Thursday, November 14, 2013

Classics: Battle of the Babysitters; Mary Poppins Vs. Maria von Trapp

Not one of the film's most environmentally responsible moments

For many, childhood is a time of wonder, learning, and exploration as we discover something new about ourselves and the world around us each day. Since the advent of film, movies have been a way for children to explore their imaginations and learn about the greater world outside of their own lives.  Two essential childhood films, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, were instant successes upon their release in the 1960’s and are today considered film classics. Both films are musicals which feature infectious songs, historical locations, curmudgeonly fathers, and most importantly, enchanting nannies played by the legendary Julie Andrews. Both films have stood the time, leaving only one question to remain; which of these nannies was the closest to being “practically perfect in every way”?

1.     IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE: Child care is a crucial profession that is unfortunately underrated by today’s society. Both Mary Poppins and Fraulein Maria have their hands full with their difficult charges and stubborn employers. While in both films the heroines take on children notorious for terrorizing past nannies until they quit, experienced Mary Poppins has the significantly easier task of watching only two children at the Banks home. Fresh from the abbey Maria is assigned to care for seven children ranging from ages five to sixteen without any assistance as, unlike the Banks family, the von Trapp children are largely raising themselves following their mother’s death and their father’s subsequent depression. Maria’s job is also exacerbated by the fact that Captain von Trapp is harsh and patronizing upon her arrival, and insists upon treating her in the same condescending fashion that he treats his children. When she finally does adjust to her new position and begins to have a positive influence on the household, Maria’s job is again complicated by the conflict between her commitment to the cloth and her emerging feelings for the newly softened captain. After achieving happiness and fulfillment upon marrying the captain, Maria is faced with the greatest crisis of her life when Austria is annexed into Nazi Germany following the Anschluss. The couple is ultimately faced with the decision of serving the Third Reich or risking their lives in an escape from their beloved homeland.

Although Jane, Michael, and Mr. Banks are unruly individuals, Mary Poppins never appears stressed or intimidated while working for them. She is also permitted days off in which the children are watched by their parents (the bank trip) and remains in contact with her friends and associates outside of the household (Bert, Uncle Albert etc.), both of which provide her with the outside support and rest needed to maintain her own well being. Mary’s position also remains ‘just a job’ for her as she avoids the complications of becoming emotionally attached to the family and promptly moves on to another family in need ‘as soon as the wind changes’. Finally, Mary’s whimsical adventures never present her with any real danger and cannot compare with the life or death choices that Maria is forced to make following Austria’s annexation. For her personal and political crises Maria is the clear winner for the title of Most Arduous Assignment.

The benefits of treating the help like people
2.     DANGEROUS MINDS: One of the most challenging and vital aspects of a nanny’s job is teaching their young charges life lessons. Mary Poppins teaches Jane and Michael a seeming myriad of things during their various adventures across London. She immediately begins her work as the children’s teacher by instructing them to clean up their cluttered nursery. While the children initially complain, she turns the job into a game and shows them the satisfaction of a job well done as well as the fulfillment of being independent. She later shows them the importance of maintaining one’s health by convincing them to take their medicine and using a bit of reverse psychology to teach them the value of a good night’s sleep. She also teaches the children far more significant lessons as the film progresses, including the freedom that comes from using one’s imagination and the benefits of giving to charity. One of the most striking things that Mary teaches Jane and Michael is respect for others. Although she does not explicitly explain this to the children, she shows them the value of equality through her example by maintaining her friendship with ne’er do well Bert, even though their friendship blatantly defies the rigid British class system. By interacting with Bert and Mary’s other colorful associates, the children realize that there is more to life than the limited upper class world that they have been exposed to, and that there is a great deal that they could learn from the outside world. Mary Poppins extends her wisdom to her employers as well by reminding Mr. and Mrs. Banks that they need to enjoy their lives and their children while they still have the chance to do so.

Maria also teaches the von Trapp family through her regular lessons and personal example. Like Mary, Maria teaches the children the importance of discovering life outside of the rules and restrictions that have been forced upon them as well as how to enjoy their childhoods. Unlike Mary, however, Maria passes on practical as well as moral lessons to the family by teaching them how to sing and play musical instruments. These lessons provide the children with a creative outlet in which to channel their energy and frustrations as well as a means of expressing their individual voices. She even extends her musical influence to the captain by reminding him of his former love of music, which leads to him slowly overcoming his personal demons. She also provides oldest daughter, Liesl, with some much needed advice when Liesl is confused by the changes in her boyfriend, Rolfe, after he joins the Hitler Youth. The most difficult lesson that Maria teaches is the need to maintain strength and calm in the face of adversity. When the family is forced to flee Austria, she remains calm throughout their ordeal, refusing to give in to her own fears and panic. Despite the gravity of some of Maria’s lessons, Mary teaches a greater variety of things to Jane and Michael and does so under the guise of friendly games and memorable adventures. Mary Poppins takes the title for Most Likable Lessons.

A simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious view

3.     LONGEVITY: Both women clearly have a significant impact upon the families that they work for. At the film’s finish, Mary has taught the entire Banks family the importance of spending time together and appreciating the simpler things in life. Following her success, however, she realizes that she is no longer needed and leaves to seek out another family that could use her help. Although she will be ending her direct influence upon the Banks’ by moving on, Mary is also ensuring that she will not outstay her welcome. As a result, the Banks’ will remember her in an idealized and nostalgic manner that will continue to provide them with an example to aspire to. By stepping aside to allow Mr. and Mrs. Banks to reclaim their roles in their children’s lives, she also enables herself to help and spread her influence to countless other families.

      While Mary’s position changes with the wind, Maria is with the von Trapps to stay. Her new role as the captain’s wife and the children’s step-mother ensures that she will continue to influence the family throughout their lives. Her love of music also provides her with an activity through which she can maintain and strengthen the family’s bond as the years go on. Her ability to win over both the children and captain as well as outsmart his cunning fiancĂ©e demonstrates that she will have a lasting impact on the household and all of its inhabitants. Through their wit, warmth, and whimsy, both nannies endeared themselves to employers and audiences alike, making Julie Andrews a silver screen icon in the process. This one is a draw. Please feel free to share your favorite in the comments!

Flash mobs before they were cool

1 comment:

  1. I prefer Mary Poppins because she is technically a witch \m/