I love movies that teach life lessons. Al Pacino’s new film, Danny Collins is just that kind of movie…great acting, very entertaining and if you’re attuned…a great message. It’s one of those “what could have been” movies. If only Danny Collins would have seen a letter from John Lennon, written to him forty years ago, what could have been. In reality Danny Collins is everyman. I won’t give up what happened in the movie but let’s say Danny Collin’s career may have turned out differently.
He may have used his creativity to write and perform original songs rather than covering other artists after his early success. His whole career was about following the money rather than following his bliss.
Hollywood has never been kind to dentistry. I remember scenes from Little Shop of Horrors, Marathon Man, and Leaving Las Vegas that didn’t shine a positive light on dentistry. Danny Collins stays true to form. The aging Collins as a burned out singer tries for redemption by finding his only son to make amends. He winds up staying in a Hilton Inn in New Jersey. When his Mercedes pulls up there is a lone display that highlights the week’s big event: a meeting of the New Jersey Dental Professionals.
Now, I try not to be cynical but I believe there are no accidents, and the director specifically used dentists as a metaphor for lost dreams. I guess to those in Hollywood dentistry isn’t an exciting profession (my apologies to Bill Dorfman).
Let’s not kid ourselves, dentistry usually is a default vocation. I for one told myself the reasons I chose dentistry…but I made them up. Friends would always mock me, “are you going to spend your whole life putting your hands in people’s mouths?”
I would always answer it’s better than being a proctologist, besides the money is good and you can make your own hours.
So what does all of this have to do with creativity? Dentists aren’t folk singers. No, but Danny Collins was more about creating a career and creating a life than it is about creating hits, and that’s what we all share.
The movie makes the point that making a lot of money isn’t the key to happiness. He burned out early, all the while making a fortune while abandoning his passions and ignoring the traits that people usually use to describe someone at their funerals…like compassion, empathy and kindness…the issues of character.
In my own career…the early years were my burn-out years. Dentistry was just a job. Later on when my mentors showed me the light, I created a career, that’s what saved me. Now, at the end of my career I am discovering my calling…writing and teaching.
But I came of age when it was much easier to create a career in dentistry. I regained my autonomy by attempting to master the art and science of dentistry. That alone made me more passionate and helped me to sustain the career.
These days it’s harder. Young dentists, with their outrageous school loans must subjugate their autonomy to other forces.
This has become my pet peeve because the world of work is so important to a person’s success and happines, regardless of whether they are a rock singer or a dentist.
Today young dentists are graduating and joining dental service organizations and working in corporate dentistry. They are promised the autonomy, but end up singing other people’s songs.
I am sure you have heard the warning by so many philosophers through the ages…”don’t die with the music still inside of you.”