Can You Imagine That? Returning to Mary Poppins.
I need Mary Poppins in my life. Not because she has the magical ability to clean her house by clicking her fingers. Not even because she has an appropriate song for every occasion or because I feel like I need a nanny. But because I think she comes to fix deep human needs; for order in a chaotic world and restored relationship with those we love. Mary Poppins in both her original and in her return, wants to teach us how to deal with a world that is less than perfect. She allows us to recognise just how broken our world and ourselves are, and she gives us wisdom to mend them by offering a vision of what life should and could be like.
“The Place Where Lost Things Go”, sung to comfort the children who are missing their mother was the song that resonated most for me from Mary Poppins Returns. Strikingly, rather than minimising pain or trying to provide a neat resolution, the song speaks to the some of the suffering of dealing with death and grief. What I respected about this film is that it legitimises children’s pain whilst also providing future hope.
Maybe it is because she is practically perfect in every way that Mary Poppins is able to come into our less than perfect world and teach us how to transcend it. For Mary, this involves the use of the fantastical imagination to allow children, and sometimes adults, to see wonder even within this imperfect world full of fear, dysfunction and pain.
In the original the fantastical world is an escape from the harsh realities of this life. However, in Mary Poppins Returns, a main theme is that by escaping to other realities we are able to better understand and relate to our own imperfect world. Thus, Mary’s cousin, Topsy (played by Meryl Streep) sings “when you change the view from where you stood, the things you view will change for good”. The film suggests that hope can be found through the humility to understand that our perspective of the world is limited and perhaps our perception of reality is in need of recalibration.
The popularity of Mary Poppins as a character comes, I think, from a deep longing we all have for healing in our relationships and wonder in our everyday lives (as well as a library of joyful tunes). However, the film acknowledges that our human tendency is to return to our own limited perceptions of ourselves, others and the world. The fact that Mary always leaves and cannot offer any of these things in fullness leads me, immediately to look for Jesus, who can.
Because whilst the content of Poppins’ fantasies are insufficient to meet human pain in a long term sense, her methodology rings with the truth of Christian hope. That is, not dancing penguins, but a different version of reality. The Bible invites us to look forward in time to when this world will not have pain or darkness or fear, to know a world that will be our reality when Jesus returns and in God’s sovereignty is something that is real for us today. The Bible then asks us to imaginatively apply that vision of God’s kingdom to our present reality. To use God’s vision as our tool for recalibration.
A reoccuring theme from Mary Poppins Return is the invitation to “look”, the opening song invites the audience to Look Up and Mary Poppins asks us to look beyond the possible. In Revelation 4, the writer John, invites us to look at what heaven is like - to see the majestic throne room of God. To see as God sees and then allow that to shape our vision now. Naturally we will feel differently about death if we know that it is not the end. We will be more angry and inspired to change the injustice we see in our world we know it that is not part of the perfect kingdom that God desires for us. Similarly in Ephesians 2:6 Paul reminds us that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places even now. Mary Poppins uses fiction to invite us into a different reality, the Bible reminds us that the vision the God gives us is actually more real than our sinful eyes see. And Jesus who is not only perfectly perfect in every way, is also the way, the truth and the life. The one who brings not only true joy, restored relationships and comfort in every suffering.
Fiona is a follower of Jesus by identity and by trade a teacher of Science. She studied at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.