Forewarned: This post really isn't a review of the movie; more so a smattering of my impressions, and some hints about other things it spurred me to think about.
I've got Suze to thank for putting this on my radar. For a good stretch of time in my single-digit years, Mary Poppins was my favorite movie. In those pre-VHS days, I was lucky that the Disney classics were on a near constant rotation in the 99-cent matinee theaters, so I saw it many times. At age 6, of course I identified with the Banks children, and I had a magical nanny figure in my own life, too. It probably wasn't until I saw the movie again in my early 20s that I realized that Mary Poppins had another reason for blowing in with the east wind: the redemption of the father. I don't think it's exaggerating to say that this realization held lessons for me that I continue to draw from, especially now as a father myself.
If all Saving Mr. Banks does is to convey a bit of that to its audience -- and to highlight the wonderful (and absolutely unabashedly unsubtle) ways that the music of the Sherman brothers accomplished it back in 1964 -- it deserves as much praise as I can give. But I think it does a bit more, too.
It's cliched to talk about how our lives are enriched by stories. This movie, I think, pierces to the heart of this cliche and shows how it works, and why it matters. Telling stories remakes the world.
There are two senses that the above is true: In a literal way, when people hear stories that uplift them, they can be inspired go out into the world and do things they might not have done before. Even apocalyptic dystopias can cause people to work hard to make sure the bad stuff doesn't happen.
The second way is more subtle. Stories shape our surreality, and literally change how we think. Last year I began reading Douglas Hofstadter's newest book that suggests the making and manipulating of analogies is the core activity of the human mind. He starts with the simple ones, involving single concepts and phrases, and then goes on to say that fictions and narratives are just extended versions of the same thing. I suppose this is also related to the "scripts" of Transactional Analysis, which I mentioned in my last post. (Many others have realized this, too; see hints of it in the "Darmok" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in J. R. R. Tolkien's classic essay "On Fairy Stories.") I'm convinced that any Glass Bead Game worthy of the name is going to have these ideas at its core.
Back to Saving Mr. Banks, there's also another level of "remaking the world with stories" here, in that the actual, real-world interaction between Walt Disney and P. L. Travers didn't quite go the way it did in the movie. Much like Travers may have used Mary Poppins to remake her troubled childhood, screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith did some remaking of their own. But to valuable effect, I say.
(And, much like another recent controversial bit of historical storytelling -- the tale of Giordano Bruno in the new Cosmos TV series -- I'm less upset about the inaccuracies than I am that some of the most "prickly" and avant garde aspects of their lives weren't highlighted. Travers, like Bruno, was far weirder and cooler than her depiction made it seem!)
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