Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

Supercalifragilisticexpiali-Dasein! Celebrating Being-in-the-World in 'Mary Poppins'

Alexander Sergeant


The image of a stern-faced Martin Heidegger sitting beside Julie Andrews’s magical singing nanny is perhaps humorously incongruent. Yet, this assumed incongruity showcases something about the way in which fantasy films like Mary Poppins are generally considered within scholarly communities. Instead of laughing, the solution to examining a film that, adjusted for inflation, remains the 25th highest grossing of all time might be to embrace such an image, to grasp it with all the ambition and fearlessness present within Heidegger’s willingness to do “violence” to the philosophy before him in the hope that, with a spoonful of a sugar, the medicine might just go down.

This paper will utilise Heidegger’s project of Being to illuminate the appeal of the Hollywood fantasy film, the particular spoonful of sugar to this discussion provided by Tzvetan Todorov’s literary study of The Fantastic. Todorov theorises that a fantastic occurrence generates a hesitant reaction from the reader as they struggle to explain the nature of an event that challenges traditional conceptions of reality. Transferred to the cinematic realm, this idea of the fantastic seems to have acutely phenomenological implications, its hesitation in a film like Mary Poppins scrutinising the nature of what we see and how we see it to provide a thematic similar to Heidegger’s philosophical conclusions. The magical nanny’s displays of impossibility force the Banks family to contemplate the nature of their relationship to the world around them, imploring them to be: to feed the birds and clasp their tuppences tightly. Shattering a sense of an objective real, the fantastic hesitation they experience elevates the self to a position of world-definer and meaning-creator, a position where the truth of Being is found through embracing the perceptive impact of Being-in-the-world, and it perhaps this Heideggerian assertion that is sung and danced about on screen.

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About the Presenter

Alexander Sergeant
King's College London
United Kingdom