Title: A Christmas Story
Director: Bob Clark
Length: 94 Minutes
There are a few things that come to mind when you think of Christmas. The obvious ones are of course Santa, elves, presents, the Christmas tree, stockings hung by the fire, chestnuts roasting over the fire, hot cocoa, Christmas shopping, slaving over a hot stove to cook for your in-laws, the existential dread that Christmas only comes one time a year and is possibly the only chance you have of a happy moment with your entire family so you don’t want to blow it, and candy canes and gingerbread men!
But, for those who enjoy their Christmas movies and specials on TV, there’s one film that probably comes to mind. Not by choice, unfortunately, but subconsciously as the TV stations play it one after the other, 24 hours on Christmas Eve and Day, non-stop marathon of this one particular movie. A movie that no matter how much you try to avoid you can’t for the life of you. It’s everywhere, it’s become the essence of Christmas, the quintessential Christmas movie and it’s appropriately named A Christmas Story.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, A Christmas Story tells the story of Ralphie, a bespectacled nine-year-old, and his Holiday season during the late 30s/early 40s. His big wish for this particular Christmas is to get nothing but the Red Ryder BB Gun, which is often thrown back in his face by every adult he asks with the famous quote “You’ll Shoot your eye out, kid”. Based on the semi-autobiographical short stories of Jean Shepherd, who also narrates the entire film with incredible gusto and emotion, we encounter a lot of strange and memorable occurrences throughout. Ralphie’s encounters with the neighborhood bully, Ralphie’s dad winning the iconic Leg Lamp in a contest, Ralphie’s excitement for his favorite radio program only to be stripped away when he finds out the decoder ring he’s been waiting so long for is only an advertisement for the show’s sponsors, and one of the funniest and greatest Mall Santa encounters in any film. This film is chock-full of stories and memorable moments, all seen through the eyes of our main protagonist. Big credit has to go to director Bob Clark who not only managed to capture the nostalgia of the late 30s/early 40s but also managed to capture the essence of a child’s imagination and wide-eyed wonder of Christmas time. Hilariously enough, Bob Clark would also direct another Christmas Classic, Black Christmas, but that isn’t one to watch with the family.
There’s only so much I can say about this Holiday Classic that hasn’t already been said. Mostly everyone is familiar with it already, so there isn’t much space to actually review the film as a whole. I don’t want to sit here and try to tell you why it’s a good/bad movie. What I’m more curious about is… why did this movie become a staple for Christmas viewing? Why did this movie raise the ranks as THE classic to watch to the point that it gets it’s very own 24-hour marathon on Christmas day? Heck, it recently got its own live TV production. There’s something beyond the merits of the filmmaking and writing that pushed it beyond being a great film and into Cult Christmas Classic territory. But what?
I may not have the right answer, but my biggest feeling is that it’s all about the Nostalgia. Nostalgia is an interesting tool to use when it comes to making movies and I find it can be used in two ways: Cynically or Emotionally. Both ways use your sense of Nostalgia to evoke an emotion, but the big distinction is one (Cynical) uses your nostalgia for monetary gains and the other (Emotional) uses it as a story telling device. One preys on your sense of nostalgia to get you to see a movie while the other uses nostalgia to have you engage with the story. Both evoke emotions from you but while one does it with good intentions the other is more devious. To keep this concise, a perfect example of Cynical Nostalgia would be Disney today and it’s plethora of “Live-action” (but really mostly CGI) remakes. There is no denying that we are over saturated with movies that are relying too heavily on our generations’ sense of nostalgia to get butts in the seats of theatres and their remakes don’t shy away from this, practically being shot for shot remakes, only this time in photo-realistic quality. People are only going to see it because of how much they love the originals despite the fact most of these remakes are inferior versions that don’t seem to grasp what made the originals so great, to begin with (However, I will give credit to all the animators who put in their time to create the amazing CGI for each film, kudos to them). An example of emotional nostalgia would be The Lego Movie. It could have easily fallen under the Cynical Nostalgia category yet did more than rely on the fact that it was based on legos. It captured the imagination and creation of a child that we all had when we were kids, dealing with the parent/child relations and engaging us with our inner children that we may have long forgotten about. It used its themes rather than its brand name to invoke our sense of Nostalgia.
A Christmas Story does Emotional Nostalgia incredibly well, not only creating a sort of time capsule for a time period but also recapturing the feelings of Christmas and the holidays and boiling it down to simple terms that everyone can relate to. Even if we haven’t been raised through the late 30’s we still know what it’s like to really want something for Christmas and trying to be as good as possible to get it. We’ve all experienced, to varying degrees, the trials and tribulations of family life that the Parker family goes through. Even if you didn’t experience exactly what is happening to Ralphie, the feelings and emotions coming through it are universal enough that you have a moment in your life that can relate closely to it. The movie makes you reflect back to a simpler time when you were younger and Christmas still had that magic to it. The movie doesn’t rely on brand names or even its source material to evoke Nostalgia in the viewer but does so through its storytelling. It gives the viewer 94 minutes of time to reminisce and remember about their own childhoods. Compared to other Christmas Classics, this one does more than just capture the essence of Christmas but captures the essence of childhood, imagination, and family. A perfect portrait of the dysfunctional American family wrapped in a pretty Christmas bow.
If you don’t believe me, all you need to do is watch the Live Production of the film which is easily Cynical Nostalgia. Seemingly not understanding what made the original so great, replaces Jean Shepherd’s enthusiastic narration with Matthew Broderick’s sedated performance, stripping away any real emotions or moments from the original and replacing them with over-the-top musical numbers. All spectacle but no grounded moments, which the original was chock-full of. Those moments were essential to the film as they gave it a sense of realism that everyone could relate to and is probably another factor as to why it became such a big Christmas Cult Classic.
I would happily recommend this movie if it weren’t for the fact that you have all probably seen it already. But if you haven’t I would definitely say you should check it out, at least just to see what the big deal is about. Maybe it’ll become a holiday staple for you and maybe you’ll watch it once and be like “eh”, but there’s no denying this movie has definitely made an impact on the holiday season and I feel it has a deserved place in the Christmas Classics lexicon.