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01/23/2014

MR BANKS MEETS HITCHCOCK: Death and Childhood Trauma

SAVING MISTER BANKS is a fictional story about P. L. Travers, the author of the book, Mary Poppins. The Travers character works through childhood trauma, while attempting to maintain creative control over her book during its adaptation to a Disney film. Mrs. Travers is successful in the former but not the latter. Both of these key themes have bioethical if not clinical ethical implications. Mr. Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock and co-written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Emma Thompson plays Mrs. Travis majestically while Tom Hanks portrays Walt Disney. Mr. Banks is ultimately about honoring the good in a person while not forgetting their fallibility or even real versus perceived cruelty. The film is subtle in this expression. 

The fictional Travers-Disney relationship unmasks Mrs. Travers’ need for emotional transformation. The film reminds me of the sensibility of the recent movie HITCHCOCK. Both works pivot on a unique nonsexual relationship between historically revered male and female creative collaborators. Both illustrate concerns with the film industries potential corruption of original written source material. Bioethical issues relate to “the artist’s right to write,” and pitfalls of having other people tell your stories. MISTER BANKS also underscores ways in which creativity can be therapeutic. 

This film is worth seeing for the performances. Thompson’s Travis is strong in an understated way. The portrayal is aided by the actor’s access to audio tapes of the real Travis’ working sessions during Mary Poppins’ pre-production. She definitely undergoes the only major change in the story, as others run their intended agendas around her. Hanks’ Disney is a simple principled man, whether or not one agrees with the principles. 

There is one person of color in the film and he is a bartender. It’s a small cast, a tight story with few locations. There are characters who are peripheral to Disney; workers who are drivers, secretaries, and lyricists. Mrs. Travers, even when antagonistic, at least interacts with these workers in the film, unlike Disney. These little bits allude to Disney’s political background which was in reality far to the right of the real Mrs. Travers. In the context of childhood trauma, enough shadow is cast to warrant questions about Disney’s tensions with his father. His father was a known socialist. Walt abandoned his father’s values, but apparently learned his work ethic. It is the sharing of the conflict between Disney and his father which aids the Travers character’s epiphany about the influence of her own upbringing. 

Like Hitchcock’s films, SAVING MISTER BANKS is about terror arising deep in childhood fears. It is also about the defenses people muster to escape those fears; helpful or malignant. This movie rejuvenated my desire to better understand the longtime concern and effects of Disney works dealing with psychological implications of death and loss; an arena in which these films have always been oddly involved. SAVING MISTER BANKS is absolutely not a children’s film, though it is mostly about children’s lingering fears in adults. Also like Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers and mysteries, MISTER BANKS is a rough exploration of death’s implications for those left behind. 

Saving Mr Banks (35mm) directed by John Lee Hancock (2013) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. (USA) 125 min. 

See for cross reference on this website bioethicsscreenreflections.com website post re: Writing other People’s stories THE HELP (2012) THE WORDS (2013) and re: Childhood Trauma: NOWHERE BOY (2010)

This entry was posted in Health Care and tagged . Posted by September Williams, MD. Bookmark the permalink.

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