12 Films of Christmas #1: A Christmas Story

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A Christmas Story (1983)

A lot of people have attempted to define Christmas over the years, but if you ask a child it’s all about Santa Claus and presents. We can tell our kids it’s about more than that. It’s about the giving, not the receiving, but they’ll never buy it. They may pay us lip-service thinking that by saying the right thing Santa will bring them more presents, but we know how they truly feel. And really, it’s no big deal because as they get older they’ll find new ways to look at Christmas and come around to the family and giving aspects of the holiday. While they’re kids though, lets let them be kids.

Everyone probably can recall that one Christmas gift they really wanted above all others. Hopefully, many did eventually get that, though I have a feeling most of those girls asking Santa for a pony went wanting on Christmas Day (I’d ask for a dog and never get it, but by then I was kind of wise to the whole Santa thing; I did get a turtle though). I have one, and for me it was a Super Nintendo. The SNES was released in 1991 and some of my cousins and friends received one from Santa that year. I did not, so come Christmas ’92 I was really itching for one and felt Santa was my only hope. When Christmas came, I snuck up early in the morning to scope out the loot. I was actually pretty happy with the toys I received, but there was no SNES. I returned to bed partially defeated, but truly looking on the bright side. When it was finally an acceptable hour to get up, I returned to the tree and tore into my gifts with my sister. When my parents got up, my dad made a remark about how he was surprised I wasn’t playing with a certain gift. Then he started looking around, and gestured towards the kitchen table which was probably six feet away from where the tree was setup. Tucked between the table leg and wall was my Super Nintendo, and I was overjoyed.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s practically the same experience Ralphie enjoys at the end of A Christmas Story when he finds his coveted Red Ryder BB Gun tucked behind a desk after thinking Santa had forgot the one gift he wanted most. It’s a charming tale about want, which sounds shallow on the surface, but after spending some 80 minutes with Ralphie throughout the picture we come to feel he deserves it and we’re all rooting for him to get that air rifle, even if it means he might shoot his eye out.

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The Parker Family

Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is like most kids. He has the same problems as anyone like school work, bullies, and looking after his kid-brother Randy (Ian Petrella). The film is narrated by Jean Shepherd as adult Ralphie, and was written by him as well, and the whole story is essentially one long flashback. Ralphie’s mother (Melinda Dillon) is his main obstacle towards getting what he wants as she deems a BB gun as too dangerous, uttering the film’s famous line “You’ll shoot your eye out,” upon hearing of her son’s desire. Ralphie’s dad, often referred to as the Old Man and played by Darren McGavin, seems indifferent to the plights of the family, unless the kids are acting up. He’s more consumed with his paper, fighting a never ending battle with the furnace, and his hick neighbors pack of hound dogs that seem only interested in harassing him, and no one else.

A lot of subplots carry the picture as we move towards Christmas. There’s the famous scene at the flagpole where Ralphie’s friends settle a debate over whether or not a tongue can stick to metal in the cold. There’s the Old Man’s “major award” that starts a cold war of sorts in the Parker household. A mall Santa steals a scene, and Ralphie’s potty mouth takes center stage for a memorable scene as well and we all learn about which soap tastes the best. Ralphie is often on the receiving end of some minor misfortune in many of these scenes, which only helps to make him feel more sympathetic. The film never strays too far towards this masochistic persona by making the viewer feel almost depressed for the poor kid, it mostly just reminds us of what it was like growing up.

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Not all gifts are winners.

The film is loaded with humor. Some of it is subtle and worked into the dialogue, some of it is ironic, and some of it is gag reliant. Ralphie’s daydreams are appropriately corny since they’re coming from the mind of a child and provide for the most obvious scenes of comedy in the film. The previously mentioned major award, a novelty lamp resembling a woman’s leg in a cocktail dress, is so well-known these days that you can walk into a store and buy one. McGavin is especially funny in his role as the Old Man, often having big reactions when he’s angered and perfectly capturing what it means to be a parent around the holidays. Sometimes all you can do is shake your head. Dillon is equally as effective as Mrs. Parker. She so captures that classic image of a mother without feeling too cliche. When she screams “Ralphie” it really sounds like she’s been shouting it his whole life at her own son.

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It’s hard to pick a favorite scene in this one, and when Ralphie tries his luck with Santa is certainly in the running for best scene in the picture.

The film does a great job of giving Ralphie small victories along the way, making the payoff at the end feel especially effective and joyous. It’s a film that succeeds because it so understands how it felt to be a child around Christmas. It’s relatable for children watching it today, and gives adults a chance to look back on those years when we were a little like Ralphie. You only get a few years to really be a kid invested in the whole Santa Claus concept, since most have the fable spoiled before they leave elementary school. It’s nice to get a little taste of that each time I view A Christmas Story. It’s why I consider it my favorite Christmas film of all time.

If you’re looking to catch A Christmas Story this year then I have good news, as it will be airing on television when this post goes live on Christmas Day. Hopefully you enjoyed reading this feature, though I admit I hope most are reading this final entry after Christmas, though I suppose it could be bathroom material on Christmas Day just fine. I hope everyone is spending Christmas Day with friends and family and Merry Christmas from The Nostalgia Spot!

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