Saving Mr. Banks makes me wish I could watch flashbacks of other people’s lives


Saving Mr. Banks is the story of Disney filmmakers collaboration with Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers to make the film. Mrs. Travers, as she insists on being called, is brusque, annoying, and controlling. She has very definite ideas about how she wants the story told and, uncharacteristically, Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, bends over backwards to meet her demands in order to get the film made. It is hard to imagine anyone less playful than Emma Thompson’s dour Mrs. Travers. Her vision for the film is as serious and unsentimental as she is while Disney is playful and positive. His aim is to provide joyful experiences for people at his theme park and in his films. Naturally their visions clash.

I loved that Disney and the writing team didn’t simply write off Mrs. Travers based on first impressions. Working with her wasn’t easy but they were willing to see her as more than an obstacle.  As the Disney team work with Mrs. Travers they begin to pick up on the fact that she is someone in a good deal of pain. Though she is too guarded to share personal details, it becomes obvious that her own family inspired the story, and even more obvious that working on the screenplay is bringing up some painful memories, especially of her alcoholic father.

Another character who sees past her sour disposition is Mrs. Travers’ limo driver Ralph played by Paul Giamatti. Ralph is encouraging and gracious in an accepting, low-key sort of way. Though dealing with his own sad story, Ralph seems to go through life with an eye for beauty and wonder, which he gently points out to Mrs. Travers as he drives her. Ralph offers a more introverted example of hope and grace than Disney.

The film’s point of view allows the audience to see what happened that is causing Mrs. Travers so much pain, but Ralph, Walt Disney, and the writing team never really know the details or exactly how her past informs the story or her attitude. In the course of our lives all of us deal with damaged people who act out in annoying ways. Sometimes our own pain manifests itself in ways that annoy or hurt others. Some people are bitter or depressed or manipulative. Some are guarded, some inconsiderate, and some downright mean-spirited. There are at least 50 shades of pain. Most of us never get to experience another person’s back story. Many of us don’t want to share our own. So we see what we see and respond based on how much another’s pain affects us.

Perhaps that is why its easier to empathize with a movie curmudgeon than it is with a real life curmudgeon. In the movies we can see why people end up being the way they are. Sometimes I wish people, especially high-maintenance, annoying, or fragile people, came with flashbacks. It would be great to be able to pause life for a few minutes, watch a person’s flashback, and understand the wounds and experiences in the past that are impacting the person we are dealing with in the present. We would probably cut one another more slack if we knew the back story.

When it looks like they’ve reach an impasse in Saving Mr. Banks  Walt Disney pays Mrs. Travers a visit and explains how redemptive storytelling can be. He tells part of his own painful story and lets her know he’s aware she has one too. He talks about forgiveness and redemption. The idea he presents is that, while it is not possible to change the realities of the past, it is possible to tell a story that allows the players to be a redeemed version of themselves. That’s sort of what God does with us. 

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