In keeping with the spirit of the season, my Top Pick this week is my favorite Christmas movie!
This is actually a fairly close competition, but I notice something about all of the candidates. Of the dozen or so Christmas movies in my personal library, whether it be How the Grinch Stole Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life, they all have a similar theme. All of my favorite Christmas flicks are anti-materialistic. They make the point of drawing attention away from the glitter, the glamor, the shiny, the new, the mountain of presents, the things of the world, etc. Of course we all enjoy the presents, and we want the presents, but that is not what Christmas is about. Going right back to the birth of our Savior, born in a stable and laid in a manger, Christmas is about love. And love is about giving, not getting. It’s the small things we do for each other, and the way we go out of our way to help, to do a little bit of good. That is what “humanity” means.
Without love, a mountain of presents or a pile of gold is nothing.
We are nothing, without love.
And this is what, in my view, separates a bad Christmas movie, such as Elf, from a good one, such as:
A Christmas Carol.
While there have been countless depictions of Charles Dickens classic story, I refeer specifically to the one which aired on television in 1984, starring George C. Scott as the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge.
I mentioned materialism, and Scrooge’s materialism focuses solely on his money. He disdains the luxuries, the comforts, even a number of arguable necessities (he eats gruel, for Pete’s sake!) of life. He spurns the warmth of relationships, even with his own kin, threatens his employee with unemployment at every minor irritation, charges high (and rising) prices for everything he sells, even to those who are trying to use their wealth to provide something for the poor and destitute, whom he ignores and despises. In short, he is mean and stingy, living a life alone with his money. A life without love.
Fortunately for Scrooge, though he certainly does not think so at the time, he is visited by four ghosts on the night of Christmas Eve. First is his deceased partner Jacob Marley, who explains what is about to happen, after establishing his existence by scaring Scrooge momentarily out of his wits. Then Scrooge is made to visit his past, filled with pain and regret, the present he is apathetic to because he has let the past blind him to it, and the future he fears. In short, he gets a very good look at himself. Through this process, he begins to desire, to long for, the chance to become a better man. When faced with the reality that he will one day die, he pleads to be spared, if only for the chance to be better than he has been.
Being granted a second chance, Scrooge makes good on his promise. He opens his heart and his pocketbook to his family, his employee, and his community. Thus, he finds happiness, and helps to bring happiness to others.
I especially like this version of the story because of that scene where Scrooge is begging for his life. Many other versions I have seen lose focus on what he’s really begging for. They have him swearing to change when threatened with death, with flames, with Hell itself. This version has him being warned of death’s inevitability, after showing him the life he has so foolishly squandered, and asking, silently, “Is this good enough for you? Or do you want to change it?” And he does. Heaven above, he does.
I also like how simply the story is told. No gimmicks or special effects. No convolution or monotonous repetition. Nothing extraneous to either spice things up or make it “go down easier.” Just an accurate (in fact, the most accurate I have ever seen) representation of the original story. This is probably a bold claim for me to make, but I imagine Charles Dickens himself would most appreciate this version of his work.
There are a number of other things I love about this movie. George C. Scott’s performance as Scrooge is dead-on, be it when he’s angry, introspective, remorseful, or happy. It is his performance which carries the film, though he is perfectly supported by a stellar cast in all the major and minor roles. The Spirits, Marley, Bob Cratchit, Mrs. Cratchit, Tiny Tim, the Cratchit children, Fred and Janet Holywell and their friends, the business associates Scrooge deals with, and more were all portrayed strongly in accordance to their character. If even one of these failed, it could have gone wrong in so many ways, but they don’t. The tale is simple, and the acting is brilliant.
The music, the scenery, the cinematography, everything about this work shines, no matter the simplicity. In fact, I have already argued that the simplicity enhances the tale and its significance.
Personally, I have loved this movie as long as I’ve been alive. There are so many good, happy memories I have of watching it, every December, with my family. There’s nothing better than watching a good movie in good company, I say. 🙂
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