Movie Notes: A Christmas Story

December 23, 2006

A Christmas Story

4 stars = 4 stars

Starring Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon
Directed by Bob Clark

It’s holiday time, and last night we watched A Christmas Story, a funny movie my brothers and I used to watch repeatedly as kids. I don’t think I had seen it for over ten years, so I was curious what my “adult” perspective would be. Happily, I think this film stands the test of time and I enjoyed it immensely. I might start a tradition of watching it yearly.

The darkly comic film, set in the 1940s, follows Ralphie, a kid who really wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas – but everyone keeps telling him he’ll shoot his eye out. We follow the build up to the holiday through school, dares, fights with bullies, and adventures with his younger brother Randy.

More interesting to me were the characterizations of Ralphie’s father (referred to as “The Old Man”, mother, and other adults in this movie, seen through the eyes of a prepubescent kid. Dad is kind of a freaky, mysterious character with his swearing (hypocritically, Ralph is punished for uttering one word, while Dad lets loose a litany every time he does battle with a frustrated furnace) and rivalry with the neighbor’s dogs. It seems dad has that hapless middle-class plight of not much outward recognition, so when he finally gets a lamp shaped like a leg as a prize, he obsesses over it to an extreme.

Mom, meanwhile, is seen as alternately a strict disciplinarian wielding a bar of soap, while at other times having pity on Ralphe, protecting him from certain punishment from The Old Man. But ultimately, the parents redeem themselves by finally getting Ralphie the best Christmas present ever – even though he nearly does shoot his eye out.

But these arm’s length, almost surreal visions of parents is true to life: the whole film is basically seen through a Ralphie’s eyes. A bully is practically a monster, the teacher is alternately a witch or a beautiful woman, lying is a survival skill, and little brothers are pigs and laugh like lunatics.

The best example, of this kid’s eye filter is Ralphie’s visit with Santa. First there’s the weird kid who says “I like the Wizard of Oz,” and then the twisted way the elves and Santa himself are portrayed as the terror they are to anyone under the age of seven. The stressful experience is a horrifying moment, filmed through a distorted lens and Santa’s shoe descending towards the camera.

So I might be biased since this film made up a part of my childhood, but I highly recommend it – specially a few days before Christmas, of course.

Oh, and as a final note, you can buy that old man in your life a leg lamp if it moves you. It might make an amusing retirement present.