Despondent over his strict father losing his job, which will seemingly forever trap him in a backwater town and kill his dream of becoming a writer, Javed pulls down poems he’s tacked to his bedroom wall and takes them outside to throw them away.
But the papers get swept up in a strong wind, circling -- like a cyclone -- around the housing project as Javid pushes play on a Sony Walkman. From within comes Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”
As the lyrics literally swirl around his head on the screen, Javed finds that Springsteen’s words and anthemic music speaking to and for him -- a 16-year-old Pakistani boy in Dury Park in the English town of Luton -- and providing him life-changing inspiration.
That’s the key scene in “Blinded by the Light,” a movie that’s based on the memoir of English journalist Sarfraz Manzoor.
It teems with specifics of England in the 1980s -- Thatcherism, racism, and haircuts inspired by Flock of Seagulls -- and of life in his very traditional family, but “Blinded By The Light” conveys a far broader insight.
It’s the best cinematic portrayal of the power of music to uplift and inspire I’ve seen. It's a knowing view of how specific songs or artists connect with and, for good or ill, inspire young people.
As illustrated by the cross-Atlantic nature of Springsteen’s New Jersey-rooted music in England and the cross-cultural difference between his distinctly American rock and the family’s traditional Pakistani music, songs that inspire know few boundaries.
American bluesmen and early rock ‘n’ rollers proved that with a generation of English kids back in the late 1950s and early ’60s. A few years later, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Cream etc. returned the favor by leading the fabled British Invasion.
Western rock ‘n’ roll aided a generation in the liberation of Eastern Europe from Soviet Communism -- Czech leader Vaclav Havel famously told the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed “Did you know that I am president because of you?”
As key as that was in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia, transcendent musical inspiration is even more important for individuals, where ever they are -- which “Blinded by the Light’ vividly illustrates for two entertaining hours.
Javed (superbly played by newcomer Viveik Kaira) is first seen as a boy, an aspiring writer who desperately wants to get out of Luton and go to London.
Fast forward a decade and he’s a poetry-writing teen who provides (bad) lyrics for a band led by a friend who believes that synths are the musical future.
On his first day at a new school, Javed literally bumps into Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh student who is listening to “The Boss,” on his Walkman. Springsteen’s music, Roops later says, provides the map out of the dead end they believe is Luton.
Roops gives Javed a pair of cassettes -- “Born in the USA” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” But Javed, who sees everything in his life go wrong, doesn’t pop in a tape until his father (Kulvinder Ghir) is laid off at the auto plant where’s he worked for 16 years.
Captivated by the songs, Javed begins to live his life through Springsteen, plastering the walls of his room with posters and album covers, dressing like Bruce, and using his lyrics as motivation to, among other things, confront racists in a fast-food shop and find the courage to kiss a girl.
The lyrics floating around the screen -- which only happens a couple times -- don’t pull the viewer out of the movie. Instead, those little injections of cinematic magic convey the music connecting with Javed, bringing a non-visual internal process to the screen.
By the time Javed, Roops and Eliza (Nell Williams) are running and dancing out of the school and through the streets of Luton to “Born To Run,’ the segments of musical magical realism make perfect sense.
“Blinded by the Light” is directed and co-written by Gordina Chadar, who like Manzoor is an English Asian who is a Springsteen fanatic. She got together with Manzoor after reading his writing about Springsteen and they came up with the idea of making a movie of his memoir.
Getting permission to use Springsteen’s music was critical. So was writing a script that Bruce would approve. A thumbs up on both from Springsteen set the movie in motion.
“Blinded By The Light” is Gorinda’s best picture since 2002’s “Bend It Like Beckham,” a lived-in feel-good, film that breezes past any cliched characters and plot elements -- e.g., the encouraging teacher who pushes Javed to be a writer or his rebellion against his father -- to become inspirational and uplifting.
In important ways, “Blinded by the Light” is a period piece. Critically, Springsteen’s “dad rock” -- a designation that kinda turns up in the script set 30 years ago -- isn’t likely to be inspiring many teenagers today.
However, there are modern-day artists whose music is doing just that, be it fellow teen Billie Eilish, Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Jamey Johnson or Jack White.
Those are all names that have been recently dropped to me as inspirations by today's teens and early 20-somethings -- and there are dozens of other artists who will connect with the next generation.
Those youthful connections, in some measure, explain why many become stuck in the music they grew up with as they age into their 30s, 40s and beyond.
But (here’s where Springsteen still applies), musical inspiration can endure. It likely isn’t as literal as it may have been decades ago when teen angst was symbolized by anti-authoritarian rage and a black T-shirted uniform that we identified with the punk era.
Appropriately, the middle-aged banker now masks his past with a suit and power tie -- symbols that his anti-authoritarian rage has ironically matured into a position of importance and authority.
However, the underlying inspiration can go on indefinitely -- as Jerry Lee Lewis sang 40 years ago “Rockin’ My Life Away.”
“Blinded by the Light” shows how and why that happened for the fictional Javed, by extension, Manzoor, and, on its broadest reading, all of us -- perfectly illustrating the unique power of music to inspire and change lives.