Who’s the Biggest Villain in ‘Rocketman’?
The new movie Rocketman centers on Elton John's search for love, but the three people to whom he frequently turns -- his mother, father and boyfriend and manager John Reid -- repeatedly reject him, sending the rock star into a cycle of self-destructive excess. But who's the biggest villain of the three?
Rocketman opens with John in rehab talking about his childhood. He begins with the opening line of "The Bitch Is Back" -- "I was justified when I was five" -- and the setting soon changes to Pinner, England, in the early '50s, where Reggie Dwight is singing and dancing to the 1974 hit with his neighbors. But then we see his mother for the first time, putting an end to the fun by shouting his name.
It's possible that the song -- reportedly inspired by something Bernie Taupin's wife said about John -- is a deliberate comment on Sheila Eileen Harris Dwight Farebrother, because she's not portrayed in the best of lights. On the one hand, she's trying to raise a child virtually on her own, with her husband often away for work. And when he is home, she resents his presence, eventually leading to her affair with Fred Farebrother and John's father moving out.
On the other hand, she's too self-absorbed to give her son the nurturing, maternal love he needs. While she enjoys the idea of him being able to play the piano, she's unwilling to take him to audition for a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.
This continues into adulthood. When John finally comes out to her, she says she's always known he was gay and is fine with it, but nonetheless sticks the dagger in by saying that, as a gay man, he was "choosing a life of being alone forever." Later, as John is further consumed by his addictions, she and Fred, who have since married, tell him that they're moving to Spain in order to escape the spotlight that his decadent lifestyle has placed on them. Finally, she adds that John was responsible for the breakup of her marriage to his father.
As mentioned above, Stanley Dwight is depicted in Rocketman as being frequently absent because of his job in the Royal Air Force. When he is home, he's a tough disciplinarian, chastising young Reggie for looking through his mother's fashion magazine, touching his extensive collection of jazz records and fingering piano scales on the dining-room table. He's also either unwilling or incapable of displaying any affection toward his only child. His teenage son feels further rejection when he sees his father walking out of the house for the last time.
Their strained relationship continued well into adulthood, when Reggie, now the rock star known as Elton John, visits his father, who has since started a new family. Even though his two young sons are happy to see him, Stanley has little interest in John's life and career, and when he asks his son to an autograph an album, he tells John it's for a coworker, who's a big fan.
Neglected by both parents, the Rocketman version of Elton John thinks he's found love in the form of John Reid, a charming and charismatic Scot who sees John's breakout show at the Troubadour, chats him up at a party at Cass Elliott's house afterward and subsequently makes love to him. The way in which John's rise to fame runs parallel to his the blossoming of his relationship with Reid is depicted in a montage, as they duet on "Honky Cat." Reid eventually becomes his boyfriend's manager.
But it doesn't last, and Rocketman eventually shows just how much control Reid had over John, even though the singer-songwriter was the one making all the money. In 1975, John catches Reid receiving oral sex from a young man in John's Los Angeles backyard and breaks off their personal relationship, though Reid remains in charge of John's business affairs. In real life, Reid was professionally tied to John until the late '90s.
Reid further exerted his power by trying to prevent John from coming out to his mother while en route to a show at the Royal Albert Hall. After the phone call, Reid slaps John. During another fight, Reid smugly tells John that he'll "still be collecting [his] 20 percent long after [John has] killed [himself]."