I don’t usually delve into film criticism, but watching “Mary Poppins Returns” the other day inspired me to reflect on some rather deep themes.
As the movie concluded I had this rather strange thought: could “Mary Poppins Returns” save our culture? Just like the title character, who comes into messy family situations and brings healing through a combination of tough love and near-miraculous flights of whimsy, maybe this film could undo the messy situation our human family finds itself in today.
See, the original “Mary Poppins” came out in 1964 and was nominated for Best Picture, and was quickly followed by “The Sound of Music,” which won that Oscar in 1965. These films and others like them at the time were intensely moral in their themes, actions, and values. Honesty, integrity, true romantic love, true familial love were all celebrated and exalted in these films.
This, combined with their stunning scenery and sets, created works of art that were truly beautiful and capable of inspiring viewers themselves to desire the same sorts of values in their own lives. But they were not moralistic or preachy. They just portrayed the beautiful and let those divine cards lay where they fell.
But this work was soon to be undone by Hollywood and the culture in general as the power and influence of the Sexual Revolution began to take hold.
This takeover by a new anti-family, anti-faith viewpoint was heralded by the movie that won the 1969 Best Picture award, “Midnight Cowboy.” A bigger contrast between it and “The Sound of Music” you cannot imagine.
“Midnight Cowboy” is about a gay male prostitute from the South who makes his way to New York.
The fact that this movie was made and then won Best Picture in 1969 shows how far our culture was moving away from the values of the earlier films. It was almost as if Hollywood wanted to destroy the wholesome influence and underlying morality of those movies by doing the exact opposite.
Of course, many other movies which glorified and celebrated destructive behaviors and attitudes followed “Midnight Cowboy.” The so-called “teenage exploitation” films of the 1980s effectively told teens, like myself, that rampant drug use, drinking, and sex were the norm, and I do believe every single Woody Allen film extolled the virtues of marital infidelity.
These attacks on virtue and the family have not completely upended our culture. The influence of faith and reason and the nobler traditions of our culture have kept our collective ship from capsizing completely.
But we have sustained some serious damage and the primary victims have been children. The scientific literature on the psychological harm done to kids of divorce is copious. Teen suicide rates are up 30 percent and 50 percent of marriages fail.
The poor have also suffered grievously from this general breakdown of family values. While middle and upper middle class families can usually survive the financial impact of divorce, though not always, divorce can ruin poor families and condemn the mother and children to poverty. Unwed birth rates continue to rise, depriving the children of the emotional and financial stability that a two-parent household usually provides.
But no matter. Hollywood continues to churn out movies and TV shows that demean the traditional family. Ah, Mary Poppins, if only you could pop in to the studio offices and whip them in to shape! “Tsk, tsk, it’s not nice to make a show about such folderol!”
But perhaps that just happened, in a way, with the new Mary Poppins movie. It is without a shred of cynicism or irony. It straightforwardly portrays the intrinsic values of the family and she uses her considerable powers to mend the wounds suffered by Michael Banks’ family, who lost their mother and are under threat of eviction.
More than that, however, the new movie reaffirms exactly the themes and principles of the 1964 original and refuses to compromise its values with the cultural rot that has reigned in the past 50 years.
Could this be representative of some sort of change in our culture? I don’t know, but I sort of feel like flying a kite….
Peachtree City, Ga.