Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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In the movie Mary Poppins, the nanny of the title instructs her young charges with a song, telling them, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” In fact, Mary Poppins was on to more than just medicine. Sweets in film carry messages, too, bringing a key plot point, theme, or character into healthier view. Sweets elicit sympathy, expressing love, healing, and togetherness, as well as heartbreak, sadness, and sickness. They can also foster antipathy and signal danger or death. Sugar is so facile in films that it can function as the sticky nectar that binds characters to each other or as a poison powder that dries relations to a crumble. Or it can be a trophy, a sign of triumph among competing pastry chefs, for example, or a destructive ingredient in a personal or professional downfall.