Reflections on “Saving Mr. Banks”

January 8, 2014

Rarely does a modern film affect me like this one does. A film that refuses to go away: continuing to churn and churn and churn in the conscious and subconscious strata of my mind. It has affected my wife Connie and son Greg in the same way, but for individualized reasons.

There are so many layers, so many dimensions, in the film. That surprised me no little given that most of the reviews I’d read didn’t even mention anything but the most obvious aspect–telegraphed by the film title–the intense tug of war between Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and P. L. Travers (the author of the Mary Poppins books – played by Emma Thompson). For twenty years, Walt Disney had been urging the author to permit him and his studio to make the Poppins story into a movie. All in vain: Travers adamantly refused to let such a thing happen–at any price.

Supposedly, the movie is the story of Travers’ trip to California from Australia, and the fascinating story of how one irresistible force fought another irresistible force.

Yet, the Disney/Travers saga is not really what Director John Lee Hancock and scriptwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith considered most important, but rather the flashbacks from Travers’ childhood in Australia. The movie-goer is never permitted to lose sight of the story behind the story: the Peter Pan-ish father (Travers Goff – powerfully played by Colin Farrell) who is idolized by his daughter, Helen Goff [in the film, Annie Rose Buckley so fills the screen with her mesmerizing face that, stealing scene after scene, she all but runs away with the movie]. Movingly portrayed is her father’s descent into an alcoholic hell that destroys his daughter’s childhood Camelot.  Her mother is suicidal.  In the end, how does the little-girl-grown-up handle the inner torment resulting from an adored father gone bad?

It is this inner torment that brings the movie to its unforgettable conclusion–for not until Travers is brought to a face-to-face confrontation with her father through the magic of film flashbacks is she able to at last cast off the shackles that had heretofore precluded any chance of real happiness in her life. According to reviewer Margy Rochlin, however, though that was true in the movie, it was not so in real life.  And that Travers’ grandchildren maintained that she died not loving anyone and nobody loving her.

I personally believe that time will prove Saving Mr. Banks to be a cinematic masterpiece.