On Watching the Sound of Music as an Adult

As a child, I watched the first two hours of The Sound of Music countless times. We had recorded it off of TV on a VHS top set to short-play mode, and so we only caught the first two hours.  For me, the movie ends with the von Trapps pushing their car away from the house to begin their escape from the Nazis.  I’ve only seen the rest of the movie a few times, as an adult.

As kids, we loved most of the music, we loved the scenes with the kids, we loved “Uncle Max,” and of course we loved Maria.  We generally skipped past the “boring parts” where the adults were talking and “Climb Every Mountain.”  We wanted to see “Do Re Mi” and “Lonely Goatherd”.

My kids have seen it a few times now (2-day rental at the public library) and they love it, too, for the same reasons I did.  But now I love it for different reasons—it’s a rich and brilliant film with lots to offer, much of it contradictory to the reasons I loved it as a child.

Some observations from an adult perspective:

    1. The movie downplays the evil of Nazism.
      As a kid, the Nazis are bad because Georg doesn’t like them and they want him to go to Berlin. In real life, the Nazis were evil because they were genocidal. It’s great to teach kids that “Nazis are bad” but watching as an adult you can’t help but think that the the von Trapps’ troubles are trivial compared to what was actually going on.
    2. “Climb Every Mountain” is great.
      The abbess his some pipes.
    3. Christopher Plummer was a dish.
      We understand Maria’s attraction to him because of the way the camera treats him as a sex object (for instance using soft focus) in a way modern movies usually reserve for women.
    4. Uncle Max is not a good man.
      He makes it clear he’s perfectly happy to collaborate with the Nazis, especially if he’ll make money doing it. The children (in the movie and those watching) love him because he’s so gregarious, but it is only his love for the von Trapps, their money, and Georg’s shaming that makes him help them escape. He doesn’t really deserve the hero status the movie gives him.
      Max
    5. Baroness Schraeder is not a villain.
      As kids we see only see her as an antagonist because she stands in between Georg and Maria’s love, and we dislike her because we see her scheming with Max about money, because she doesn’t like to play ball, and because she dreams of of putting the kids in boarding school.But as an adult I find her to be a sympathetic character, remarkable for her strength and maturity.

      A widow, she finds love in Georg, a good and handsome man who loves her for who she is, not for her money. She is desperate for him to marry her, but this is hardly a character flaw for a single, rich, middle-aged European woman in the 1930s. Georg promises the safety, stability, and love we all seek in life.

      She schemes to get Maria out of the house, yes, but wouldn’t we all in her position? And her schemes are all honest: at end of Act I she truthfully tells Maria Georg is falling in love with her, and Maria follows her calling and leaves the house to pursue her vows. It’s what Maria thinks she wants!

      And when it all falls apart and Georg is clearly conflicted, she doesn’t fight to the end. She knows when she’s been beaten, and she saves face by ending the relationship before he can say anything, telling him to follow his heart. Georg’s smile as she breaks it off is one of admiration, respect, appreciation, and love. It’s a brilliantly done scene, and as an adult that has loved and lost I find it remarkably moving.
      Richard Dreyfuss GIF

    6. Julie Andrews is brilliant.
      Especially thinking about the range revealed by her later roles as mature, stern characters, her innocent, effervescent Maria is just a delight to behold.

  1. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer’s onscreen chemistry is fantastic

  1. Except for Leisl, the kids aren’t actually in this movie much
    They hardly get any actual lines, and are mostly just caricatures. The exception is Leisl’s hard lesson in love with Rolf, which is really well done.

  1. “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen” doesn’t hold up.
    It’s a great song, and a beautifully choreographed sequence that wonderfully captures the unstable mix of love and lust that saturates teenagers, but the sexual politics are so retrograde it’s painful to watch.

  1. Mrs. von Trapp looms over the movie
    The children’s mother is rarely mentioned and we learn almost nothing about her except that she loved music and sang to the children with Georg (“I remember, father,” says Leisl, with aching innocence to the pain Georg is in at those words.).

    As adults and parents we are fascinated: Georg’s retreat into a stern taskmaster is clearly a defense against the pain of his loss; Maria’s music and exuberance clearly reminds him of her. We would understand Georg so much better if we could meet her; instead we barely know of her.

  2. Georg is a remarkable man, perfectly portrayed by Plummer
    His fierce morality, unshakable patriotism, strength, and sensitivity shine through the screen. I first saw the “Eidelwiess” scene as an adult, and Plummer nails it, with Georg unable to finish the song until Maria, his children, and the people of Salzburg give him the strength. For me, it’s a highlight of the movie.

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