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Christopher Plummer tribute: A reflection on his roles as Captain Von Trapp and Harlan Thrombey

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THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Christopher Plummer, 1965. TM & Copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved/courtesy Everett Collection
Staff reporter Liz Hartshorne pays tribute to two of the late actor’s roles.

BY
Staff Reporter

Christopher Plummer, the renowned Canadian actor, passed away on Feb. 5 at age 91. Plummer spent seven decades in the film industry. Fans of the movies “The Sound of Music” and 2019’s “Knives Out” may be more familiar with the acclaimed actor.  

“The Sound of Music,” perhaps one of Plummer’s most famous roles, and “Knives Out,” one of his latest, are both films I felt a particular connection to through watching them with my family, the former being a musical that I grew up singing along to with my mother and grandmother. Let’s start with “The Sound of Music,” a very good place to start.

“The Sound of Music” is a beloved American musical film that was produced and directed by Robert Wise in 1965. The original Von Trapp memoir was published in 1949 by Maria Von Trapp, played in the film by the one-and-only Julie Andrews. She stars in the film alongside Plummer, who plays Captain Baron Von Trapp, the austere and iron-fisted father of seven children, addressed as “Captain” throughout the film.

Captain Von Trapp is one of my favorite characters in any film that I’ve watched. He has such a great story of development throughout the film that is so heartwarming to watch as a viewer. We first see him as this stern, solemn and serious father who only communicates by whistle signals, especially around his children. But, of course, Maria enters the Von Trapp world, and how do you solve a problem like Maria? 

The Captain spends most of the film trying to figure it out, and he ends up falling in love with Maria and all of her clumsiness. I’ve watched a lot of films and television shows where the plot includes a man that takes life a little bit too seriously and is slowly changed by the fun-loving and adventurous woman, but “The Sound of Music” is by far my favorite.  

Plummer also has a beautiful singing voice, which is something that viewers of “The Sound of Music” discover while watching the heartwarming scene in which the Captain plays guitar and sings the song “Edelweiss” with Maria and the children.  

Although most people know Plummer from his role in “The Sound of Music,” the 2019 murder-mystery film “Knives Out,” nominated for three Golden Globes and one Academy Award for Best Screenplay, was one of Plummer’s last on-screen appearances that also made an impression on viewers of the film.

I first watched “Knives Out” with my dad when it became available for rental, not knowing that Plummer starred in the movie. Plummer plays the character of Harlan Thrombey, who can be compared to Captain VonTrapp in a couple of ways.

Harlan is undoubtedly the rock of the Thrombey family, the glue that holds them all together and keeps them sane, especially with his wealth. Harlan has a lot to deal with within his large family, just like Captain VonTrapp, except the Thrombey family is a little bit different than the VonTrapp family singers. The Thrombey’s rely mostly on Harlan’s wealth. His daughter, son, granddaughter, grandsons and daughter in-law are all constantly fighting over Harlan’s will throughout the majority of the film instead of mourning his death, something I just can’t picture the Von Trapps doing. But, the modern world is the modern world, not the late 1930s in Austria.  

Despite Plummer’s character not having as much screen time in “Knives Out” as Captain Von Trapp did in “The Sound of Music,”  I still enjoyed seeing Plummer in the film, even without knowing that it would be his last. His character in the murder-mystery film was very reserved and didn’t show a lot of emotion, like the Captain, but he had an enormous heart and subtly cared for the people who took the most care of him. 

As a frequent film viewer, it is so important for me to have some sort of connection with at least one or two characters in the film in order for me to love and enjoy it.  In both “The Sound of Music” and “Knives Out,” Plummer reminded me of my grandfather. 

Harlan reminded me a lot of my grandfather, someone who has a huge heart but doesn’t show it through his emotions very much. A character like Harlan is difficult to play because Plummer had to tap into the mind of the character and have the feelings and emotions of Harlan without actually showing them. 

As Captain Von Trapp, Plummer gave me a visual of the kind of person my grandfather was when he was younger. My grandfather served as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps, before he became a husband and father, which led to him being rather stern with my mother and her brothers growing up and even me when I was younger. This made watching the film a lot more heartwarming and relatable, especially watching the Captain fall in love with somebody like Maria, who I can also compare to my grandmother because of her creativity and love for children. 

Because of this connection I felt to Plummer’s roles on-screen, he is an actor that my family and I will definitely miss. 

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