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The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music

– Sister M. Danielle Peters, Father Johann G. Roten, S.M., and Michael P. Duricy

Q: Is There Marian Content in The Sound of Music?

A: This classic 1965 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Wise and is considered by many to be among the best films ever made. It does indeed have Marian content that is explicit, though brief. Near the beginning of the film during a prayer scene, a statue of Mary is visible on top of the Blessed Sacrament. When Maria [played by Julie Andrews who was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role] is leaving the grounds to meet Captain von Trapp [played by Christopher Plummer], another Marian statue is shown near the well of the convent. Next, the Madonna's image appears at the Market Place in Salzburg. Finally, at the end of the wedding scene between Maria and the Captain, an image of Mary's Assumption is prominent.

It has become common practice for directors to use the Marian symbol briefly to suggest a variety of conventional meanings. The most obvious one in this case is to serve as a Catholic artifact, reminding viewers that the events take place in a Catholic country, and involve Catholic characters (including the postulant, Maria, who clearly takes her faith seriously). Surprisingly, given that common knowledge recognizes the life-long virginity of Mary (far beyond only those holding this article of Catholic and Orthodox Christian faith), episodic use of the Marian symbol has also been used conventionally to identify the female romantic lead (e.g. already in 1910 with Mary Pickford in Biograph's An Arcadian Maid). The depiction of a Marian image specifically at the wedding makes this conventional meaning obvious. The choice of the Assumption as the theme for this particular image also suggests the related concept of 'the eternal feminine.'

Within the context established by such conventional symbols, another common use is to identify a symbolic Marian character, in this case Maria. One may speculate as to whether Marian attributes like her name, or her openness to the consecrated virginity of Catholic religious life confirms the auteur's intent to present her as such a figure. In the absence of clear statements of intent on the matter, I consider the brief but explicit use of Marian symbols like statues and paintings sufficient corroboration. May we go further and ask what sort of Marian figure the audience is to recognize? This seems rather clear ... the universal mother.

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