'Tick, Tick...Boom!': Behind the scenes of the creative process


Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson in "Tick, Tick...Boom!" Macall Polay/Netflix via AP.

This article, based on the film “Tick, Tick...Boom!,” explores the fear of the clock during the creation of something new and revolutionary.


Tick...tick...tick...tick...


You probably have been in a room where a mechanical clock is just too loud, where your brain only focuses on that tick...tick...tick.


Your entire body is filled with anxiety and pressure just because of a tiny clock hand. You feel like you are being compressed with the tempo—just like you are a plastic bottle being crushed by a car in slow motion.


It sounds almost scary, but that’s the exact picture that the meta-musical “Tick, Tick...Boom!,” directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, wants to paint.


“Tick, Tick...Boom!” is an urgent narrative of an artist who could portray beauty from the most chaotic realities in his poor and messy world. Jonathan Larson, played by Andrew Garfield, is a big name. The movie, released in November 2021, is based on the real Larson’s autobiographical musical that focuses on his turning 30 in 1990—the most turbulent moments of his life as a friend, composer, boyfriend, and most of all, unstable creative creature.


"Superbia" is the sci-fi-musical that Larson's been putting his soul and brain into for eight years. With his talent for promoting symbolic narratives, Lin-Manuel Miranda gives the audience the dichotomy between this painful but worthy musical and Jonathan’s voice: loud, human, emergent and lost.


Throughout the movie, we can notice some nuances that show anxiety as Larson’s source of a creative process of building a new and revolutionary musical that can put him on a divine pedestal.


Andrew Garfield faces his role as a person who is obsessively passionate about the art of music (which is seen in the song “Boho Days”), but who is also extremely inconsistent with his own innovations and attitudes (as in the song “Johnny Can’t Decide").


This peculiar experiment of highs and lows promotes to the viewer the constant frustration in contrast with the seeking for perfection in pioneering—two main themes of the movie. “Tick...Tick...Boom!” can therefore be interpreted as a representation of a battlefield present in every creative mind, in which marvelous innovation—impossible to reach—fights against the reality: disappointment.


The issue is that the mediator between those opponents is the human being that carries with him the pressure of rushing out of time.


Larson is this carrier. He suffers, for example, to find the balance between his appreciation for his musical and his lover Susan, played by Alexandra Shipp—an artistic person who also pursues her wild dreams.


It’s evident that Larson doesn’t know how to be away from his own obsession with his fame through "Superbia." Consequently, his relationship is progressively destroyed by this rush of becoming the best composer of all time before turning 30—once again, his anxiety’s source is the hurried clock that fuels his creative machine.


Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

There’s a remarkable scene in the film that shows Larson desperately swimming in a pool after one of his biggest burnouts while facing a blank sheet, lacking any revolution. The photography and the cinematography are the keys to providing the feeling of race and Larson’s fear of dealing with his personal insecurities.


While he is swimming, the soundtrack tells us about his constant conflict in trying to give an answer to his unsolved questions, with “15! Can I make it to 40?”/“Come to your senses? I’m soaring!” The scene portrays a picture of someone who has been drowning in his deep anxious mind that can only create expectations without outcomes.


It’s insanely contradictory to think that a creative brain is led by previously calculated thoughts. Where is the freedom of creating something genuinely new? Is that even real in our human system? How can something involving imagination and abstract ideas be part of systematic logic?


The movie forces us to ask those desperate questions to put us in Jonathan Larson’s shoes. No, he wasn’t a crazy, young man who couldn’t write a song for his mystical musical. He was an unstoppable creative being who had an incredible fear of the clock. That’s all.


Time. Maybe this is the central theme of this timeless masterpiece.


Indeed, human history has always been dictated by the clock—in the concrete sense or in the abstract one. Going back to the Industrial Revolution period, a time when innovations were the base of evolution, we can see it clearly. During that era, time measurements became more influential in the daily activities of the working class. The scale of productivity started being measured by precise time. Workers were puppets manipulated by the clock, whose lives were controlled by their boss, both inside and outside the factory.


Today, we still can see a strict line that connects us to this scenario of dependence upon time, as we are constantly, especially in the cybernetic context of the internet, overthinking the concept of being the creator of the new.


Being a part of a creative journey can lead us to beautiful places of authenticity, but seeking constant productive creativity can sink our brains to the bottom of a deep swimming pool. Larson invites us to search for that elusive balance with him as we continue to create and live our lives.


Tick...tick...tick...tick...


Something is constantly about to explode...


BOOM!