Throughout these 25 days of Christmas we’ve gone over time and again what commonly makes a Christmas movie – the themes. This encompasses the joy of family and friends, the slightly vague ‘Christmas spirit’, and in many cases over the top antics that somehow bring us all together. These are wonderful Christmas themes and ideals, probably for the whole year (re: Bill Murray yelling at as all at the end of Scrooged making me tear up every damn time) but we don’t necessarily all experience it this way every year. Especially not with actual elves, Santa Claus, lovely but unrealistic family get-togethers, romance or ghosts teaching mean people to not be mean. Most of us, or I guess most of the people I know, stress about buying presents, worry about the family get-togethers, keep their relationship status the same and have no supernatural life-changing run-ins, whether that be meeting Angels, ghosts or Santa. And kids? Kids just want to make sure they get what they want for Christmas.
A Christmas Story is about that last bit – for the most part. Our hero Ralphie wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. He will stop at nothing to get it. He tries to trick his mother, impress and bribe his teacher and even goes to the big man at the top, Santa Claus himself to ask for what he so desperately wants! But what does he hear over and over again?
Poor Ralphie! Gun violence is great for children!
Now don’t get me wrong, a huge part of this movie is how bad this kid wants a bb gun, and I will talk about this in the blog, but upon watching it for the I-have-no-idea-how-many-ith time, what struck me about this movie was its lack of magic. That is what this penultimate Christmas blog will be about. The magic of no magic, and the comfort of story told honestly.
This movie is about a working class family in the 1940s in a moderate sized town in Indiana living their day to day life leading up to Christmas. While this synopsis sounds boring beyond belief it provides lots of laughs and has a lot of heart but with a complete and total lack of sap.
This movie is told through the eyes of Ralphie in the form of narration. The narration is dictated by the adult voice of Ralphie’s character played by Jean Shepherd who is also one of the writers of the movie. He is also the writer of the book ‘In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash’ on which the movie is partially based. The original book is all stories based on Jean Shepherd’s life, stories that were first made famous by his humorous radio stories from his Indiana childhood. My point of course being that the narrator of Ralphie is the actual adult Ralphie!
To find this out did actually blow my mind a bit, but it also makes total sense. Shepherd’s narration is perfect in my opinion. What is truly great about it is his enthusiasm. He is speaking about the past, but with the emotion of the child in the moment. When Ralphie is excited in the movie, Shepherd sounds excited in that unashamed childhood way we adults try to suppress. When something goes wrong in Ralphie’s life Shepherd narrates it like he is in that moment instead of just telling the story.
Most adult narrations make retrospective commentaries on their behavior, but not Shepherd and not Ralphie. He tells it like it was and behaves like that’s what it is now and that brings you into the mind of Ralphie more deeply than one would anticipate for a story about a fourth grader who wants a gun.
At least Carl has a pretty practical use for a weapon.
There are very few Christmas movies I can think of, and we’ve blogged about quite a few in the last 4 weeks, that aren’t about anything more than one of the many Christmas seasons experienced growing up, or even as an adult. The title ‘A Christmas Story’ tells you exactly what it is, just A Christmas story. One of many, similar to many others, but it’s told with a charm and delight that is unparalleled.
Ralphie’s father, affectionately referred to as The Old Man, is a working man who has daily fights with his faulty furnace and pretty much goes bananas over a tawdry lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg because he won it. The winning of it seems to be his main drive. For my money this is because of his embarrassment when it turned out to be a leg lamp and not a bowling alley like he wanted. His mother, only ever referred to as Mom, is a kind but firm housewife of the time who weaves the workings of raising two very different children and keeping the home beautifully. Mom however hates the horrible lamp, and we will never know the answer to mystery of how the lamp got broken when she was the only person in the room….
Would you blame her?
Then there is Ralphie’s little brother who spends most of the movie fairly silent except for some whining and crying. His fear that his father will kill Ralphie after he beats the living you know what out of the town bully is pretty adorable though; and while beating up the town bully was more about his sadness after his teacher told him he’d shoot his eye out, it was pretty well deserved in a ‘1940s violence solves all problems’ kind of way.
The only real magic of the film comes from Ralphie’s imagination. He imagines saving his family from robbers with his gun and his teacher giving him an A+++++ and so on for his theme (I think it’s the 1940s version of a paragraph). There are more but the strangest is pretty insensitive portrayal of him as an adult going blind because his parents made him wash his mouth out with soap when he cursed. This is all however the natural imagination of a child and while adorable and hilarious, not exactly out of the ordinary.
So why do I like it so much if it’s just an everyday story? I’m the one that raved about sappy romantic Christmas movies and the wonder of New York at Christmas. The everyday of this movie and the anticipation that a child has around Christmas draws not on our penchant for fantasy but for nostalgia. The time period may be way off for most of us nowadays but has it changed that much? I didn’t send away for a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring when I was a kid but I did join the fan club for YTV and waited for my official letter in the mail. I didn’t want a BB gun but I did want a doll with its own stroller whose mouth moved when you fed it. Maybe for kids today it’s an online fan club and an iPad or something but it’s still relatable. In a culture with such an ability to look back on itself, nostalgia has become a hot commodity and this movie brings it; but not in an ‘on this day’ Facebook way, in a full, hilarious, honest story that sucks you in and leaves you feeling like you too got exactly what you wanted for Christmas. ‘Cause yeah, he gets the gun and damn near shoots his eye out on the first day.
You don’t learn to listen to adults until you’ve become one from doing everything they said not to.
What do you think about A Christmas Story? Anything I missed that you love or hate about it? Let us know in the comments!