Reflections on “A Christmas Story”

A Christmas Story is an example of one of those films that I have always liked.  It made a big impression when I first saw it in my childhood, and I’ve always considered to be one of the most outright enjoyable films I’d seen.

However, living overseas from the United States, I have met many who found it to be a bit impenetrable, perhaps because it’s seen as too “American” or “foreign” or whatever.  Or maybe they just find it a bit childish or silly.  But these comments could not overcome the fondness the film held in my memory.

So, today, on Christmas Eve, I just rewatched it for the first time in many years, introducing it to my children – not realizing that it’s not long past the 30 year anniversary of when the film came out.  Anyway, as I viewed it again, I wondered how it would hold up.

The result?  Well…OK, it’s not as good as I remembered.  Or rather, it suffers a bit from over-familiarity.  And the “for kids” aspects of the film, including a lot of the fantasy sequences, are harder to ignore.  So even watching it through the eyes of my children, I found a bunch of sequences to be hokier than I wanted to find in a movie I claim to love.

But still, I had a good time watching it with my family.  I still enjoy the relationship between “Mom” and “the Old Man”, and consider it to be one of the more realistic married couples that I saw on screen in my youth.  Favorite funny moments such as the outrageous pink bunny suit, the reveal of the “major prize”, Flick getting his tongue stuck to the pole, and the terrifying visit to the decidedly unsaccharine Santa Claus are all still enjoyable.

But my favorite scene is still when young Ralphie find himself at a breaking point as he is once again confronted by the local bullies. He beats up these kids, and assumes he’s going to get in trouble for the string of profanity that comes out of his mouth in the process.  His brother also assumes that Ralphie is going to get in trouble (or “Daddy’s going to kill Ralphie”) and hides in the cupboard.  But why does Ralphie snap like that?  Well, on the surface, it’s just come after yet another failure in his great BB gun campaign, this time with his teacher.  But we know, as adults watching the film, that it’s also because of the ongoing pressures he’s under – the stresses at school, the helplessness that comes with not being able to just do what he wants, even the challenge of having to pretend to being unaware of his father’s foul language.  Because sometimes, under that pressure, the worst things come out of me.  And then, just like for Ralphie, I discover something deeper about mercy.

A Christmas Story avoids any hint of cynicism, but it acknowledges the confusion and contradictions that are inherent in being a kid, and in growing up.  For me, it makes the humor all the more poignant and meaningful (sort of like how Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes do something similar).  And though I can see this pretty clearly now as an adult, as I kid I think I recognized it to some degree as well, which is part of the reason why the movie has stuck with me all this time.

So, by no means flawless, but a fun experience that I am glad to be able to revisit.

4 Faces

Incidentally, the movie’s star, Peter Billingsley, is apparently one of the producers of Iron Man, and played the scientist who told Obadiah Stane that he could not invent an arc reactor because he was “not Tony Stark.”

Even more incidentally, and sort of crazily, the actual house that was used for Ralphie’s home in A Christmas Story, located in Cleveland, has now been restored to the state that was seen on screen, and is now open year-round for tours, and is right across the street from a museum dedicated to the movie!  How crazy is that?

Merry Christmas!

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