One of my all-time favorite movies is the Disney classic Mary Poppins. The music, the colors, the fanfare, and the story excite me. Our family occasionally cleans house stepping in time and singing along with the movie's soundtrack.
My wife and I recently watched the movie Saving Mr. Banks, the story of the making of Mary Poppins. Banks portrays the unlikely team of Walt Disney, who longed to see the children’s book character come to life on the screen, and Pamela "P. L. Travers," the author of the children’s books about Mary Poppins.
Travers reluctantly and under duress agrees to allow Disney to make her fictional character a motion picture. Tom Hanks’ Disney, the affable visionary, made a promise to his daughters twenty years earlier to make Mary Poppins fly off the pages of Travers’ books. Travers, withdrawn, negative, and guarded, distrusts her characters to anyone else’s creativity, including Disney. At one point Walt declares, “The woman’s a conundrum.”
The movie, far from the light-hearted Poppins, contains deep and serious themes. Travers, haunted by past wounds, created the world of Mary Poppins to find sense and solitude from her own demons. Through flashbacks, the viewer sees her father as a restless, wanderlust spirit going from place to place. Due to irresponsibility and alcoholism, he lost his jobs and harmed his family and reputation. Travers remembers him as a likable man who loved her but never found peace.
The flashbacks reveal an increasing dark cloud over their family. At one point, Travers rescues her mother from a suicide attempt. When her father becomes ill, the mother’s sister arrives to help the family. Young Travers hopes her aunt, who in the movie resembles Poppins, will be their salvation, resulting in her father being a changed man. When instead he dies at age 43 from alcohol-related problems, it is as if hope dies with him. The movie repeatedly depicts Travers' deep inner struggles as a woman in her sixties still trying to come to peace with her family of origin.
Disney disgusts Travers when he wrongly assumes that the purpose of the Poppins character is to save the children. By the end of the movie, Walt realizes that Travers created the story of Mary Poppins to redeem her own father. She fashioned a world where George Banks, trapped in the duties of a job at a bank, forgets to smell the roses in life and enjoy his family. Enter Mary Poppins, who arrives as a nanny and begins a process of changing them. By the movie’s end, the father, freed from the bank and his spirit transformed, enjoys the restored family unit with joy, songs, laughter, and love.
The big revelation comes near the end when Walt tells Travers, “So it's not the children she comes to save. It's their father. It's your father.”
Saving Mr. Banks skillfully depicts the long-term damage resulting from childhood wounds. Travers comes across as a difficult, pitiful woman, locked in the dungeon of unresolved conflict and broken dreams. As a senior adult she still tries to save her father from his own downfall.
In real life, Ms. Travers greatly disliked the motion picture at the initial screening and refused to watch it again for twenty years. How sad that she could not enjoy what became one of the most celebrated movies of all times.
Bobb Biehl, shares that our dominant childhood feeling often results in an adult phobic fear and an adult insatiable need. For example, a person who felt unloved during childhood will often fear rejection as an adult and need to be loved unconditionally. A child who felt favored will fear failure as an adult and will need to feel significant. Someone who experienced the dominant childhood feeling of insecurity will fear failure and inadequacy and will need security.
Biehl writes, “See yourself as God’s students, not life’s victim. God uses our past to build in strength for everyone.”
Sometimes in order to best move forward we first need to look back. The Bible says that one of the reasons Jesus came was to bind up the brokenhearted, release prisoners from darkness, comfort all who mourn, and give praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3). It is possible for us to know the Bible intellectually yet remain emotionally immature due to past hurts. Christ came to free us from the chains that bind and bring freedom for our tomorrows.
I wonder how Travers' life could have been different had she experienced the balm of the Spirit of God washing over yesterday’s tears.
We are wise to occasionally look back, asking the Lord to reveal areas of pain and wrong ways of thinking we developed to cope with those problems. The ministry of the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the Body of Christ together can result in our salvation from yesterday’s wounds.
Trying to convince Travers to trust him with her story, Disney explains, "That's what storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again."
God is the greatest storyteller of all time. He wants us to be whole emotionally as well as spiritually. Let’s allow Him to take the debris collected along life’s way and do a work of restoration. He can rewrite our stories. And that salvation is enough not only for Mr. Banks - but for you and me.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him. . . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:16,18