“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Robert F. Kennedy
Many clients enter therapy because they have experienced a significant failure or rejection. Job loss and breakups are among the most difficult blows and can trigger a level of emotional pain so intense it becomes physical. But failure and rejection are also moments of opportunity. Director John Carney’s inspiring 2014 film Begin Again is a study in what happens when two people in tremendous pain — one having been dumped by a boyfriend rocketing to stardom and one having lost his professional groove, his job and his family — have a chance encounter and decide to create music together. Their unlikely friendship and spontaneous collaboration guide them through a mutual healing process.
This film is such a testament to music that some of its most riveting scenes take place when characters communicate without words. Early in the film, the soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) plays a new song he has written while Greta (Keira Knightley) listens. The couple communicate more than words ever could through their subtle but heartfelt facial expressions. The ballad plays in the background, and Greta knows, through the silent glances they share, that Dave’s newfound fame has torn them apart.
Later that evening, Greta sings tearfully in a bar and down-and-out, unemployed Dan (Mark Ruffalo) hears Greta’s song. Greta’s music sparks Dan’s long-lost inspiration. His silent but animated reaction to her song is transformational and aesthetically glorious.
Greta and Dan collaborate to create music that they believe in rather than music that is packaged to sell. Finding meaningful work turns out to be incredibly therapeutic. Along the way, Dan reconnects with his daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), and mends other broken fences to reclaim his professional ground and his personal connections.
Begin Again is a testament to finding opportunities for growth in the face of loss. It is also demonstrates that those who are passionate about their work have a wonderful outlet, especially in the face of adversity. Perhaps the most appealing element of this inspiring film is that its lyrical, heartfelt music that defies today’s cookie-cutter, market-driven ethos is also reflected in a plot that refuses gratuitous solutions or easily packaged happily-ever-after endings. It favors, instead, the messages that daring to fail often leads to achievment and that music can often communicate much more than any words.
If you have experienced a painful breakup or a professional set back — especially if you respond to the language of music — watching Begin Again (now available on demand) could kick-start your healing process. Music fans will get a kick out of Mos Def’s convincing role as Dan’s estranged business parter, and CeeLo’s delightful autobiographical performance!