In this article I will prove how the opening sequence of Mary Poppins foreshadows both the narrative arch of the film as well as the economic reform which is currently underway in Switzerland.
" Winds in the east, there’s a mist coming in. Like something is brewing... about to begin. "
Now, I realize this quote is out of context but go with me on this. As of Tuesday (December 17, 2013) – BBC News reported that the Swiss government is currently considering legislation that would provide a universal/national income for all legal citizens both working as well the unemployed. To some this would seem unrealistic or even unimaginable – however let us consider that Sir Thomas More originally championed such an idea in the 16th century with his scholarly writings on a “Utopia” model. Today, what better country to explore such uncharted economic territory than Switzerland? As of 2012 the United States earned an average GDP per capita gross of $49,965 – whereas the average Swiss citizen took away nearly $79,052 making their nation reportedly the world’s wealthiest economy. Additionally they have recently approved a law which strictly limits both executive bonuses and payoffs – hinting at what some might interpret as a national income cap. These acts are all in an effort to more equality distribute the nation’s wealth and improve the standard of living for all citizens. Many argue that such legislation would replace the welfare system and perhaps discourage people from working at all, or seeking a higher education to pursue a career. However, for proponents of initiative (such as Enno Schmidt) claim that many citizen both in Switzerland as well as around the world, feel trapped by their jobs – putting in 60 to 80 hour work weeks out of a fear of losing their positions. Schmidt claims, “The thought is not that people will work less, but that people are free to decide”. So many citizens both in the US and abroad claim they feel over-burdened to meet their financial obligations - from bills, to car payments, to mortgages - that very little time is spent with their families or pursuing a career which they are passionate about. Instead they are living day-to-day to pay the debt collector. Very few have the privilege to work in a career which they genuinely love. Additionally, such an effort might benefit the poor, sick, and elderly who for some are without hope and with no way to survive. Many social reformists go as far as to say that Switzerland is leading the way by initiating a “soul searching” model for other nations to adopt concerning the topic of money and quality of life. In the article, Mr. Che Wagner a 25yr old student studying for his master’s degree from Zurich University states, “I have a daughter, and so of course I am there for my daughter, I look after her... But it is also a struggle – I have to work, so we can live… I think with a basic income I would still have to work, but I could… maybe say, ‘OK let’s spend a week with my daughter.’” So how does this economic reform tie into the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins? So glad you asked…
As some of you may or may not know, I completed my undergraduate work at UC Irvine with a BA in Film & Media Studies – so naturally, I have an inherit love of the cinema. However as one quickly comes to discover “film” is not just about frivolous narratives played out on a silver screen. Instead film theory teaches us that cinema is a reflective medium meant to mirror our own identities and ideologies. Many film makers use the stage as a political voice to address social unrest and the cultural landscape of the times in which we live. That said, with the holiday release of Saving Mr. Banks (Dir. John Lee Hancock. Walt Disney Pictures, 2013.) staring Tom Hanks as Mr. Walt Disney himself, I began feeling a sense of nostalgia about the original film. As a child I can remember watching in awe as Bert (Dick Van Dyke) and Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) danced upon the London rooftops in the infamous “Step in Time” musical sequence. In fact, as my mother recalls – at 5 years old I even went so far as to pretend I was a chimney sweep for an entire week singing and dancing all in a very charming British accent (however, I digress). In summation, I began to research some various articles written about the film when I stumbled upon a very impressive analysis by Nick Tierce regarding the 1964 classic. In it he argues, the movie is not about Mary Poppins as she is not the protagonist. Instead, the main character is that of Mr. Banks and the entire Banks family due to the fact that their narrative arch resembles that of the traditional hero. At first, we are introduced to their home as being in a volatile state of moral consciousness. Their dysfunction as a family is reflected in several ways. First their neighbor, Admiral Boom’s hourly cannons act as a symbolic representation of how even at a state of rest, the world the Banks inhabit is in a constant state of turmoil. Mr. Banks’ consumption with work and money distract him from his family and duties as a father by placing him into a state of apathy as he is forced to blindly accept the backwards ethics of the job in which find himself. Tierce states that, “Mr. Bank’s obliviousness is matched by Mrs. Bank’s hypocrisy. She participates in the Suffragette Movement for women’s rights at the expense of time with her family; which when given, is spent bending to her husband’s every whim. Her conflicted efforts cancel themselves out, leaving her in a similarly immobile position as the family itself.” He goes on to note that the only remedy to this fractured home is that of Mary Poppins as she represents a change in the wind, as visually represented through her descent from the clouds of the East. This is purposefully crafted to emphasis the fact that the problems faced by the Banks family are traditionally that of a Western civilization which is consumed by capitalism and the dog-eat-dog ideology of clawing to ahead within society but actually achieving little personal happiness. Instead, Mary Poppins serves as a pillar of strength and moral example of how to balance just a spoonful of sugar, laughter, and generosity through her magical adventures with the Jane & Michael (the children). By traveling into the paintings Mary removes them from the burdens of society and the financial chains we often impose upon ourselves. As are result, the children as well as the audience are allowed to look objectively upon how live and the possibilities of a Utopia (as represented by Bert’s paintings). Her lesson to feed the birds - only tuppence a bag - inspires the children to perform such an act of innocent generosity upon their father, Mr. Banks, who recently lost his position at the federal bank. Knowing that the job meant so much to their dad, the children give him all their money as a display of selfless kindness. Consequently Mr. Banks is shocked and as a result cured because he finally realizes what is truly important in life… his family and the loved one’s he has been neglecting. At the end, the family is whole again. Together they venture to the park so as to fly a kite… a symbol of their moral ascension to a better quality of life.
In conclusion, one can clearly see the direct link between the narrative arch of the film Mary Poppins and that of the economic initiative posed by the Swiss government. In the true holiday spirit, perhaps Switzerland is changing their ways and wanting to adhere to that ideal Utopia as proposed by Mary’s teachings on ethics and the importance of family over money. We have to ask ourselves are we truly happy? Have become who always wanted to be? Or have we just accepted the way things are, like Mr. Banks? While some argue the legislation serves as a disincentive for some to work, others argue it would provide them the freedom to excel at a career they are more passionate about. As a result, one might anticipate a cultural benefit as well – with a decrease in divorce and an increase in mental and physical health. More importantly from a moral perspective, isn’t it our duty to help our fellow man? Regardless, of my own personal feelings on the matter… I too feel a change in the wind.
References & Resources
- BBC Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25415501
- Mary Poppins Analysis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--P_hmYzr0I#t=132
- World Bank GDP: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD