The holiday season often means doing things out of the ordinary. Despite writing books that deal with movies, I can’t afford to see them in theaters often, but we went as a family to see Mary Poppins Returns. A few things about that: I grew up never having seen Mary Poppins (I first encountered it in college). The new movie is neither a remake nor a sequel proper. It follows the same basic pattern as the original but with new songs and animations, and all of it based on a somewhat darker premise—the death of the mother (which allows Jane and Michael, as adults to both be back in their childhood home) has led to financial straights that threaten to leave the Banks family homeless. The bank has turned cruelly capitalistic and wants as many foreclosures as possible. Sinister stuff.
The reason I mention the movie here, however, is a premise that it shares with Hook: children can see things that adults can’t. Or more precisely, that adults learn not to see. Some investigators of unusual phenomena suggest that as we grow we’re taught not to believe what we see if it’s impossible. I’m in no position to assess the validity of such an assertion, being an adult, but it does give me pause for wonder. We regularly shut out the vast majority of stimuli we experience; our brains are not capable of taking in every little detail all the time. Instead, we’ve evolved to pay attention to that which is threatening or rewarding to our survival, and we tend to ignore many of the mundane feelings, sights, sounds, and smells that are constantly around us. Perhaps we do shut out what we’re taught is impossible. Mary Poppins Returns says it outright.
In many ways this is behind the materialism we’re spoon-fed daily. The only reality, we’re told, is that which can be measured and quantified with scientific instruments. Any apparent reality beyond that is simply illusion. We all know, however, that our experience of life doesn’t feel that way at all. There seems to be no counter-argument, however, since we have no empirical evidence to offer. Experience, we’re told, is unreliable. Perhaps we’re not too old to learn a few things from the movies. Mary Poppins Returns won’t likely become the cultural sensation that its forebear was, nevertheless it contains a message that may be worth preserving. Childhood may hold the keys to understanding reality.