with the scenes where Javed first experiences the mind-opening lyrics of The Boss. The outdoor walls Javed runs and dances past are illuminated with film shots of New Jersey as the lyrics float and wrap around Javed’s head. I was reminded many times of the dancing scenes from 1984’s Footloose. In some ways, this is a by-the-numbers coming of age story of a young man growing up and away from his family – complete with an on-stage confession of truths to late-arriving parents in the audience.

However, despite all the joy and glee of the ending of this film, there is a darker message present. One that was, perhaps, not intended. Javed wins a contest which includes a trip to New Jersey were he and Roops visit all the landmarks of Bruce Springsteen’s early life. At the terminal gate, a guard stops Javed and demands to know his business in the United States. Javed proudly proclaims – “I’m here to see the birthplace of Bruce Springsteen.” The guard alerts his comrade across the aisle that these two Asian boys want to see New Jersey. The man abruptly stamps Javed’s passport and looks him dead in the eye and says “Son, I can’t think of a better reason to enter the United States than to visit the home of The Boss. Welcome to America.”

In the current political climate, where our government and many of our people want to impose some flavor of a Muslim ban, it was simultaneously nostalgic and heart-wrenching to see this genuine welcome of an American to a Muslim. It seems out of place today. I suddenly wanted to go back to 1987 – to a simpler time, perhaps where we were a little greater than we are today.

I was also a little confused about the timelines. I remember Bruce Springsteen being very popular in the United States of 1987. There is a constant murmur from ancillary characters about how The Boss was “your father’s music.” But I distinctly remember a young Courtney Cox being pulled on-stage in a 1984 MTV music video for “Dancing in the Dark.” So, I had a lot of temporal dysphoria during this film.


Blinded by the Light is a well-crafted and inspiring story about a teenage boy’s struggle with race, class, and family issues. Javed needs a hero desperately, like we all do, and he finds a musical hero whose song lyrics give him hope, determination, and wisdom about how to deal with the pain of broken dreams. Although I’m not a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, I found myself cheering for Javed and appreciating The Boss’s tremendously positive influence on him. Blinded by the Light is a wonderful story and movie, and I give it the full 5 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey here is powerful and contains all the classic elements that we are drawn to for wisdom and inspiration. Javed is immersed in a dangerous world that conspires against his dream of becoming a writer. He receives help, first from Roops who introduces him to Springsteen’s genius, and then from his teacher Ms. Clay who encourages Javed to get his work out into the public eye. Javed is transformed by his experiences and is able to balance his career with family obligations. This is all great stuff. Javed deserves 5 Hero points out of 5.

The messages of this film can all be found in Bruce Springsteen song lyrics, which focus on all the myriad problems (and solutions) encountered during the classic hero’s journey. Blinded by the Light teaches us that life is hard but that help is available from multiple sources – from our teachers, our friends, our family members, and maybe most of us, from musical artists who have also experienced pain and have the courage to share their journeys through music. As I’ve mentioned, I absolutely LOVE the solution that Javed came up with at the end of the movie, a solution demonstrating that it is possible to live one’s dreams without abandoning family obligations. Nobody wins unless everybody wins, indeed. I give these Bossy messages 5 Message points out of 5.

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Blinded by the Light is an optimistic view of the past as seen through the eyes of a young Pakistani man. It’s one-part coming-of-age and one-part musical. Like last month’s Yesterday the film is fueled by the power of a musician’s music and lyrics. I felt the story was a bit simplistic and formulaic, but sometimes that’s all you need for an enjoyable film. I give Blinded by the Light 4 out of 5 Reels.

Javed goes on a wonderful hero’s journey where he is being held back by racism and family responsibilities and customs. Like others before him, he finds solace and strength in music. He is also guided by mentors (Roops, Ms. Clay, and WW II veteran Mr. Evans [David Hayman]). Javed deserves 5 Hero points out of 5.

This is a simple message – to overcome against all odds. Or to be true to oneself. But the reminders of race hatred marked echoed today’s headlines. It’s hard for me to rate the intended message since this subtle reminder left me walking away lamenting the fact that it took an immigrant to the United States to remind me of our core values. So, for its unintended message, I’ll give Blinded by the Light 5 out of 5 Message points.

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