Films of Christmas Past: A CHRISTMAS STORY

A Christmas Story, never has there been a more divisive movie in my family than this one. You either love it and think it’s hilarious or you think it’s a terrible piece of garbage that was sent to Earth by Satan himself. Me? I love it. I think it is one of the funniest Christmas movies of all time, easily up there with Christmas Vacation, Elf, and Scrooged. Every Christmas I look forward to the 24-hour marathon that TNT has of this movie. Though looking back on the film I’ll admit, there are some problems with it which I’ll address a little later.

The story itself is simple. Ralphie Parker is a nine-year old boy growing up in the 1940s in Hoffman, Indiana. It’s almost Christmas and he wants nothing more than “A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.” Along the way he puts up with bullies, teachers, an odd little brother, and his well-meaning parents.  Despite his best efforts and pleas to not only his parents and teachers but Santa himself he is lead to believe that he isn’t going to get the BB gun. Of course because this is a feel good family movie he gets it in the end. Like I said, the story is simple. But I think it would be safe to say that the simplicity of the story is what helps to give the movie its charm, as does its main theme.

Speaking of which, it’s main theme is something that we can all relate to. Almost everybody wished for something big for Christmas at some point during their childhood, I know I did. I also went searching through my parents closet to see if I could find out what I was getting (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m not sorry) but I digress. We all had that one object of our affection, the one thing that would either make or break Christmas. I know for me one year it was a copy of Guitar Hero 2. I had missed out on the first one but anytime I went to a Best Buy or a friend’s house you can bet I was playing their copy of it.  The cheap plastic controller that somehow felt natural and its soundtrack was my Holy Grail that year.  For Ralphie it was that Red Ryder BB gun.

Now, even though I love this movie I will admit that it had some parts that are rather ridiculous to say the least. The main one that comes to mind is the subplot with Ralphie’s little brother, Randy. I understand that all little kids can act a bit weird at times but the character of Randy feels like someone took that weirdness and amplified it to an absurd level. The scene where the mom is trying to get him to eat is just plain stupid. The whole subplot felt pointless and in all honesty the character of Randy could have been left out altogether.

Something else that could have been easily left out is the lamp. Again, it doesn’t add much to the movie aside from some jokes and it could have been swapped out for expanding the story with Ralphie some more.

The cinematography and set design are great and really capture the feeling of the 1940s. But the one thing that stands out to me in regards to the cinematography is the Santa scene. Looking back, most people can relate to being excited to meet Santa. Just the idea of finally getting to meet the big guy himself was enough to amplify the Christmas candy sugar rush. This was the big moment, the moment when we got to tell him what we wanted for Christmas. But sometimes that excitement got a bit disorienting. Sometimes words failed like they did with Ralphie and we realize that we blew our shot. The way they filmed Santa with this sense of distortion really helped to recreate that moment of being overwhelmed.

Another great scene is one that may not seem like much but was shot beautifully is the one at the end where the mom and the old man were sitting in the dark living room with no lights except for those on the tree and were just watching the snow fall. That simple setup perfectly captures small town Americana at Christmas. The chaos that surrounds the season is finally over and they can rest, if only for a moment.

For all its dumb little moments and absurd subplots and characters there is still something charming about this movie. Perhaps, as I said earlier, it’s the simplicity and relatability of the main theme. Maybe it’s how it captures the feeling of what it’s like to be a kid around the holidays. Or maybe it’s just a combination of something I’m missing. Either way, whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny that this has become a Christmas classic.