Today I watched Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story (1983)
From the boundlessly optimistic and infinitely merry Muppet take on Christmas, we now move on to a feature that is a little more realistic in it’s portrayal of the season. Young Ralphie wants nothing more for Christmas than a Red Ryder air rifle but ll the adults in his life continue to insist he will shoot his eye out. This serves as a through line to a whole series of holiday misadventures drawn from all forms of relatable seasonal irritations. The furnace keeps breaking, young kids freak out about their uncomfortable parkas, and the family fight over a ridiculously gaudy lamp. I would not characterize the film as cynical but it is certainly a more realistic portrayal of holiday emotions than most.
Almost all the characters in this film are consumed by stress, anxiety, and holiday angst. It is told from the perspective of a child and the constant mischief our protagonist, Ralphie, finds himself in causes no end of grief for many of the folks around him. Ralphie’s outlook reflects the joy many children feel for the season, so while the humour often plays on adult anxieties , it is always portrayed with an air of joy. Despite the work being wholly aware of many timeless holiday arguments and issues, and while it most certainly does not shy from their portrayal, it is all framed in child like wonder and happy expectations.
Through it’s ample humour the film manages to be highly critical of all the hubbub while still being very celebratory. Christmas is great, it’s all the freaking out and panicking that people do that makes it such a stressful time, the finale of the film in particular seems to support this theme. The film also chronicles a number of those childhood lessons that haunt us into adult-hood, if you have ever lived in colder climes, getting your tongue stuck on a metal pole is pretty much a rite of passage. And then there is the moment with the decoder ring where Ralphie learns all about bullshit marketing schemes.
If there is one major problem with this film, it’s that some of the humour is rather dated, and by dated, I mean racist. The two notable moments are a reference to an Arabian salesperson being a particularly crafty brand of haggler, while the finale involves laughing at Chinese accents. In the film’s defense I don’t think it is mean spirited or actually perpetrating hateful ideologies, but this kind of humour just isn’t really appropriate anymore and audiences should be aware of it before diving into this classic. Other than those mildly off colour quips, the film is deserving of it’s reputation as it’s message of cheer is made palatable even to the cynical by washing it down with humour that delves into the most aggravating elements of the season with total abandon. This film captures the essence of the American Christmas, both the good and the bad, this gives it the status of a classic. 4/5