The outrageous but bizarrely supportable thesis statement that I lay before you is this: Mary Poppins symbolizes the Blessed Virgin Mary. Specifically, it is about the Mother of God’s spiritual motherhood of humanity and her occasional “pop-ins” into this world, either in the form of apparitions or more subtle “everyday” intercessions. It thus depicts a “post-Assumption” Mary, though with many allusions to her earthly life as recorded in the Bible. I apologize for the ridiculous length of this analysis. Feel free to just skim it or, even better, not read it. All right, ladies and gents, here we go …
(By the way, I am talking about the 1964 Walt Disney Film, not the original book series by P. L. Travers, on which the film was loosely based … and I do mean loosely, because P. L. Travers all but disowned the film).
Mary Poppins is the Blessed Virgin Mary
There are several notable characteristics that both Mary’s share (more or less):
Both Poppins and Our Lady have their homes above the earth. Our Lady is Queen of Heaven. Poppins similarly sits “enthroned” on the clouds. Both exist far above all other creatures but nonetheless “come down” to aid those in need.
Both Poppins and Our Lady have maternal roles. However, neither one is literally the biological mother of their respective children but nonetheless adopt them like their own. Since Our Lady is the Mother of Jesus, Mary spiritually becomes our mother when we get adopted into God’s family as Christians. Similarly, Poppins is a nanny, which is a sort of “spiritual mother” aiming at fostering children in virtue. It also seems that Poppins has done this for a very long time and has got her motherly tactics down to a flawless science, something Our Lady shares too, no doubt. She knows just what to say at just the right moment in order to move people in the right direction, even if it involves employing tricks of reverse psychology. Her songs may seem shallow and silly at first but, upon closer inspection, prove to communicate deep and profound truths about supernatural realities (as I shall demonstrate later). Furthermore, the lessons she instills do not only apply to children but eventually effect everyone in the movie, something that resembles Our Lady’s universal care of souls.
One of the only roles an unmarried woman could occupy in Edwardian England respectfully was that of a nanny. Hence, many governesses lived as virgins throughout their lives. This relates to Our Lady’s perpetual virginity, as both their roles somewhat paradoxically also involve being a kind of mother as well (something normally involving the loss of virginity … which goes without saying).
Though Our Lady perhaps didn’t perform miracles during her earthly life, she most certainly did after her assumption into heaven. Poppins, too, performs miracles left and right. In fact, all the supernatural events that happen seem to be connected to her (an allusion perhaps to Our Lady being the “Mediatrix of All Blessings”). Sure, you could say Poppins is a “witch,” but I think this claim is adequately dispelled after Michael says, “Maybe she’s a witch” to which Jane says, “Of course not, witches have brooms.” It’s a pretty solid argument.
That magic tape-measure which “reads people’s souls” also shows us that Poppins herself is “Practically Perfect in Every Way,” an allusion, I would say, to … that’s right … the Immaculate Conception (i.e. Our Lady was conceived without original sin, thus not possessing the sinful inclinations that the rest of humanity shares). One may raise the objection, however, that Our Lady was perfect in every way, not just practically. However, to use precise theological terminology, Our Lady didn’t possess complete ontological perfection (only God has that … like the perfection of having omnipotence). Hence, even Our Lady was not perfect in every way. What Our Lady did have was complete moral perfection, that is, her will never wavered from God. Hence, it can be said that Our Lady’s actions were always perfect … that is, she was perfect in practice … or … practically perfect in every way.
Although there’s actually no sufficient evidence that Mary Poppins is an actual “Queen,” she does, I would say, have an air of royalty about her. At the very least, she seems to possess higher power than any other creature and is subservient to no one (except one thing which I shall point out), and even Mr. Banks, who hired her, when he tries to order her around ends up effectively doing whatever she wishes. She takes command of every situation, as one would expect a Queen would amongst her subjects. This may strike some as “proud,” but I do not think she ever goes that far. In fact, if one grants she may be of some royal background, she starts to appear quite humble. She has come to serve rather than be served. When she is assigned her room, she says, “Well, it’s not exactly Buckingham Palace” (as if that’s her usual surrounding) but says with a smile, “Still, it’s clean … yes, I think it will be quite quite suitable” just as Our Lady is content in dwelling in the pure of heart, regardless of its simplicity … even though she deserves more.
This view of Poppins as Queen (or at least, some kind of “leader”), helps dispel the quasi-popular notion that Poppins is “unloving.” She says about herself, “I am kind, but extremely firm.” This theme runs throughout the whole movie. Mary indeed loves those to whom she is entrusted, but she is forever wary about defending them from emotional excesses that might arise from her showing too much explicit love. The Church’s rules and regulations operate in a similar way, for as G.K. Chesterton says, “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.” The Church with all its rules can appear cold, but the result of following her rules is joy. Our Lady, I think, should be viewed this way as well. She is a General, who trains and leads her Legion of spiritual soldiers against the darkness. Doing such things must involve tough love, and you will not always feel loved in this undertaking. However, all things have been carefully designed for our betterment to the last detail.
Related to Our Lady’s lack of moral evil is her fullness of grace. In common speech, “grace” means “simple elegance or refinement of movement” or “courteous goodwill.” In a similar way, “divine grace” makes our soul act in a way pleasing to God. Poppins, being a most elegant and refined creature thus is a reflection of the divine perfection of Our Lady. This even includes her applying makeup, which is something, if done in the right spirit, that simply is used to please others. This connection between “divine grace” and “attractively polite manners of behaving” seems to echo Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s words when he said, “Politeness is charity, charity is love, and love is God.”
Some people would say, on the other hand, that Mary Poppins is guilty of vanity, which is excessive pride and admiration in one’s own appearance. Is there proof that Poppins is guilty of this? She indeed looks in a mirror a couple of times, which is ample evidence to condemn her in some people’s minds. But I would argue that such offenses are not offenses in themselves.
If Our Lady is full of grace, higher than all the angels, and her soul magnifies the Lord, then it is reasonable to speculate that Our Lady could legitimately enjoy her own reflection … because she reflects God Himself. She is, of course, a limited reflection of God. That principle also applies to any reflection of her. What I’m trying to get at is that any representation of God’s mother, such as in religious icons, never accurately captures the Mother of God with adequate reverence. No painting, no matter how divine, does satisfaction to her ineffable glory. I am reminded of this, curious enough, when Poppins’ reflection in the mirror takes on a life of its own and begins singing (first in harmony and then flamboyantly by itself) to which Poppins exclaims, “Cheeky!” That is how I view most Catholic art about Mary. All of it seems cheeky. In fact, the character of Mary Poppins, despite how representative she may be of the Mother of God, is nonetheless, cheeky. All things considered, though, she’s not that bad of a likeness.
But, when all is said and done, if you point out that Mary Poppins falls short of perfectly portraying the Mother of God, I will, unfortunately, agree with you.
(At the very least, the movie toned down Poppins’ apparent vanity from the books, so much so that the author complained.)
George Banks is a Materialist
Mr. Banks is a materialist insofar as he puts excessive emphasis on worldly goods and scorns things that reek of the supernatural. He regards his job as a money-grubbing banker as the most important thing in his life. He takes it as a model for everything, as when he says, “A British bank is run with precision. A British home requires nothing less.” He disapproves of the nature-defying tales told to him about Poppins, like having tea parties on the ceiling. When things happen that transcend his simplistic views, he becomes bewildered and rancorous, thinking he is in control, but Poppins proves otherwise and shows that this “wise man” is actually quite a fool. He wants things that are “fraught with purpose, yes, and practicality” but he isn’t clear what the ultimate purpose is for any action. He wants to make money, but for what? He preaches about the importance of having “heirs to his dominion,” but he neglects spending time with his family. He demands following some hand-picked customs and rules but doesn’t care what they help preserve (except that they vaguely prevent “a ghastly mess”). He regards himself with god-like importance but fails to show what actual good he has done in his superficial existence. When he sits down at a piano, he wants it to be tuned, but he doesn’t even know how to play. In short, he wants things he doesn’t need (or has no consistent reason for needing). This is, you could say, the essence of materialism. And some results are vain pride and a troubled family.
Winifred Banks is a Feminist (i.e. extreme, secular feminism)
The machismo bred by the materialist thinking of certain men eventually may attach itself to the female mind as well. As men focus more on themselves (now that they no longer focus on God), their attention turns away from women too. This can incline women to be more masculine, for they see men in love with themselves … and so by assuming more masculine qualities, a woman may hope to be what men seem to want. There is, of course, the added motivation for a woman to do this in order to try and provide for herself things which men no longer give. Consequently, women rightly resent this male self-preoccupation, but it paradoxically impels them to masculinize themselves a similar way. This, of course, doesn’t work. Men actually don’t like manly women, and thus it fails to have the intended effect. Upon realizing this, such women are confused and live the muddled role of both genders, trying to remain feminine to be lovable, while trying to be masculine to be noticed (and to try to give themselves what men no longer provide). This ideological complex of conflicting reactions, I would say, broadly and somewhat vaguely, sums up what is called “feminism” (at least the “extreme, secular” kind … as opposed to simply the advocacy of women’s rights which are truly owed to her).
Something of this dynamic seems to be present in Mrs. Banks. We see Mr. Banks constantly disparaging womanhood, with such phrases like “slipshod, sugary female thinking.” Mrs. Banks, no matter how lovable she tries to be with her dainty mannerisms, continues to receive nothing but harsh criticism from her egocentric partner. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Banks possesses a contrasting pseudo-masculine side to her personality, very much in rather humorous conflict to her exaggerated, charming, marital subservience. I speak of her “crusade” for women’s suffrage (which, if some of you don’t know, simply means “the right of vote in political elections”), a perceived government solution to a woman’s desires when her desires are not fulfilled by the man who supposedly promised to serve her. This historical movement in Britain (and throughout the world) was the chief issue around which “feminism” at this time revolved. Whether the merits of giving votes to women are virtuous or not (I’m not necessarily saying they’re not), there is little doubt that many of its advocates had larger agendas involving the further masculinization of women which proved rather problematic. The underlying impetus behind much of the suffragette movement also spawned the great migration of women out of the home to join men in the workplace. Whether this was intrinsically evil or not, it nevertheless led to a massive increase in the neglect of children, as their mothers, previously their naturally most-suited caretakers, were now caretakers of “more important things.” This would actually promote the use of contraception and abortion, since women found the only way to keep their jobs and yet not neglect children was, in fact, to have no children. This natural line of reasoning was the fruit of the feminist movement and is still widely lived out today. With Mrs. Banks, we see, at the very least, the explicit neglect of her children, her preoccupation of things outside the house, and the lack of tranquility it brings to the home. Some viewers somehow think the movie is actually promoting feminism through character of Mrs. Banks, but, in fact, the writers of the script (see the DVD commentary) purposely made her a suffragette to explain why she wasn’t there as a mother, thus causing the tension in the beginning of the movie that requires Mary Poppins to intervene and make things aright.
Jane and Michael are Marian Apparition Seers
While their parents are caught up in useless, worldly concerns, Jane and Michael are as yet untainted. They represent that innocent, pure, receptive side of humanity that is still willing to be taught. This is simply because, as children, they are still child-like, a quality which grown-ups must retain or re-learn if they hope to perceive the truths of the faith and attain salvation. Many other people see Mary Poppins but never see the truly wondrous and supernatural reality about her. Because of their humility, Jane and Michael, even though they are perpetually in wonder, are, paradoxically, the only “normal” characters that really understand what’s going on. Nonetheless, despite their littleness, they eventually help to have a profound effect on their parents.
Bert is St. Joseph
Both Bert and Joseph are poor, lowly workers who act as caring foster fathers and have a special relationship to their respective Mary’s. Bert hangs around the kids and takes care of them (often making them laugh as a father would his kids), as St. Joseph does so spiritually with Christians, for Christ’s foster father becomes our own when we are adopted into God’s family.
Further, Bert embodies that spirit of “St. Joseph the Worker.” He is amongst the lower-class, low-income, hard-working individuals of society that struggles to make an honest living … but succeeds beautifully. Bert’s wide assortment of jobs symbolizes the universal patronage St. Joseph has to all workers of so many varying fields.
Contrasted to this, however, is the fact that St. Joseph belonged to the House of King David … that is, he possessed royal blood. Mary Poppins, curiously enough, at one point sings the verse, “Though you’re just a diamond in the rough, Bert, underneath your blood is blue!” When someone has so-called “blue blood,” it literally means “of noble birth.” Yet, as with St. Joseph, Bert humbly takes on the unassuming status of an impoverished commoner … hence, “diamond in the rough.”
Nonetheless, Bert appears less perfect than Poppins, though perhaps not to a sinful degree. He definitely has less miraculous powers than Poppins (if any?) and arguably less control over his passions (he certainly is more “silly” than Poppins … though that’s not necessarily bad, of course, but does suggest a less exalted position). It seems St. Joseph could have been the same way with respect to Our Lady. In fact, I think that’s theologically indisputable.
Despite any faults he might have, it’s quite certain that Bert is a chaste man, as is very clear from what Poppins sings about him:
You’d never think of pressing your advantage
Forbearance is the hallmark of your creed
A lady needn’t fear
When you are near
Your sweet gentility is crystal clear
Which brings me to my next point. While it is evident that Bert presumably demonstrates abstinence, he is not without at least a quasi-romantic involvement with Mary Poppins, one which has seemed to exist a long time. They definitely aren’t married in a normal way if married at all. But they certainly know each other with some level of intimacy like some sort of loving partners. They even tease each other quite frequently as married couples do, but it is always harmless, innocent, and fun. This, I think, may be the image of the kind of exceptional, celibate marriage St. Joseph had with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I would say also, Bert is “in on the game” the whole time. Bert and Poppins are a team. Even if they seem at odds with each other here and there, really they have the same goal in mind. They are simply working to effect people’s conversion and overall spiritual welfare. They have done this many times before (perhaps billions of times before) and have got this down to a science. And yet they still do this out of love.
The Wind is the Holy Spirit
In many ways is this true. First of all, “wind” has often been associated with “spirit” throughout the history of religion (and they often are the same word in many languages). Both are invisible things, but things which can be perceived from their effects on visible things. “Air” gives us life, analogous to how “spirit” can give matter life … and similar to how the Holy Spirit gives us Divine Life. Each can act with gentle, soothing effects or sometimes, for good or ill, with devastating power.
Bert, being St. Joseph (the Patron Saint of the Spiritual Life), is sensitive to the wind’s movements, while nearly everyone else is oblivious and confused. He notices and sings the highly mysterious and mystical verse:
Wind’s in the east, mist comin’ in.
Like something is brewin’ about to begin
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store
But I feel what’s to happen, all happened before.
This is alluding to how the story of the Gospel is, in some way, going to take place again … but in a more purely spiritual way and in the lives of individual souls. Mary is going to bring new life into the world, there will be a death, and there will be a resurrection. It has all happened before. And it will happen again. That is what Mary has done and has been doing since the very first day she accepted the responsibility of being the mother of all the world’s souls.
The significance of the “east” is that Our Lady, and the divine life she brings, literally came from the East (i.e. the Holy Land). For this reason and others, the “east” has always been more associated with “spiritual things” more so than with the “west.” Poppins eventually reveals too, “I’ll stay until the Wind changes,” signifying Our Lady’s obedience to her true spouse, that is, the Holy Spirit. For she is not the ultimate decision-maker for herself but still subservient to God.
Chimneys are the Spiritual Life
Once again, before taking the movie into account, chimneys already have symbolic correlations to the spiritual life. Both are channels/gateways that connect us to a “higher realm” … the outside air (with chimneys) and the Holy Spirit (with prayer). Chimneys bring air inside the home, as spirituality brings life inside the soul. Further, chimneys are also connected to fire, which has long been associated with the Holy Spirit (e.g. the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of Fire on the Apostles at Pentecost) as it provides warmth, another necessity for life, which is often a symbol of love (and the Holy Spirit is God’s Divine Love). And, lastly, the smoke which comes from it can represent incense rising to heaven.
When Jane and Michael write an advertisement for the kind of nanny they want, which Mr. Banks then tears up and throws in the fireplace, the pieces magically float up through the chimney, go into the wind, and soon enough reach Mary Poppins who responds accordingly. This, of course, is symbolic of prayer being answered. The wind also ends up blowing away the mundane, inadequate nannies, just as the Holy Spirit can do away with troubles we pray to be spared of. Though Mr. Banks thought their advertisement ridiculous, just as materialists think prayer is ridiculous, he is absolutely dumbfounded when it unexpectedly gets answered (it is further unexpected that Mary Poppins is actually an answer to Mr. Banks’ advertisement as well, as she very much acts like a “general” who holds discipline in very high regard).
Later on, we see Bert as a chimney-sweep, like St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of the Spiritual Life, helps to clean up the prayer life of Christians. When he and the kids are looking up the chimney, Jane says, “It’s awfully dark and gloomy up there” to which Bert replies, “There now. You see how wrong people can be? That there is what you might call a doorway to a place of enchantment.” This is similar to how some people think prayer and spirituality are just “gloomy” things. In fact, they bring us into a higher realm of existence of a very fascinating sort (to say the least). Furthermore, upon gazing up the chimney, Bert sings:
Up where the smoke is all billowed and curled,
‘Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep world.
When there’s ‘ardly no day nor ‘ardly no night,
There’s things ‘alf in shadow and ‘alfway in light.
This “halfway in shadow and halfway in light” imagery is a good reflection of the theological virtue of faith, as Aquinas calls it an “imperfect knowledge” wherein some truth of the matter is seen but not all (hence, we can choose to assent to the alleged truth of the parts we cannot perceive but are told exist by a reliable authority). This dynamic, of seeing majestic things only partially, gives rise to a sense of wonder of what is yet unseen … the active ingredient in the spiritual life, which perceives the majesty of God but only in the shadows.
Bert then begins to show the kids how to feel the pull of the wind with the chimney broom … instructing a soul, as it were, how to be sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit. This eventually lifts them up to the rooftops, giving them a vision, as it were, of the things above and beyond the natural (and even a greater view of the natural). Bert describes the cool, never-ending scene of smoke stacks as a “trackless jungle waiting to be explored” similar to, I would say, the truths of the supernatural. There is also a sense of adventure to it … and even danger. The spiritual life is not without its perils, for, at the very least, demons lurk there (which occultists, especially, fall victim to when treading this realm uncautiously). Similarly, the London rooftops have a ghetto-like feel to them and are riddled with chances of falling to one’s death. Poppins rightly urges caution (and at first gives Bert a hard time for letting the kids go up there … but this was probable another teasing exaggeration, as Mary was the one who probably caused that in the first place). But since the kids follow Mary closely, additionally being buttressed by Bert, they are preserved from any misstep and are even able to ascend higher to gain greater vision of things than they could by themselves … thanks to Mary, our guide to the Spirit World.
Ellen and Mrs. Brill (housekeeper and cook) are Nuns
It can be said that nuns have a closer identification with Our Lady, due to their celibate lives and their spiritual marriage to God. They are thus more easily in tune with the supernatural and are aids for the laity to live out their faith. Similarly, Ellen and Mrs. Brill have some shared characteristics with Poppins, at least insofar as they are all house servants who aid the well-being of the Banks household. At first, the two women are in discord and even, somewhat begrudgingly, subscribe to Mrs. Banks’ feminism, just as women religious orders have often fallen victim to such things. However, when Poppins arrives, they (particularly Ellen) actually witness supernatural events and quickly undergo a conversion to the joy Poppins brings. Mrs. Banks later notices this and is positively influenced by it … though Mr. Banks resists and remains stalwart against this ostensibly irrational bliss.
Admiral Boom is a Traditionalist Catholic
This character is a bit complicated, exhibiting both good and bad qualities … something very much shared by Traditionalists (i.e. ultra-conservative Catholics who have held fast to old customs to the point of rejecting new developments in the Church … for good or ill). He has converted his rooftop into a navy ship deck in order to continue living like he did back in his younger days. This is somewhat like how various Trads are stuck in useless traditions (at least, some of which are legitimately out-dated) and rightly appear quite insane because of it. Mr. Binnacle, the Admiral’s helper is like a well-trained Traditionalist acolyte, trained to do whatever thing is asked of him, no matter how crazy or off base. This is all connected with his strange routine of making people know what time it is by firing off a boisterous cannon every few hours, causing entire houses to shake like an earthquake. This is similar to how certain hard-liners attempt to impose rules on others in a most uncharitable and belligerent fashion. It just doesn’t help.
On the other hand, the Admiral demonstrates that he has something that many others don’t. He is somewhat attuned to the movements of the wind, as prayerful Traditionalists can be somewhat attuned to the movements of the Holy Spirit. The Admiral notices the wind changes and accurately senses that there is a “bit of heavy weather brewing” at the Banks’ house. Moreover, he discourses amiably with Bert and Poppins, just as most Traditionalists I know have a seemingly deep devotion to the saints (more so than most Catholics, I would admit).
And yet there is a curious kinship many Traditionalists have with Secular Materialists. They both often take things very literally (as they both take the Bible literally, the result being materialists dismiss the Bible in order to accept Science, while many traditionalists dismiss Science in order to accept the Bible). Both Admiral Boom and Mr. Banks seem to have something like this in common, insofar as they have a strong devotion to rules and regulations and perhaps, dare I say, miss the spirit of the law. I have met many conservative Catholics too (with exceptions fortunately) who subscribe uncharacteristically high importance to worldly success (as many very conservative Catholics are unbridled Capitalists). Interestingly, when the Admiral asks Mr. Banks, “How are things in the world of finance?” Mr. Banks says, “Never better. Money’s sound. Credit rates are moving up, up, up. And the British pound is the admiration of the world” to which the Admiral says, “Good man.” Concern for money is something these two men have in common. However, when the Admiral begins telling him about how the weather indicates that he’s “steering into a nasty piece of weather,” Mr. Banks politely ignores him. However, the Admiral was right, but he is ignored by the materialist who has rationalized that spiritual things are illusory based on the fact that many religious people (like Admiral Boom, analogously) are out of their minds.
Andrew the Dog is a Messenger Angel
Angels are known to take the form of dogs according to many stories of saints’ lives. Andrew definitely seems he could be one of these, clearly exhibiting powers of intellect, notably when he talks to Poppins and reports a problem that needs her attention. He also is cognizant of some of the various supernatural events that happen, just as angels would be.
Constable Jones is a Guardian Angel
Constable Jones is the one to rescue Jane and Michael when they got lost, having been abandoned by their inadequate, secular nanny, Katie Nanna. He arrives at the Banks house with seemingly miraculous speed when Mr. Banks calls the police station, though Mr. Banks is only superficially impressed (though, I admit, his arrival at the particular point was probably just a coincidence … right?). Not only does he save people from danger, as guardian angels do, he also gives Mr. Banks some guidance, gently encouraging him to involve himself with his family more … particularly, about the kite (which, as I shall explain, is of particular importance). Mr. Banks simply dismissing his advice, as obstinate souls disregard the spiritual impulses given to them by their holy angels.
Poppins’ Bottomless Bag is Our Lady’s Fullness of Grace
Poppins’ bag, from which she pulls multiple items whose sizes defy the small dimensions of their container, illustrates the paradox of how a limited being can be made to “contain” infinite being. We see this apparent contradiction with the Virgin Mary, a small and seemingly insignificant thing who somehow had God within her … indicative too of the spiritual reality that she was full of grace, since sanctifying grace is, in fact, God dwelling within the soul. Also, Poppins’ bag, we are told, is made out of carpet, a lowly material designed to be trampled underfoot, as humans are similarly of an inferior kind compared to God and the angels. But, by the power of God and in a way that reflects how Mary was pregnant with God, our souls can hold an abundance of supernatural being … in fact the Creator Himself from whom all things comes.
“A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” is Grace Making Suffering Bearable
Jane and Michael rear back in disgust when confronted with the heavy task of tidying up the nursery. While singing this song, Mary lightens their load, providing supernatural help with her finger-snapping telekinesis … infinitely reducing the toil and making it really fun. The tidying up, of course, is symbolic of Mary beginning to clean up the whole household on a spiritual level. This all reflects what many saints have said, namely, that suffering is the medicine which heals us from the disease of sin. However, supernatural grace assists us in taking that disgusting medicine in a most delightful way, which explains why saints often spoke of suffering as sweet (hence, the sugar imagery) and maintained so much inexplicable joy through their terrible tribulations. Relatedly, Mary’s point about how we can learn from birds about not stressing out about hard work is somewhat indicative of the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus said: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26) So, God makes all things possible, and so what was once impossible then now becomes, dare I say, a snap.
Later on, Jane and Michael literally have to take some medicine. They protest, but once again, through Mary’s intercession, it becomes delicious. Moreover, each spoonful is magically conformed to the particular taste of each person. This represents how grace, while coming from the same source, is diversified according to the unique needs and personality of each individual soul. Also, I suppose it’s important to explain why Poppins herself takes the medicine … for, if Poppins is Our Lady, and medicine is the cure for sin, then doesn’t this symbolically suggest that Our Lady is sinful? For why else would she need to be cured? I would respond that, while Our Lady never committed sin, she was nonetheless saved from sin by grace (that is why she still refers to God as her savior). Likewise, there is nothing to suggest that the medicine Poppins takes is anything more than a vaccine, implying that she is (at least possibly) not infected with any disease. Just thought I’d mention that.
Toward the end of the movie, Bert sings a variation of this song with this notable verse:
A spoonful of sugar that is all it takes
It changes bread and water into tea and cakes
A spoonful of sugar goes a long, long way
‘Ave yourself a ‘ealthy ‘elpin’ ev’ry day
This, I would boldly assert, actually alludes to the Eucharist. Sugar, which (as I’ve indicated before) is symbolic of grace, is able to “magically” transform mere bread and water into something more exquisite, a process that, at least to my mind, brings to mind Transubstantiation (that is, the miraculous transformation of Bread and Wine into Christ’s Body and Blood during a Catholic Mass). Moreover, Bert advocates consuming such extraordinary sustenance everyday, as Catholics are encouraged to be Daily Communicants (i.e. receive the Eucharist everyday at Daily Mass).
The Magical Chalk Drawing is a Religious Icon
According to Eastern Christianity, religious icons are said to be “windows into heaven” insofar as they are designed to assist a person to contemplate heavenly things and to receive a spiritual experience. Something like this takes place when Mary, Bert, Jane, and Michael go through the chalk drawing into an ideal, joyful, and rather mystical cartoon world.
It seems that many of the animals they encounter there (most notably the penguin waiters) could be angels, who are there to serve humanity but hold up Mary in the highest esteem.
“It’s A Jolly Holiday With Mary” is a Holy Day with Mary
This is one of the more explicit hints that the movie is about Our Lady. The English word “Holiday” of course literally means “Holy Day.” The song sings of Mary in such high regard, it almost seems like they worship her … or at least hold her up above any other creature. Furthermore, all the cartoon animals know and love Mary very well for some reason, as if all creation is calling her blessed. Monumental happiness and love are poured out into the world thanks to her, as they sing such things as: “Happiness is booming all around her” and “When Mary holds you hand, you feel so grand, your heart starts beating like a big brass band.” They say, “Mary makes the Sun shine bright!” just as Our Lady’s soul magnifies the Lord. It also has the curious phrase “the daffodils are smiling at the dove” … daffodils are associated with Easter (the most important Christian holiday), while the dove of course is associated with the Holy Spirit, perhaps thus talking about how souls who celebrate holy days are taking joy in God. With all this said, they finally sing, “No wonder it is Mary that we love!”
The Dance between Bert’s Cane and Mary’s Umbrella is when “Justice and Mercy shall kiss”
The cane, an instrument used for beating people for punishment on occasion, is the symbol of justice. The umbrella, an instrument to spare people from harshness and discomfort, is the symbol of mercy. Furthermore, justice is more associated with masculinity, as the cane belongs to Bert … mercy more with femininity, as the umbrella belongs to Poppins. While often appearing incompatible with each other in this life, they are supernaturally both present in God, as the cane and umbrella are seen supernaturally and lovingly united in the air (the Holy Spirit) amidst this mystical cartoon experience.
The Magic Merry-Go-Round is Nature Elevated by Grace
Jane and Michael are very excited about this lovely little carousel, just as there is much wonder to be had in the natural world as well. Bert remarks, “Very nice. Very nice, indeed, if you don’t wanna go nowhere,” acknowledging how nature is good but, in itself, has a somewhat cyclical quality that ultimately doesn’t take us to what we truly want. Thanks to Mary’s intercession, however, the horse-fixtures are given the power to transcend their obvious natural limitations and levitate onto a plane of more boundless possibility, just as grace, which all comes through Mary, allows us to gain access to infinite realities not found in the natural realm.
The Hunted Fox is an Irish Catholic being Persecuted by British Protestants
For hundreds of years, starting with King Henry VIII, the British Protestants have persecuted Catholic Ireland with wars and genocides, ultimately slaughtering them in the millions, but the Irish still managed to retain their faith and miraculously live through it. In the movie, we see some well-to-do British aristocrat-types hunting down a poor fox who has an Irish accent and who laments “Tis them redcoats again!” (the term “redcoats” referring to “British soldiers”) and also prays, “Saints preserve us!” (a very Catholic thing). The fox’s prayer is answered and a saint does preserve him, namely St. Joseph (Bert, that is) who lifts the fox up onto his horse right before he nearly gets chomped by a hunting dog. From this position, the fox even kicks a dog in the face, symbolizing how once one is elevated by grace (as the fox was lifted up onto the levitating merry-go-round horse), he is able to evade and defeat his more powerful enemies.
Later on, Mr. Banks criticizes Mary Poppins for taking the kids out on “useless frivolities” but actually approves that they experienced a fox hunt, just as materialists condemn many innocuous religious practices but approve of the genocide of Catholics (or at least downplay how bad such events were).
Mary’s Winning the Horse Race is Our Lady Winning Salvation above all others
When Poppins incidentally beats everyone in the horse race on her magical carousel pony, it symbolizes how Our Lady has achieved grace beyond all else. This correspondence between racing and grace is somewhat reminiscent of St. Paul who said: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
“Supercalifragalisticexpealidotious” is the Magnificat
The Magnificat is the prayer which Our Lady said, upon her accepting the offer from the Archangel Garbriel of becoming the Mother of God (Luke 1:46-55). It signifies the acceptance of grace and, moreover, thanksgiving for it. Similarly, when Poppins incidentally wins the horse race, she is showered with gifts and praise, and to express what she feels about this great honor, she responds with this curious song which, I propose, is far from silly or meaningless.
The Magnificat speaks about how God “scatters the proud-hearted in their conceit … casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly” … as Poppins who, being a mere woman happened to pass through a race-course, rather effortlessly beating the professional jockeys, symbolizing how Our Lady, a random and unassuming Jewish woman in a backwater middle-eastern village, became the Mother of God, after which time, all generations would call her blessed. Also this relates to the recent fox hunt, in which the uppity hunting aristocrats are knocked off their “high horses” and are scattered, while the lowly fox is literally raised above them and saved. It also connects with how God “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” as we see, during the song, the fox enjoying a carmel apple, unlike the British hunting dogs of the previous scene, whose failure has sent them away empty-handed.
The verse that sings, “Because I was afraid to speak when I was just a lad, me father gave me nose a tweak and told me I was bad, but then one day I learned a word that saved me achin’ nose” simply symbolizes how those reluctant to accept grace will be punished in various ways by God (our Father) until we conform to His will … that is, until we do that which is embodied in the Magnificat (i.e. accept God’s grace).
It then sings, “When dukes and maharajahs pass the time of day with me, I’d say me special word and then they’d ask me out to tea” signifying how accepting God’s grace will not only spare us from punishment but will raise us up like nobles (and I suppose it will also allow us to partake in the Eucharist, which, again, is symbolized by tea in this movie).
The verse “So when the cat has got your tongue there’s no need for dismay, just summon up this word and then you’ve got a lot to say” admonishes us not to despair during confusing times but trust in God and call upon His help.
And finally, when it says, “But better use it carefully or it could change your life,” this is to say that we should not use our God-given gifts lightly. And we should always approach the sacraments (which give us all sorts of graces) without flippancy but with reverence. One must approach holy matrimony, for example, with seriousness, for example, for when the vows are exchanged, the couple is given supernatural grace that binds them together until death … such a thing should not be done carelessly. Perhaps that cartoon character who tell Poppins, “For example, one night I said it to me girl, and now me girl’s me wife” (upon which he is smacked by his spouse, to which he says, “Ow! And a lovely thing she is, too”) maybe rushed into things. But, hey, even if a husband and wife turn out not to be the most “compatible,” if they have a sacramentally valid marriage, they nonetheless given enough grace to live out their marriage (in fact, in order to be happy, there is no alternative option for them but to do so).
Now, the song’s refrain includes, “Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious.” This also seems true about how Christianity sounds to the world. When someone enthusiastically converts to the faith, it is atrocious to worldly people’s sensibilities. But, hey, so what?
Nonetheless, what does “supercalifragalisticexpealidotious” mean? Honestly, isn’t it just nonsense in itself?
Though perhaps nonsense according to some, one can easily break it down into its apparent etymological Latin roots and reflect on what they signify given the context and interpretation thus far:
“super-“ meaning “above” or “upwards” in Latin (this may hint at something “supernatural” or at least something “higher” import) but in English can similarly mean “great” (and the first part of the word “Magnificat” is magnus, which is, in Latin, “great,” which, incidentally, comprises the first part of the word “Magnificat”) or, quite appropriately, it can mean “magnificent.”
“-cali-“ the closest Latin word being calix which means “chalice” (Our Lady is symbolized as a “chalice,” for she held Christ within herself, just as the chalice holds the blood of Christ at Mass)
“-fragalistic-“ the closest Latin word being fragilis which means “weakness” (which may refer to how Our Lady’s lowliness in contrast to the glory given her … on the other hand, it may have something to do with sin, which is the chief weakness suffered by fallen humanity)
“-expiali-“ the closest Latin word being expiare which can either mean “to expiate” or “to atone for” which often has the specific connotation in the context of religious rites (which, I would say, fits with the aforementioned part about “sin” … that is something about “atoning for sin”)
“-docious” the closest Latin word being docilis which means “docile” or “easily taught” or “responsive” or quite simply “obedient” (this may have something to do with Our Lady’s acceptance of God’s will which allowed for the expiation of sins through her Son … incidentally, Our Lady’s acceptance is often called her “fiat,” which is Latin for “so be it,” related to the Latin word facit, which means “to do,” which etymologically comprises the ending part of the word “Magnificat”)
With this, I think the word seems to point to Mary (the supernatural “chalice” who contains divinity) and how her acceptance of God’s will allowed Christ to come into the world so that humanity’s sins were finally expiated (and, again, this whole thing was sung about in Mary’s Magnificat). Pulling together all the roots of the word as analyzed above, one could reasonably arrive at this concise definition of Supercalifragalisticexpealidotious: “The Magnificent Chalice with which Sin is Atoned for by Obedience.”
Even though it was through Mary’s obedience that made salvation available to all, that grace must still be applied to each individual soul. We must each follow Mary’s example and, in some way, make our own Magnificat, insofar as we must accept God’s will so that we will be freed from sin and become blessed. We see this analogously happening throughout the movie, namely, those who say, “Supercalifragalisticexpealidotious” become good and joyful (this phenomenon very explicitly can be seen with the housemaid and the cook, for example). Some characters say it quite frequently sometimes, as we ourselves ideally should say the Magnificent often (like in the Divine Office), to further our conversion and conformation to God’s will. Mr. Banks, at first, obstinate to the truth, not only is unable to say the word but irrationally takes offense at it, just as materialists often detest prayer and any consequent joy that people have because of it, dismissing it as mere emotional nonsense. This is something, ironically, that most people have probably said about this song … and about the whole movie.
Uncle Albert (the “I Love to Laugh” guy) is the Charismatic Movement
Uncle Albert represents one inebriated with “charismatic gifts.” Not only is he inebriated (clearly), he also levitates, a phenomenon sometimes purported to happen in praise and worship gatherings of the charismatic sort. Levitation can be a sign of consolatory grace, something, I think, that the charismatic movement capitalizes on … that is, feeling good about God. Levitation is an important theme throughout the movie too, always a sign that the supernatural is somehow present. It particularly happens with characters who are humble and joyful (the latter being dependent on the former). This connects well with what G.K. Chesterton said: “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly” … whereas, “Satan fell by force of gravity.” So, obviously in addition to levitation, Uncle Albert also exhibits the other particular charismatic phenomenon, namely the gift of laughter … obviously.
With some reservation, Mary allows everyone to float up and join the preternatural revelry (even Bert, that is, the patron saint of the spiritual life who patronizes this episode, if you will) and join Uncle Albert with their own uncontrollable laughter. But in the end Mary pulls them all down, clearly expressing that this isn’t something that should be prolonged. This, perhaps, you could say, is the same kind of thing with the charismatic movement. The consolatory gifts of the Holy Spirit and all that are good, but some people get habitually drunk on the experience and sort of seek them in excess, thinking that’s what it’s all about. But, in fact, we need to have our feet firmly planted on the ground to attend to the more mature matters of the Christian mission … namely, suffering. So, while it is fitting we should have a taste of heaven to remind us of our goal, we’re not in heaven yet. That’s why, when Uncle Albert returns from his “spiritual high,” he laments profusely, having experienced inexplicable glory, but is now returned to the earthly realm, submerged, as it were, in the veil of tears.
“Feed the Birds” is the Church Asking for Prayers for the Souls in Purgatory
This scene could more generally represent the Church’s efforts to make people more charitable to everyone (like the poor, for example), but there is curious imagery that suggests an emphasis regarding purgatory.
The Old Woman seems to be the “Church Suffering” and, similarly, Our Lady of Sorrows. Yes, I think the Old Woman seems to actually reflect Our Lady, but in her most miserable and least glorious state … something she was like at the foot of the Cross, lamenting for her Son and for those suffering because of sin.
The dirty pigeons she feeds represent the dirty, suffering souls in purgatory who are in need of people’s prayers. The suffering of such souls is likened to that endured by damned souls (as many saints have said), but since they did not die in mortal sin, their spiritual punishment is temporary but still inconceivably horrible, as their injustices against God were never paid for during their earthly life. However, our prayers (as well as “indulgences” for that matter) can give them grace whereby their misery is alleviated and shortened, and all of that grace goes through Our Lady. Similarly, we see how people’s money, given to the Old Woman, becomes food for the hungry birds, whereby the birds are freed from pain. The cinematics play into this a bit, for after we see the ratty pigeons groveling on the floor, the camera pulls back, whereupon the pigeons are flying upward now in the appearance of glowing white doves, which is appropriate since early Christian art used doves to symbolize purified souls springing from purgatory. Furthermore, the whole scene is set against the background of St. Paul’s Cathedral, explicitly connecting all of this to the Church. The most explicitly Catholic verses in the whole movie are uttered here when Poppins says:
All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
Toward the end of the song, St. Paul’s Cathedral starts to fade out to be juxtaposed with a close-up of Poppins, symbolizing that Mary is, in fact, the Church.
The Elder Mr. Dawes is the False Happiness of this World
The unit of currency mentioned frequently in the movie is “Tuppence” (which literally means “two pennies”), alluding to the story in the Gospels (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4) where the Widow (probably an old woman) gives all she had, namely, two pennies, to the Temple, whereas the rich gave much more but had plenty to spare. The point is that what little you may have to give is important … and you can either put it toward good, holy ventures or waste it on empty, worldly ones.
Michael is confronted with a choice: spend his Tuppence feeding the birds or depositing it in the bank. The former is analogous to heavenly treasure, as it would assist souls in purgatory. The latter is earthly treasure, worthless in itself, and the love of which is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Mr. Banks, being a materialist, obviously favors the latter and tears his son away from the better choice.
Here we meet Mr. Banks’ role-models, the Board of Directors of the bank, especially the Elder Mr. Dawes, whom Mr. Banks almost reveres as a god (or at least some kind of feared father figure). Despite being a formidable “giant in the world of finance,” Mr. Dawes is actually just a decrepit, dying, pathetic old man who is about to lose his balance at every step. Moreover, while supposedly being an extremely wealthy man, he is totally obsessed with taking Michael’s meager two pennies. The overall image is a vivid one for representing worldly happiness … namely, a person who is worshipped for supposedly having achieved fulfillment in this life but is actually not fulfilled at all, his physical health failing and desperately grasping at pocket change like a homeless beggar. It suggests that there is, in fact, no such thing as worldly happiness.
However, all his followers have been fooled into thinking there’s something to it, and they proceed to convince the two children of that. They sing the “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,” an effort to tempt them into worldly nothingness, to paint emptiness like the most glorious, adventurous thing possible … but Jane and Michael, the pure of heart who have been nurtured by Mary’s care, are not convinced by the psychotic rhetoric (but rather appalled by the inexplicable enthusiasm these grown-ups have for such shallow affairs). They ultimately reject their proposal, sparking a run on the bank, symbolizing how a small person, if they have the goodness and bravery to step up against corruption, can shake the foundations of the world.
But because they stood up for what was right, they quickly feel alone and afraid, as they are chased away and into the slums of the city. This is the shameful ugliness that greedy English businesses created at this time, just as evil, while sometimes wearing an attractive face, has an unattractive underside that it tries to keep hidden. Fortunately, they are rescued from this darkness by the saintly intercessor Bert (the opposite of Mr. Dawes … but, yes, ironically played by the same actor).
The Chimney Sweeps are either: 1. The Poor (or) 2. The Priesthood
Now as the ladder of life
‘As been strung
You may think a sweep’s
On the bottommost rung
Though I spends me time
In the ashes and soot
In this ‘ole wide world
There’s no ‘appier bloke
These verses appear to be echoing Christ’s words, namely, “Blessed are the poor” as well as “the last shall be first.” It is easier for a poor man to gain salvation in comparison to the rich. Likewise, do we see these lower-class sweeps symbolically in possession of grace (indicated by their semi-levitatory, acrobatic, physics-defying dances), intimately familiar with the spiritual life (they practically live in chimneys), having devotion to Our Lady (they all know and love Poppins), are actually above the rich (that is, they are physically higher by being on the rooftops), and finally appear much happier than the wealthier characters despite being dirt poor.
2. The other interpretation that works just as well is that the chimney sweeps embody the Catholic priesthood, chiefly because they clean out chimneys, just as priests work to clean out people’s spiritual lives. This can be some pretty nasty business, as they have to hear countless numbers of confessions, but it is a happy business in the end. This seems to be reflected again in the verses about being “in the ashes and soot” but “there’s no ‘appier bloke.”
Though St. Joseph was never a priest, he is saint to whom priests look to because he is a preeminent model of fatherhood. Priests assume God’s fatherhood insofar as they are charged with spiritually feeding Christians (through the sacraments), similar to how a natural father would his children. Hence, it makes some sense that Bert appears among them.
Bert also explains, “Good luck will rub off when I shakes hands with you,” which actually reflected a real belief in Britain around the time about chimney sweeps, namely that they were “lucky” and able to make other people “lucky.” This is somewhat analogous, I think, to how priests are especially blessed and can give powerful blessings to others.
The fact that these chimney sweeps are dressed in black also relates to the priesthood, most of whom don the color to symbolize how they have “died to self” (as black commonly symbolizes death), that is, their lives are not their own anymore. This idea is somewhat echoed by their “step-in-time” dance, in which the chimney sweeps are told to do various things (some of which are seemingly absurd), but they do it unquestioningly, joyfully, and the result is awesomeness.
While the chimney sweeps dance wildly on the roof, Admiral Boom sees them at a distance and mistakes them for hostile “Hottentots” whereupon he opens fire. This is similar to how Traditionalists often mistake friends of the Church for her enemies. In my experience, ultra-conservatives seem to be inclined to accuse displays of joy and pleasure with paganism. I have seen on many occasions how conservatives have also demonized the poor (relating to the first interpretation of the chimney sweeps). Likewise, I have also encountered radical Traditionalist Catholics who have denied that Catholic priests today are actually priests (because they don’t agree that the new Ordination Formula was valid or something … it’s complicated). Admiral Boom again demonstrates that he’s just a bit crazy and short-sighted … just like, I dare say, a Traditionalist.
Mr. Banks Getting Fired from his Job is Man’s Personal Death and Resurrection into New Life
While women are more receptive to religion and spirituality, men are more stubborn and proud and must be broken more thoroughly. When Mr. Banks demands Poppins to explain the baffling events in his house, she says, “First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear …. I never explain anything” which, I think, alludes to the idea which Thomas Aquinas explained quite well: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Mr. Banks still does not have faith, but now it is time that he must. Poppins knows that gentleness with him is not going to be as effective. He must now undergo a painful trial.
When Mr. Banks receives the call from the office summoning him to the death of his career, he slumps into a deep spell of despondency. Moreover, he points the finger at none other than Mary Poppins, saying, “It’s that Poppins woman! She did it!” as many people, especially those of particularly worldly bent, often attribute their troubles to the Church. In many ways, the Church does destroy people’s lives … dissembles their prosperous, well-ordered livelihoods that are ordered to nothing. God dashes the expectations they have for themselves and then, unexpectedly, lifts them up to a higher level of happiness that their narrow-mindedness never thought possible.
As Mr. Banks mopes, Bert is providentially there to talk to him, man-to-man. Since Mr. Banks is desperate, he is open to hearing the wisdom of this unassuming pauper. Sometimes, that is the only way people are willing to listen to the truth … when their false sense of security has been dashed to pieces. Bert awakens him to the realization that the “happiness” he is losing isn’t really happiness at all … that it has actually been distracting him from his true purpose. Bert, this symbol of Christ’s foster father, shows Mr. Banks what is to be a true father. And, perhaps without even knowing it, he starts looking to Bert as the model of a caring father rather than to the Elder Mr. Dawes, whose love is nothing but illusory (once again, they’re ironically played by the same actor). Mr. Banks is struck speechless for once, as he now realizes his life has been a sham. With Bert singing “A Spoonful of Sugar,” it indicates that Mr. Banks will not be without help in this upcoming trial.
After this, Jane and Michael give their Tuppence to their father. Mary Poppins is shown giving a subtle smile of victory and then walks off screen because the children have finally settled on giving what little they had for a good purpose … particularly, planting the seed for their father’s salvation. Their father looks at them lovingly … probably for the first time … thanks them, and then heads out to meet his fate.
Mr. Banks is not converted yet at this point. He is getting there. He has become uncomfortable, forced to open his mind, and has caught a glimpse of a higher existence. But to complete the cycle, as every person must, he must die. This is how we are conformed to Christ … we must undergo a kind of death because of sin. Only then will we be converted in full … only then will we be like Christ.
In a sublimely melancholic scene, he walks through various dark, garden-like scenes, reminiscent of Christ in the garden prior to his crucifixion. On his way, he looks up at St. Paul’s Cathedral as if for the first time. He can finally see past the end of his nose. He finally sees the Church, even though he walked passed it every day.
When he arrives at the bank, he is escorted in an execution-like march to the Board of Directors, like Christ being marched to Calvary by the Roman soldiers. When in the presence of his persecutors, they finally pull the trigger. They do to him what he has feared most. He has lost the world. He experiences trauma in both heart and mind. This is symbolized by how they ruin his hat (his mind) and the rose pinned to his left lapel (his heart). They also take his umbrella (which, as said before, represents mercy) and destroy it too, which indicates that the world, when all is said and done, is without mercy. But these unaesthetic “wounds” will become glorious ones that Mr. Banks will wear with pride.
After undergoing this symbolic death, he looks at the childrens’ Tuppence, whereupon he can now clearly see its significance. He is freed from what was holding him back, namely the excessive love of the world, and can finally understand the nature of love beyond it, demonstrated to him by his children thanks to Poppins. He then exclaims, “Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious!” which, as said before, symbolizes the acceptance of grace, which he has finally now done. This symbolic submission to God’s will results in uncontrollable joy. Furthermore, he attributes all this to Poppins, once again indicating that Our Lady is through whom all grace comes.
The Directors can only assume that Mr. Banks has gone mad since worldliness still blinds them to the supernatural. Mr. Dawes Senior flatly denies the existence of the word Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious, just as worldly people ultimately deny any happiness beyond the world. The ecstatic Mr. Banks responds, “Oh, yes. It is a word. A perfectly good word, actually. Do you know what there’s no such thing as? It turns out, with due respect, when all is said and done,” and then defiantly points to Mr. Dawes, that representative of worldly happiness, “that there’s no such thing as you!”
Now that Mr. Banks has been condemned to potential poverty, he nonetheless gives what little he has, namely the Tuppence, to the Elder Mr. Dawes, just as his children gave it to their father. He thus plants the seed for Mr. Dawes’ conversion. And sure enough, Mr. Dawes soon begins to laugh and levitate, after which, we are told later on, he dies … the symbolic death of worldly happiness (and, I suppose, a kind of deathbed conversion that the ultra-obstinate are sometimes granted). Thus is shown the significance of one small act of charity and its power to germinate and affect great change throughout the world.
The next day, everyone thinks Mr. Banks is dead. However, he emerges from the cellar, similar to how Christ emerged from the cave upon His resurrection. People hardly recognize him, or think he’s insane, but they come to realize that he is transformed into a better man, and it vivifies the whole household. The materialist mindset is gone. He now lives in the spirit. He now has true happiness.
“Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is Family Prayer
Flying a kite represents heavenly contemplation, directing people’s attention “up to the heighest heights” and “up where the air is clear” away from earthly things, where there is no earthly distractions. The movements of the kite allows them to see the movements of the invisible wind … that is, as said before, the movements of the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of the movie, Jane’s and Michael’s kite is in shambles, as they did not have help from their parents, just how many parents neglect the spiritual well-being of their children with disastrous consequences. Now that Mr. Banks has become child-like (a necessity for salvation) and a believer, he leads the family in prayer, as it were, and with great success, since God has ordained the father to be the spiritual head of the family. Because his own soul is in order, the soul of Mrs. Banks naturally and easily follows. She rightly ties her suffragette sash to the kite, surrendering her secular feminism and assuming a kind that is in tune with heaven and which keeps her united to her family (whether she is giving up her campaign for women’s votes altogether is unclear … frankly, I have no idea). A family that prays together, stays together … which is what this kite scene most definitely expresses.
Off to the side, Bert, being St. Joseph the patron saint of the spiritual life, is fittingly seen handing out kites (like rosaries), offering them to everyone, though some just walk past him.
Not only do we finally see the Banks family in harmonious accord, we also see the Directors of the Bank donning kites in child-like fashion too. This of course is indicative how they too have converted to the way of Poppins, and it was through Banks’ suffering which affected this, similar to how those who put martyrs to death sometimes end up converting because of it. They even re-hire Mr. Banks, elevating him to a higher position, showing, of course, how the Christian life, despite its momentary deprivations, ends up giving to people more than they had before.
And, let us not forget, all this came through Mary Poppins.
Mary’s Umbrella is the Holy Spirit (as well)
Even though I previously claimed the Wind is representative of the Holy Spirit, I also believe Poppins’ umbrella also has this identification (at the very least, her umbrella is very much connected with the wind, as they both work in concert to make Poppins fly). But particularly, her umbrella is the Holy Spirit as spouse to the Virgin Mary. Poppins is seldom seen separate from it (as if married), and the fact that it has a bird handle is somewhat related to how the Holy Spirit is most often represented as a bird (though the former is a parrot and the latter a dove, I admit). And, the umbrella, as mentioned before, represents mercy, a quality that is particularly attributed to the Holy Spirit, who is Love.
Speaking of Love, when Poppins is packing her bags, Jane and Michael beg her to stay and ask her, “Don’t you love us?” to which Poppins enigmatically replies, “And what would happen to me, may I ask, if I loved all the children I said good-bye to?” This does seem problematic if, in fact, Poppins is Our Lady. However, it is worthy to note, she never actually denies she loves them. Still … curious.
Larry Fahey, in his article Something Steely, Unsympathetic, and Cold: A Reconsideration of Mary Poppins (from The Rumpus website, June 22nd, 2010), after expressing great distaste for the seemingly uncaring character of Poppins, turns around completely toward the end and admits:
Mary represents discipline and, specifically, the idea of giving children less love, or at least what too many parents think of as love—namely, indulgence. What if Mary Poppins, a supernatural being if ever there was one in cinema, is the higher, less familiar idea of boundaries, consistency, and authority? Their parents, and specifically their father, have a strong sense of propriety, but that’s not really the same thing. As I said, Mary doesn’t try very hard to make us or anyone else like her, and maybe that’s the point: Maybe Mary Poppins is meant to suggest that love and indulgence are different things, and that sometimes love looks cold, efficient and decidedly unsentimental.
Once again, the theme of tough love. It is a love that doesn’t always seem like love but is sometimes necessary to mold the human soul properly, so as to purge its imperfections and ready it for the challenges later in life. However, is Poppins truly without “sentiment”? Oftentimes “sentimentality” has the connotation of being self-indulgent, but there also seems to be a good kind that simply involves feelings of tenderness, sadness, and nostalgia. It would seem rather wrong and inhuman of her to lack this, right?
I think the dialogue between Poppins and her umbrella sheds light on the issue:
First of all, when the Banks family are off blissfully flying their kite, Poppins watches in background, almost as if they had forgotten her and the fact that she was the one to lead them to their happiness. The umbrella says to her, “Look at them! You know, they think more of their father than they do of you!” to which she replies, “That’s as it should be.” This, I believe, points to the notion that Out Lady, despite her greatness, is ultimately not the end goal to which souls should strive. She assists us in gaining communion with God the Father, and does not demand further recognition when that goal is achieved. That is Mary’s purpose. And she humbly accepts that. Incidentally, this proves conclusively that Poppins is, in fact, not vain in the least, as she is completely content to fade into the background without any thank-you’s for the wonderful, life-changing effects she had on people.
But then the umbrella asks, “Well, don’t you care?” and Poppins replies, “Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking” which suggests that she is without sentiment. But then the umbrella responds, “Is that so? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Mary Poppins, you don’t fool me a bit …. I know exactly how you feel about these children. And if you think I’m gonna keep my mouth shut any longer …” whereupon Poppins gently shuts the parrot/umbrella’s mouth and says, “That will be quite enough of that, thank you.” With the proposed interpretation, this may seem to suggest a disharmony between Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, but I think this is a profound example of “marital teasing” in a supernatural tongue-in-cheek type way. This also strongly hints that Poppins clearly does have feelings for the children but is pretending not to, while knowing that it’s pretty obvious to her companion that she does. Stuff like that always happens between couples, of course. But still, while she cannot hide it from her umbrella (after all, the Holy Spirit is omniscient), is it really that big a deal to hide it from everyone else?
At the end of his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton said something about Christ which may apply, perhaps to an infinitely lesser degree, to the Virgin Mary, and may apply also to Mary Poppins, especially in light of the last scene of the movie:
And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
As Christ may have held back his mirth lest humanity be overwhelmed, so Poppins held back her womanly sentimentality. Our Lady, I think, is bursting with sentiment for us, but is not showing it all the time … for our own good. If that makes any sense.
Mary’s Departure into the Clouds is Mary’s Assumption into Heaven
Without even collecting her wages (as far as I can tell), Mary sneaks away. Joy remains even with the retraction of her comforting presence. But, we are left with the reassuring hint that her absence will not be forever as Bert gives us the last line of the movie in a knowing, amiable, and almost offhand way: “Good-bye, Mary Poppins. Don’t stay away too long.” She turns to look back, smiles, and continues on her way. But just as Our Lady was taken into heaven, she did not leave us. She keeps coming back. Her job isn’t finished. What’s about to happen, all happened before.
So many people have seen Mary Poppins but have grown desensitized to it, often how Catholics grow desensitized to Our Lady. My advice is to go and re-watch the movie and rediscover both. I used to think it was just another shameless, corny musical, but now with this analogy in mind, it’s honestly a rather mystical experience (despite the fact that I usually prefer action movies). Mary Poppins is just a little too weird to not mean anything. Whenever a piece of artwork is shrouded in seemingly random nonsense and yet endures as a classic, you can bet something’s going on. Something secret … in this case, the secret about Mary.
But if you’re not convinced and you think this is completely blasphemous, then I don’t know what to say. Oh wait … I know … but it’s something quite atrocious.
Mary, Mother of God and Mother of us all, pray for us.
(For another similar movie analogy, see Star Wars and the History of Vatican II)