Mary Poppins Returns : Mary Poppins Somewhat Failed (1900 words)
I went to see Mary Poppins Returns yesterday evening. I’m really not a big fan of the first movie, I actually never saw it in its entirety, but a friend of mine wanted to see this sequel so, away we went.
I remember that I never truly understood the character when I was young. She looked happy, danced and sung, but there also was some melancholy about her. She was strict and severe, and at the same time let the kids disobey and do whatever they wanted most of the time.
As I was entering the theatre to see this new one, I had in mind that if there was a subtext to Mary Poppins, it was that she was a noxious character who fed on the kids’ fascination for her and didn’t do them any good nor was benevolent in any way.
But that’s not what I found. In this movie, it truly looked like Mary Poppins was doing her best to save the family and help the kids recover from the loss of their mother.
Instead of discovering ill-intentions on the part of the nanny, I was intrigued by how half-way through the movie, the plot took a turn into the realm of the really-hard-to-follow until it reached a double deus ex-machina ending that made me blink in disbelief.
As the film is still in theatre and I’m certainly not going to see it again before a long time, this alternative reading will be more of a “I have a big hunch that” than a proper analysis.
I think that, in this second story, Mary Poppins fails. In order to be able to make such a statement, I’ll need to underline a few intriguing elements and contradictions in the plot:
-1- The Strange False Issue.
As far as I remember, in the first movie, Mary Poppins was fighting with the father of the family who was money obsessed and didn’t pay attention to his kids. She was the one to bring magic back into a desperately rational and computable world.
How utterly tragic that in this second episode she should have to come back and help the same family and witness them be saved not by one but by two secret sources of money. During the whole movie, Michael Banks looks for a secret certificate that proves that his father bought shares that are worth a lot of money. And when finally, this certificate is found, suddenly it’s not enough, and things have to go as far as firing the new banker, bringing back an older character and a microscopic element from the first movie, and turn them into an unbelievable solution.
Of course, this clumsy conclusion could just be a clumsy conclusion, but it seems quite convoluted to have the characters succeed into miraculously bringing the certificate to the banker on time, only to then make all their efforts fruitless, and then bring a solution out of nowhere.
If the screenwriter was to make them succeed and go for the happy ending, why making it so forced and convoluted when a simpler one was already there ?
Because Michael Banks doesn’t want to save the house.
You simply do not doodle, even accidentally, on an official document that is worth thousands of pounds. That doesn’t exist. And you don’t go to the banker and tell him that you’ve lost the sole document that prevented him from making your money his by snapping his fingers. And you do not forget about the 2 pennies that you’ve invested when you were 8 years old. That doesn’t happen either.
The Banks family’s hopeless situation isn’t very convincing and neither are the initiatives that they take in order to remedy to it.
When the two bailiffs hold the door of the bank in order not to let Michael and Jane enter, both the brother and the sister know that one of the employees is more of an ally than an enemy and they would just need to ask him to open the door for him to do so. Instead, they try to have William Weatherall Wilkins notice a kite in his back, at the window, which is partially made of the certificate they need to bring him. So, their strongest attempt at saving the house still needs the active and benevolent participation of the banker who wants to take it from them. It's ridiculous. They even give him the perfect excuse not to see the certificate: “Oh, a kite.”
Plus, Mary Poppins has to intervene quite a few times to finally have the certificate land onto Wilkins’ desk.
=> Jane and Michael are not truly trying to save the house.
-2- The Dead Wife.
In the French version that I saw, when Michael sings about his departed wife, the words he uses are really not strongly associated with death. In English it would be something like “I’ve been feeling lost since you left,” and as a consequence it immediately made me wonder whether she had left him or had died. And the thing is that, I didn’t spot any moment in the movie at which it is flatly stated that the wife is dead. There’s not even an allusion to an accident. Of course, we can understand all this as euphemisms used out of reserve because the pain is too great. But, if that’s the case, I’m surprised there wasn’t a typical line from a minor character saying something like “Ho, it’s Michael Banks, be nice to him, his wife died in a car crash a year ago and he still hasn’t recovered from her death.”
And there might be something of the kind. But as far as I’m concerned right now, I didn’t notice anything that would have clarified the ambiguity after the song raised it.
So, it is worth considering that Michael’s wife left and if she did, there necessarily are hidden hints at the reasons why.
-3- The Return of the Memory Loss.
Michael and Jane both met Mary Poppins when they were kids, and still remember her magic tricks although they supposedly do not believe them to have been real anymore. But I find it quite strange that when their kids start talking about incredible adventures and trips into surreal worlds, they should not believe them and simply silence them.
Just like they lie about their incapacity to find money in order to save the house, they lie about their absence of faith in Mary Poppins’ magic powers.
And also, of all the families that Mary Poppins could have visited and helped, why did it have to be the Banks again ? Of course, we all have the practical reason for that: the sequel/remake aspect of the movie, the need to appeal to the nostalgia for the first etc… but these reasons do not explain why, on a narrative level, Mary Poppins had to come back.
-4- The Failed Love Story.
At some point in the movie, Jack gives Jane a ride on his bike. Mary looks at them and states “A good thing done.” (In English, she just says “Right that’s enough” but her gaze underlines that she expects them to end up together) Jane had to find a boyfriend and now she has… except that she hasn’t. Nothing substantial ever happens between the two. Granted, they fly into the sky hanging from their balloons, but at the end of the movie, Jack still hasn’t entered the Banks’ house, and it is still Jane’s true home.
My point here is that there's a subplot that hints at the fact that Jane is too clingy, takes too much space in her brother's life. The movie starts with the pipes of the house bursting = female sexual arrousal. Who could be that woman who is craving for love-making ?
Chimney sweep and "street lamp lighter" are two jobs that can very easily be perceived as bearing a metaphorical meaning. Both repair and restart people's sexuality, female and male.
-5- The Horror.
When at the end of the film, they all try to piece together the precious certificate they fail because of one little missing bit that Georgie threw away. If there is a secret in this movie, the missing piece of the certificate is the direct way to it.
Now, if I remember well, the certificate is the proof of ownership of a certain number of shares in the bank that was bought by Michael and Jane’s father and was supposed to pay for the twins’ education (Annabelle and John).
I could be wrong, but I think that the missing part is an important one as it contains several signatures. So, what issue could originate from the signatures on this document ? Also, why would Georgie get rid of this specific part ? before attempting to commit suicide by kite.
Well. My morbid guess is that the document is signed by George Banks (the father), Michael Banks (the son) and Jane Banks (the daughter) and that there’s no trace of Michael’s now-disappeared wife.
Annabelle and John are the result of an incestuous relationship between Michael and Jane.
I was moved to hear the characters sing something like "We need to look beyond appearances" (in the french version).
-6- But Why ? Whyyyyyyy ?
The hidden plot of Mary Poppins Returns is that both Michael and Jane have become entrapped in their wonderful experience with Mary and only live their lives in the hope that one day, she might return.
If it sounds far-fetched, just think of how present the idea of being obsessed with the nanny is present in the movie. All the characters who know her, just utter her name expectantly and looking at the sky.
Michael and Jane could never move on and return to normal everyday life. They remained chained to one another because of what they had lived and how nobody would understand and how wonderful it was.
And so, when they became adults, their libido became a tool to trigger Mary Poppins’ return. They had children together, they tried to create doubles of themselves in the hope that it would attract the magic nanny.
But it didn’t work, and Michael found the strength to fall in love with another woman. Did he tell his new beloved wife that Annie and John’s mother had left him ? Did he tell her that Annie and John’s were Jane’s illegitimate children and that he was raising them ? I don’t know. We know that she was a suffragettes, and we can easily imagine that her progressive mind could have brought her to accept to raise the children of another woman.
She and Michael had a kid, Georgie. And one day, she understood, maybe when she saw the certificate, she understood that Annie and John were Michael and Jane’s kids. She decided to sever even the smallest link that she had with that family and sacrificed her son, Georgie, in the operation.
That’s why Georgie has such a specific position in the movie because he knows the truth even if he suppresses it into his subconscious and he is the sole real child of Michael's disappeared wife.
Mary Poppins came to help three kids recover from the death of their mother but the magical trips do not go as planned. For example, when they all try to repair the cracked pot, Georgie is abducted by "the wolf" and they all end up falling from the edge into the darkness.
And when they ask the cousin to repair the pot (Used as a metaphore for their relationship with their mother), she more or less states that it’s impossible. The scene concludes with “come back in a month.” I’m pretty sure that they’ll never see the pot ever again. Jack himself states that he’s never seen the dead-end street in which the shop is situated.
Also, if the house is so impossible to save and the situation so intolerably desperate it might be because Jane and Michael really want her to intervene, to bring magic to them too.
And so, nothing goes as planned because Mary Poppins is not fighting what she thinks she is. Georgie is not threatened by the loss of a mother, but by the loss of her love (as she left)... while Annie and John are fine as their real mother is by their sides.
At the end of the movie, when everybody is flying in the air of the park, Mary Poppins remains outside. She looks at a balloon and states “near perfect” with sadness. She failed at her job here and she leaves as the door of this creepy house opens.
She did what she could, at least Georgie is now a bit safer. Time to leave.