“The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years. The hills fill my heart with the sound of music. My heart wants to sing every song it hears.”
Almost 56 years later, Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music reigns supreme in our hearts, inducing child-like glee and joy. Picturesque mountains at the heart of Salzburg nestles within itself a heartwarming story of a governess growing close to a family of children and becoming the mother they never had amidst the terrors of the Anschluss is what becomes the highlight of this wonderful childhood classic. If one said that a film could not help you find happiness, ask them to sit through this nearly three-hour-long movie and bask in the glory of its innocence and beauty.
Released in 1965, although the film was criticised for being somewhat sappy, it toppled all records by running in the theatres for four-and-a-half years as well as toppling the records of Gone With the Wind, which was the highest-grossing films of all time. It received five Academy Awards besides numerous other accolades and hurtled the actors’ careers, especially Julie Andrews’, towards success and fame.
Set in 1938, the premise of the picture is relatively simple. Maria is a ditzy, free-spirited and kind-hearted Austrian nun at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg. Her youthful antics and inability to cater to the decorum get her into trouble all the time, and she is sent by Mother Abbess to work as a governess for the von Trapp family. The von Trapps comprise seven children; Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl- as well as their strict, authoritarian father Captain Georg von Trapp, a retired naval officer who is mourning the death of his wife. The house has several rules, and the children have been trained by their father to respond to the sound of whistleblow, which shocks Maria.
“You brought music back into the house. I had forgotten.”
Initially, the children are resentful towards her but gradually warm up after she wins their hearts over by virtue of kindness, compassion, patience and love. With the father gone, they engage in various antics, from going to the mountains and singing, something that is forbidden by Captain von Trapp. Although the Captain is initially disdainful of Maria flouting his rules, he warms up after he hears the children singing and it triggers nostalgic memories. During a waltz party, Maria and the Captain share a dance that showcases visible tension and attraction between them. Although Maria tries to repress her feelings by running away to the Abbey, she eventually marries the Captain. The children finally get the mother they craved for; however, this short-lived bliss is interrupted by the Nazi annexation of Austria known as the Anschluss, which requires the Captain to return to work compulsorily. The Captain, who is opposed to the Third Reich, decides to elope with his family. Although they are initially persecuted by the Brownshirts after their heartfelt performance at Salzburg Festival, they eventually make it towards freedom and security by crossing the border to Switzerland.
Adapted from the musical and based on the real-life story of Maria and Captain von Trapp, the film comprises beautiful and melodious numbers which have amassed massive popularity. The yodelling ‘Lonely Goatherd’ number during the puppet show or the melodic ‘Favourite Things’ set this film apart from the other movies based on this pre-war era. The idyllic setting abounds in beautiful mountains, lively children, love and merriment, which is directly in contrast to the political and social turmoil of that era. While the film reflects the Nazi-terror slowly spreading around Europe like wildfire, it deals with it quite delicately, carefully avoiding the gruesome details. It presents to us a distilled reality that is imbued by a constant glow of warmth and cheer.
While there are suspenseful scenes where the von Trapps get nearly captured by the Nazis, the family finally makes it unscathed to freedom which is unbelievable yet relieving. As they climb over the mountains, crossing the borders, with the melodious number playing in the backdrop, it is a beautiful contrast to the previous scenes where they sing a heartfelt and soulful goodbye to their beloved country in ‘Edelweiss’. Stunning imagery and marvellous songs add an aura of magic and classic Hollywood escapism to this film. Immersing oneself in the glory of it feels like a step into the surreal world of laughter, sentimentalism and love.
However, if people are still wondering why the film is still immensely popular, I have the answer for you. It is the incredible Julie Andrews whose presence made a difference in the movie. Andrews, who played the phenomenal Mary Poppins prior to this role, was chosen by the casting team and became the driving force of the film. Her infectious and dewy presence as the energetic governess added a sense of purity to the film. She is present like a charming dream, bringing in love and care in the motherless children’s lives. She becomes a mother and a sister figure to them, winning them over with her gay smile and cheer. Her love for the Captain stems from her immense love for his children. The highlight of the film is never their romance and, instead, it is the beautiful binding and romance shared by Maria and the kids. The children are initially reluctant to make space for her in their lives but quickly grow fond of this governess with a pixie cut and dulcet voice. Andrews adds a sense of renewed charm and energy in this soul-searching Maria and brings in a certain amount of truth which makes the character adorable and interesting. While songs like ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’ have been criticised for their overtly misogynistic tones, Maria’s presence seems to overwhelm it all.
Christopher Plummer, who played Captain von Trapp, passed away recently. His dignified presence as the retired naval officer and struct yet doting father was a lovely foil to Maria’s fun-loving character. Although his love for Maria blossomed reasonably quickly, the actor himself was not fond of the film for its sappy overtones and was allegedly drunk while filming most of his scenes. All of the behind-the-scenes trivia coupled with the actor’s indignation towards his character could not mar the deftness with which he portrayed the role of the Captain, who is highly opposed to the brewing Nazi sentiment.
While some of it might seem far-stretched, the film is a fun ride nevertheless. For example, she helps the kids become puppeteers fairly quickly, and even Maria and the Captain’s love story seems a little forced. The older daughter is the only one whose life is showcased while the other kids recede in the background. However, the feeling of surrealism and escapism is well-captured in the film. This film is not supposed to serve as biographical documentation of the war. Although we see Leisl’s boyfriend turning to fascism to save his career (thank god we hated him from the very beginning) to the reference to the Third Reich flag, the film chooses to focus on the goodness that the world still has to offer.
It wowed the audience 56 years back for the exact same reason why it appeals to us now. It is a ball of happiness being shoved in your face, promising a journey of a lifetime. The film shall continue living in the hearts of viewers for years to come as it helps us say “auf wiedersehen” to our worries and seek comfortable solace in the arms of the sheer beauty of it. With Maria as the epitome of innocence and her exploits with the children threatening to destabilise the uptight monotony in the world of adults, The Sound of Music seems to directly challenge the growing pessimism of the era. Watching the film is equivalent to taking a cinematic bath in relentless charm and pleasure while taking a willful escape from the drudgery of life – you shall be left giddy with the amount of mush and hope that is left in your heart, intoxicated by the cheesy warmth and longing for a visit to those welcoming mountains of Salzburg to have a chance to play with the von Trapps once again.
“Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ’til you find your dream.”