The Sound of Music (1965)

Viewed January 22nd

As Austria falls under the spell of the Third Reich, the beautiful and innocent Maria leaves a monastery to become governess to the Von Trapp children and, ultimately, wife to the children's stern father Georg.

On one level, The Sound of Music presents an idealistic fantasy of white Christian culture in which everyone has blue eyes, blond hair, and a healthy tan. They live a life of merry singing and traipsing around the Alps on sunny days. The audience is cued to desire nothing more than that film's stars (and they are stars) Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer consummate their obvious cinematic chemistry so that the evil of life outside their Austrian mountain world can go away forever and we can all indulge with the Von Trapps in the utter corniness of a non-physical, almost purely musical life. Within the mythology of The Sound of Music, the name for this world is "Austria." Following, a performance of the Von Trapp children at a fancy ball, a fellow Austrian comments to Georg, "Is there a more beautiful expression of what is good in this country of ours than the innocent voices of our children?" But, on another level, all of these threats are lurking: the evil of Vienna's adult sophistication, the evil of the past's tragedies, the evil of grown up sex, and, above all, the evil of encroaching German Nazism. There is a stunning moment that involves young Rolf, who we've only seen up to this point as a charming and somewhat goofy would-be suitor to Liesl, the eldest daughter of the Von Trapp clan. Rolf comes around on his bicycle and throws pebbles at Liesl's window to get her attention. When he's caught by Georg, it's presented as utterly wholesome trouble: Uh oh, young man, what do you think you're doing? Predictably, Rolf stutters, but then in an effort to change the subject, he shouts "Heil Hitler!" and gives the Nazi salute. It cuts like a knife through the audience, waking us up from an upbeat fantasy of white European culture to its dark mirror image. Georg, too, reacts. He, too, had been lulled into a false belief that he could be insulated from this type of real-life contingency. As the film proceeds, the action shifts from the building of a white cultural fantasy to the escaping of a white political nightmare. The final moments are celebratory as the Von Trapp family has escaped the Nazis, but they've been pushed into the upper reaches of the Alps and their future is left uncertain.