The Timeless Values in The Sound of Music: An Analysis
The year 2015 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the timeless classic, The Sound of Music. Produced in 1965, The Sound of Music was nominated for ten Academy Awards, won five of them, and has since remained one of the most popular and beloved films in history.
The craftsmanship involved in making this movie is impressive and no doubt a great part of the reason for its phenomenal success. However, it's natural to get lost in the breathtaking scenery, uplifting music and brilliant overall artistry in this blockbuster and miss the values embedded in the film and which also play a key role in its lasting popularity.
This article explores the values embodied in The Sound of Music that strike a deep chord in us and that are part of the reason the movie has retained its epic status for over five decades.
Have you watched The Sound of Music?
The film takes place in Salzburg, Austria in the late 1930s. Maria, an unbefitting novice nun (played by Julie Andrews), leaves the convent by the gentle recommendation of the Mother Superior to fill a temporary position as governess to the seven children of a widowed, retired naval officer, Captain Von Trapp (played by Christopher Plummer). Maria brings music and happiness once again to the Von Trapp villa and wins the hearts of the children as well as that of the captain. Maria and the captain fall in love as Nazi Germany takes over Austria and Captain Von Trapp is ordered by the Third Reich to assume a position in its navy. Because he refuses to yield to a government he opposes, the captain defies German orders and crosses the Austrian border into Switzerland with Maria and his children to escape the German Nazis.
Early in the film, there's an evident emotional distance between Captain Von Trapp and his seven children. He enforces strict discipline, requires they be drilled in their studies daily, and doesn't allow them to “dream away their summer holidays.” When Maria arrives as governess, her warmth gradually serves to melt the captain’s icy demeanor and detached, stern attitude towards his children.
We see his heart moved the first time he hears the children singing with Maria, and then our hearts are moved as he reluctantly, then willingly, joins them in song. Maria persuades the captain to draw closer to his children rather than push them away and she lets him know how much they yearn for a closer relationship with him.
And although the children at first do not welcome Maria as their new governess, her genuine fondness for them eventually earns their trust. Maria fills the void left by the children’s deceased mother by bringing love, music and laughter back into their home and eventually becoming the children’s new mother.
In some way, we can all relate to the family dynamics going on in the Von Trapp home, their struggles and imperfections, and we feel encouraged watching them work through these challenges and come to a place of conciliation. After all, this is the outcome we ultimately desire as we experience our own family conflicts.
The captain’s deep affection for his homeland is evident throughout the film. Upon the German invasion of Austria, his is the only house in the neighborhood not flying the flag of the Third Reich. And upon returning from his honeymoon, he tears up the Nazi flag he finds displayed outside his estate as a strong testament of his loyalty to Austria and his fierce opposition to the Nazi regime.
We hear him strum his guitar and tenderly sing to his children the words to “Edelweiss,” a song named after Austria’s national flower, and we watch him well up with emotion when he sings this same song to the crowds for the last time in Austria before defecting to Switzerland.
When Uncle Max notices the captain is deeply troubled by the German annexation of Austria, he tries to downplay the situation by making comments such as, “What’s going to happen is going to happen. Just make sure it doesn’t happen to you.” Max’s lighthearted attitude about the Nazi invasion visibly offends the captain, as does Herr Zeller' reaction at the sight of the Austrian flag hanging inside the Von Trapp villa.
Finally, the captain risks his life and that of his family by resisting orders from the Third Reich to join the German navy. His decision to put his life and that of his family on the line by defying Nazi commands and escaping Austria is symbolic of the ultimate sacrifice we associate with patriotism.
Part of the reason we love Maria so much is because she's so human yet she allows her courage to triumph over her fears.
Although she doubts herself when she first leaves the safe and familiar abbey and sets off to the Von Trapp villa as a novice governess (and with seven children to care for at that), she doesn’t allow her qualms to hold her back. After her arrival, she takes a bold and confident stand in confronting the captain about his excessive harshness towards the children, allowing her convictions for what she believes is right to take precedence over anything else.
And when she flees the villa to the abbey to escape her feelings for the captain, the Mother Superior teaches Maria to confront her problems rather than run from them, which enables Maria to return to the villa and face the captain as well as a very jealous baroness.
Maria displays the kind of fearlessness we all desire in life when we encounter our own mountains: we want to deal with and overcome our trials rather than allow them to intimidate, discourage or destroy us.
An Unsuitable Nun
All through the movie, we hear references to God and His leading. “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window” is an expression used by both Maria and the Mother Superior. “Remember: ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help’” (Psalm 121) is quoted by the Mother Abbess as a means to reassure the Von Trapps that God will be with them as they flee Austria.
But perhaps the greatest spiritual message conveyed in The Sound of Music is that sometimes God leads us in ways we don't understand as part of His plan for our lives. This is clearly demonstrated in the inner conflict Maria experiences when she finds herself falling in love with the captain.
Maria’s sincere desire to live her life in God’s will is apparent from the very beginning of the movie, but she initially doesn’t consider that it might be God’s will for her to live outside of the confines of the convent. The Mother Superior helps Maria understand that her unique personality and talents make her an unsuitable nun and that God may be calling her to put her talents to good use outside of the abbey.
How often do we find ourselves in situations where we feel frustrated because we sense we aren’t using our gifts to the utmost or fulfilling our intended purpose in life? Sometimes God uses these circumstances to shake us out of our comfort zone and lead us in a new direction.
Hope and Perseverance
Maria is a model of perseverance and hope in that when things get tough, she sticks it out or tries harder to make them work.
Although she is at first treated unkindly by the Von Trapp children, and even at times by the captain, she is tenacious in her determination to win them over, and eventually does.
When her request to the captain for material to make play clothes for the children is denied, rather than resign herself, she ingeniously uses the curtains in her bedroom to create play outfits for them. She also persists in her efforts to draw the captain closer to his children until it actually happens.
It seems that whenever the odds are stacked against her, Maria’s resolve to carry on prevails.
We are inspired by Maria’s optimism and refusal to give up. She makes us believe that the sky is the limit in what we can accomplish if we believe and press on.
Captain Von Trapp and Maria dance the Laendler
We love a movie with a classy love story, one that doesn’t require sex to draw in an audience, and nowhere do we see this exemplified more than in The Sound of Music.
Unlike most romance movies today in which couples wake up together almost as soon as they meet, the love story between the captain and Maria progresses slowly throughout the film, which not only gives their relationship greater depth and substance but also serves to enhance the plot. We never see a trace of nudity in this film, yet the attraction on screen between the captain and Maria comes through as both magnetic and charming.
We also love the fact that the two make for an unlikely couple. When they first meet, Maria’s free spirit clashes with the captain’s stern demeanor, as do their child rearing philosophies. In addition, the captain is engaged to a distinguished, wealthy baroness at the time, while Maria is a nun trying a stint as a governess.
These seeming barriers become trivial and irrelevant in light of the sincere and intense feelings between the captain and Maria which give way to a beautiful love story.
In the end, the incredible craftsmanship involved in producing The Sound of Music along with the values embedded in the movie work together to create a masterpiece. In great part because of this film’s ability to resound with us on a personal level through the values it embraces, The Sound of Music will retain its exceptional status as one of the most beloved movies in history.
© 2015 Geri McClymont