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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review of "Saving Mr. Banks"

Note: an edited version of this review appeared first on This version emphasizes the relationship between the movie's central theme and the task of preaching.

Our Stories and their Telling

There is one word, one line at the heart of Saving Mr. Banks: “enough.”

The film tells the story of Walt Disney’s negotiation with Pamela Travers, author of Mary Poppins, for the rights to the novel. There are three storylines present in the film, though: Disney’s frustration with Travers’ micromanagement of the production of Mary Poppins, frequent flashbacks to Travers’ own childhood in which we discover that her family life is the true inspiration for her writing, and a minor but consequential interaction between Travers and her chauffeur, Ralph.

Award nominations for Saving Mr. Banks have already poured in, as have the reviews of the film. Many have been moved by the story the movie presents, and it will certainly do well when Oscar time rolls around. But beyond the sentimentality and power of the narrative lies the Gospel itself - the story of our need for redemption and release.

Saving Mr. Banks is about stories: the stories we write and the stories that form us. Disney and Travers push and pull over the text version of something that is bigger than either of them - a story that touches the very cores of their lives. For Travers the story of Mary Poppins is real because it is her idealized resolution to the disappointment she experienced in her own childhood. For Disney the story is a totem, a prize to be won in his quest to give his children good things.

The Gospel is at its heart a story - it is both the narrative of Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection as well as the reality of God’s Kingdom coming near to humanity through Christ and Christ’s Spirit today. It is a story that has a narrative history in the pages of Sacred Scripture and a real experience for those who read and hear it. It is a living thing, this Gospel.

The story of Mary Poppins seems to be a living thing in Saving Mr. Banks. It transforms Disney and Travers even as the story itself was the transformation of Travers’ own experiences. That’s the point - that the story is not confined to the static ink and paper of the book. It has held Travers in its sway for so long that she cannot separate herself from it. It is family to her, just as it is to Disney’s children and so many others across the globe.

Disney, so wonderfully played by Tom Hanks, discovers this point and, in one of the most powerful monologues of the year says,

Give her to me, Mrs. Travers. Trust me with your precious Mary Poppins. I won’t disappoint you. I swear that every time a person goes into a movie house - from Leicester to St Louis, they will see George Banks being saved. They will love him and his kids, they will weep for his cares, and wring their hands when he loses his job. And when he flies that kite, oh! They will rejoice, they will sing. In every movie house, all over the world, in the eyes and the hearts of my kids, and other kids and their mothers and fathers for generations to come, George Banks will be honored. George Banks will be redeemed. George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again. Trust me, Mrs. Travers. Let me prove it to you. I give you my word.

We preachers tell stories because they are the heart of who people are. We tell stories about ourselves and about our heroes and about our Christ. We are storytellers. We restore order to the broken lives of people who need less propositional preaching and more storytelling. We open the imaginations of our people again and again and again and again because the world boxes them and their God into such small spaces that they have no hope of becoming like the little children who will inherit the Kingdom. We preach to open the doors of the soul so that it may imagine a God who will redeem them, who can redeem their fathers, who can bring hope one more time to people who have forgotten how to dream.

And when we finally come to that moment when we realize that letting go of the past lives that bind us is the painful way, that narrow way to Life, we say with quiet breath “enough.”

Saving Mr. Banks is about the Gospel. It is about the good news that something new can come, something good. It is the story of hurts and loss and disappointment being confronted by the equally painful demand to let go of our dearly-held stories in favor of a new one, one that every man, woman, and child can feel in their souls.

1 comment:

  1. There were many times this movie could have easily been sappy and manipulative, but it took the high-road. Eventually though, it got me tearing-up, as much as I hate to admit it. Good review Brock.