My Comrade in arms Eric Marcy has thus far been dominating the movie review scene on this blog. He has brought us through thrilling adventure, breathtaking sci-fi, and powerful drama. His stranglehold on the excitement of cutting edge film ends here. It’s my turn now. I will review as he has done.
Memory is the cruelest of captors. As time goes on, he distorts those he imprisons into a mockery of what they truly are. Many a book and film have sunk deep beneath the waves of my memory, doomed to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. But just as Ulmo rose from his watery realm to reveal to Turgon the location of the Vale of Tumladen, so did Mary Poppins rise from the frothy sea of memory to stand triumphantly upon the banks of my mind.
Yes reader, I watched Mary Poppins. And my expectations set by the smothering depths of memory were pitiful in comparison to what this film truly deserved. While I watched the insignia of Disney march before me on the screen, my heart was little effected, but soon my expectations were dashed upon the rigid rocks of truth. Mary Poppins is, as my blogging compatriot often says, a beautiful film.
To be fair, this discussion will contain spoilers. But if you are afraid of having the plot of Mary Poppins spoiled for you, you probably need to get out more.
Mary Poppins is a reaffirmation of duty and purpose for all members of society. It tells us who we ought to be. Mr. and Mrs. Banks demonstrate a life that is disordered. Mr. Banks clearly puts success and power over his responsibility to his family. He neglects his duties as a father to fulfill his duties as a businessman. As the enigmatic Bert declares, he builds for himself a prison constructed out of his own dollars. He is the materialist man, and must give up his dreams of being a successful man for his family. His wife, Mrs. Banks, embodies a political obsession. She (rightly) desires voting rights for women, but in her pursuit of political gain, she neglects her duties as a mother. She even directly abandons her children by leaving them unattended with no keeper to attend a rally. She must give up her love of political protest in order to fulfill her duty. The transformation of these two characters culminates in their decision to fly a kite with their children. The kite is a symbol for right living. Indeed, immediately after being fired by his bank, Mr. Banks sets off to create a kite. Mrs. Banks even symbolically offers her protest banner to complete the kite, for “every kite needs a tail.” They give up their goals, they sacrifice themselves, for their duty to their children. Mary Poppins paints a picture of what a family ought to be.
This demonstration of how people ought to act enters a controversial (though perhaps not for the time) arena when dealing with Mary Poppins and Bert. Both Mary and Bert are a strong and almost pedantic picture of how the sexes ought to relate to each other. While there are many examples of this in how Mary and Bert act, clearest of all is the song “Jolly Holiday.” During this song, both Bert and Mary act with utmost courtesy toward each other; Bert offering kindness, which is readily and properly accepted by Mary. Deeper than that courtesy, however, is a respect for the character of each other. Bert declares that Mary “makes the sun shine bright” with her presence, her noble character makes the holiday jolly. Mary is even more direct, declaring
“Oh, it’s a jolly holiday
With you, Bert
Gentlemen like you are few
Though your just a diamond
In the rough, Bert
Underneath your blood is blue!
You’d never think of pressing
Forbearance is the hallmark
Of your creed
A lady needn’t fear
When you are near
Your sweet gentility is crystal clear!”
Bert’s righteousness makes his presence valuable. Nobility, as it relates to courtesy, is stressed here, saying that regardless of his actual station, Bert is blue (noble) blooded and a possessor of gentility because of his character. This movie holds a frank discussion of social courtesy and even sexual forbearance.
Also striking is the overt Christian symbolism of Mary Poppins. Both Mary and Bert are Christ (and perhaps the church) who demonstrate to Mr. Banks his depravity, leading him to repentance. Mr. Banks then approaches a coffin shaped table in a dark room. He gives to the bank owner the two-pence, rendering unto Caesar what is Caesars. He soon-after is fired, dying to himself. After his death, he is brought to a new, excited life. He skips joyfully down the street in his new-found life, and relishes in his salvation. He even is returned all he lost, but it is set in the perspective of his true goal, his redeemed life. In order to save his life, he must lose it.