Music is universal. It penetrates the barriers that we build and the barriers that are forced upon us by circumstance. Different genres may speak to various aspects of our personality and make us move our bodies. It can lift moods, feed our anger, ease pain, and lower our stress. Music can speak to us even when we don’t know the words and not only touch but heal our souls.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, feeling good- both physically and emotionally- has been a struggle. While the real heroes keep the world turning, Blinded By The Light is a feel-good movie to lift your mood. It is filled with all the bad 80s hair, clothes, and a huge mobile phone even makes a cameo. Yet it also tells the story of Javed’s (Viveik Kalra) self-discovery through the music of Bruce Springsteen.
The film shows Javed was a writer since his best friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), gifted him a notebook for his birthday at a young age. Matt was in a band and Javed wrote lyrics for the band. He wrote what he knew, which was the war, Thatcher, no money, limited entertainment, and having a complicated relationship with his father. Matt pushed him to write material that was appropriate to a band and less depressing, but Javed dreamt of more than the life he knew. He wanted money, to kiss a girl, and to get out of the city he grew up in.
Through his English teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), he realizes that his voice was being muffled and that he has a responsibility to be heard. This feeling crystalizes after He meets Roops (Aaron Phagura) at school, who befriends him and introduces Javed to the songs of Bruce Springsteen. At home, while he is feeling alone, trapped, and overwhelmed by his family’s expectations of him. In his frustrations, he grabs all his poems and heads outside to toss them all in the trash. By what seems like fate, his backpack falls over, and the Springsteen tapes fall out. As he pulls poems off the wall and tosses them outside, he listens to the cassette in his Walkman, angry that he was born in the wrong time, town, and family.
This mental fight inside Javed is shown uniquely on the screen, the struggle to choose a life laid out for him by his father versus pursuing his dreams depicted as a storm with the Great Storm of 1987 literally happening in the background. Meanwhile, Javed’s emotional conflict is reflected by the Springsteen lyrics as actual floating text. His memories and fears come across the screen as the lyrics describe what he feels and thinks. Unknowing music’s effect, while listening to Bruce Springsteen, he reaches a Jesus moment and decides to pursue his writing dream. Upon having this revelation, he quickly tries to salvage the poems that blew around in the wind.
So much of the plot is propelled by The Boss’ music and lyrics that, at times, it feels more like a musical. The cast sings and dances at the halfway point when Javed finally kisses Eliza (Nell Williams), have sex and write a proper song for Matt’s band. Roops and Javed have a run-in with some racist at the mall and react by speaking, then singing “Born To Run.” There is a Bruce song or lyric that fits every situation Javed finds himself in, be they how he feels or how he wants to react at that moment. At one point Roops and Javed play “Born To Run” on the school radio station and sing and dance around the campus. He lives by the lyrics, “you want it, you take it, you pay the price.”
Springsteen isn’t the only musical inspiration in Blinded by the Light. As payback for not telling their parents about his English girlfriend, his sister Shazia (Nikita Mehta) has Javed accompany her to a club in the morning for a daytimer. Since most Asian parents are strict about parties and dancing, clubs let them use these facilities during the daytime, allowing Shazia to wear less conservative clothes and dance with her boyfriend. Dancing helps his sister let go, and it makes her feel most like herself. Here Javed sees first hand that different music speaks to different people- Bruce to him, club music to his sister- realizing that he is not as alone as he initially thought.
The Bruce lyrics inspire Javed to write Eliza a poem, approach the school newspaper to publish his poetry and get an internship at The Herold. His race unlikely gets him a paying gig to write about the chaos at the local mosque, while His English teacher sends in one of his essays to a contest and ends up winning. Because he chose not to give up on writing, Javed can travel to New Jersey not only for the competition, but visit Bruce Springsteen’s hometown as well.
In the end, Javed reads a portion from his poem about Bruce, “American Dream In Luton.” He talks about what the songs were saying to him when he heard them and how now, going back, they are telling him something else. He doesn’t need to change who he is; he can build bridges instead of walls between differences. Lyrics say so much more than the exact words that are written, and that’s the beauty of them. They can say something to me, and it’s okay; they mean something to you. Our experiences shape us, and the music we listen to is the soundtrack. Javed’s dad eventually comes around after listening to Bruce and beautifully says to his son, “write your story. Just don’t forget ours.”
As a fan of Bruce Springsteen, I enjoyed how Blinded by the Light’s story unfolded by using music as the driving force to move its story forward. Javed discovering where he fits and his struggle with doubt and external forces were universal for all us outcasts with a tribe. Great writers are immortal and Bruce’s music as survived for decades speaking to new generations. Even I feel his music in my chest because he understands how I feel, and he is kindred. Truly, Bruce still is the Boss.