This isn’t the first time I’ve watched Sound of Music. But, this was the first time I’ve watched it with a group of friends, as German subtitles flashed at the bottom of the screen. (To clarify: none of the audience members spoke German; it was an interesting linguistic experience.) To be fair to those who haven’t had the privilege of watching the movie, a quick synopsis:
Maria (Julie Andrews) is a fail nun: she sings, she climbs trees, she’s late to all the things. So the Reverend Mother decides to send her to the Von Trapp household, home to a former sea captain (Christopher Plummer) and his seven colorful children. Needless to say, Maria shows up, challenges the authority of our faithful captain, and changes the lives of the von Trapp family. The story takes place on the backdrop of pre-World War II Austria (specifically Salzburg).
Having seen the movie before, I didn’t get as easily distracted by the beautiful Austrian scenery or by Andrews’ sining (although “My Favorite Things” is still probably one of my favorite numbers–no pun intended). Of course the musical hits upon common major themes: love, loss and acceptance, and nationalism.
Love is abound in the movie…and if we watched the same movie there’s no need to explain it much. Loss is seen in the von Trapp’s familial loss (death of a mother prior to the movie); this loss is a subplot of the movie as the family moves through the loss towards acceptance–acceptance that things will never be the same as before, but that life can and does move on with meaning. Another loss that might not always get the full credit it deserves is Maria’s loss of her dream to become a nun. The significance of this loss is undermined a bit in the movie because the Reverend Mother chides Maria for “using the Abbey as a fortress from her problems” (which, to be fair, is true) and because the audience knows from the start that Maria isn’t going to be a nun. But if we consider the history of Maria’s character, the loss of her dream to be a nun is a major turning point in her life. There were many implications that Maria had a difficult childhood (orphaned perhaps?) and the only major consistencies in her life were God and music. She was ready to devote her life to God, but she clearly ended up on a different path, devoting her life to someone else. This is all fine and dandy, but coming to terms with such a decision must have surely been a taxing experience for Maria. From my minimal experience, humans have a tendency to be driven by their dreams, and many times humans latch onto a single dream, and let that dream guide them through life. Arguably, their existence revolves around this dream; but what happens when something changes? When a person realizes that the dream he or she has been chasing for so long, is actually not what they should be doing for whatever reason? That’s when we hit the five stages of grief (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model). Having to deal with such a change and having to counter feelings of time lost (“what have I been doing with my life thus far?”) is no trivial task. But with loss, there comes acceptance (Five Stages of Grief!), and Maria was able to move on. 🙂
We see nationalism in Captain von Trapp’s Austrian pride, as he refuses to accept the German take-over and to raise the Nazi flag over his home. He praises Austria in song and action throughout the movie, often defaulting to the song Edelweiss, arguably the most nationalistic song in the movie, whenever he was asked to sing. One of the most touching scenes for me is when the Captain’s voice cracks as he sings Edelweiss for the final time. It was his response to changing times, a status quo long since passed. As his voice cracked, I couldn’t help think of it as a universal human response to changing times and feeling immensely small in that force of change–feeling small, overwhelmed, and alone. (But that’s a digression onto a different topic.)
Something that I noticed during this sitting of the movie was the man-woman relationship, as presented by the Rolf-Liesl and Maria-Georg (Captain von Trapp) relationships. Maria is a powerful woman, who barges into the Captain’s life and turns his household and his children upside through the power of music. She inspires them to get back in touch with each other and with life; she inspires them to live outside the regimented cycle they had been in since the Captain’s wife passed away. But is this really it? I couldn’t help feeling that there was an underlying commentary (but then again, if you look for it you’re bound to find it). I would just like to reference the lyrics for the Sixteen Going on Seventeen Reprise (http://tinyurl.com/m3ecj6s). Shall I draw your attention to:
Gone are your old ideas of life
The old ideas grow dim
Lo and behold you’re someone’s wife
And you belong to him
….True this was a different time and age (1940s, Rosie the Riveter kicking in, yeah yeah), but this fundamentally bothers me. It is also true that the Captain, when professing his love for Maria, does not hesitate to essentially express his thanks that she’s in his life (albeit he’s not very verbose about it: http://www.metrolyrics.com/something-good-maria-and-the-captain-lyrics-the-sound-of-music.html). Nevertheless, the lyrics of sixteen bother me. There’s a distinction between “belonging” to someone and “devoting” one’s life to someone else, and that subtle distinction is of ownership and choice. I doubt that much thought was put into the lyric selection (it was probably just a search for a two syllable word that could go with the melody), but the point still stands that people watch this movie. Many grow up listening to these songs and loving Maria’s character, singing her songs (I hum ‘Climb E’vry Mountain’ to myself as I walk up the hill to class); it’s not a giant leap to say that few notice the implications of “you belong to him” unless they listen carefully, but that doesn’t the thought isn’t there.
I apologize for the ramble; I promise future posts will be more focused.
Stay tuned for my next post on The Departed and Identity.
Thanks, and feel free to leave comments, concerns, requests, or movie recommendations anywhere! 😀