It was a dreary Saturday night, my husband didn’t feel well and had gone to bed early. Tuning into that 70’s classic with a young, slim John Travolta as Tony and the iconic BeeGees’ soundtrack seemed the perfect antidote to winter blues.
From the first scene with Tony striding down the Brooklyn street with open neck shirt and tight polyester pants to flashing disco lights in the neighborhood dance club, it was a trip back in time. It’s tempting see the lives of the young men and women as being small. How important was it really to win a dance contest or recklessly dance on the great Verrazano Bridge?
In the film Tony’s older brother Frank was the family’s success story. He’d made his Italian Catholic family proud by becoming a priest. Yet in the movie Frank decides to leave the priesthood. Tony is incredulous, “I thought you believed.”
His brother’s response is profound, “I believed in my parent’s fantasy of my being a priest.”
The essence of the story is about Tony’s growing awareness that there is a bigger world beyond his and that maybe that’s where he wants to play.
Both young men are caught in traps that we can face when we aspire to be all we can be, to live large.
Frank was living someone else’s dream, not his own. It was his parent’s dream, but it could have been a coach, mentor or a cultural expectation. For Tony, he was caught by being great in small ways – what my mother called majoring in minors.
We can appreciate how scared and uncertain he must have felt – Do I have what it takes? Is it worth the risk of leaving where I am now? After all Tony was the guy – admired by his buddies, sought after by the girls and indeed the hero and hottest thing on the dance floor.
In the closing scene, we see Tony sitting in the window of the Manhattan apartment of the girl from his neighborhood. He’s telling her (and probably himself) that he can come to Manhattan – a psychological world away from his Brooklyn neighborhood. He can find an opportunity. He can do something more.
We don’t know if Tony actually makes the leap. It’s easy to see the hurdles he will face, but we cheer for him.
I’m cheering for all of us to live our own dreams for our lives and to move to our own symbolic Manhattan!
What is your Manhattan? I’d love to hear…
Until next Tuesday,