Everyone has a favourite Christmas film – everyone. There is anyone in the civilized world celebrating the holiday, that hasn’t got a choice for the one festive film that really warms their Christmas cockles. We put our feet up, drink something warm and sit in the glow of a beautifully lit tree; it’s something I look forward to every year. Pure and simply, Christmas is great, and so are Christmas films because they show us just how great Christmas is.
They come in all shapes and sizes, because well, it’s quite easy to pass as a Christmas film – set it at Christmas, boom Christmas film. No, that’s mean, you do have to put in some effort, but what I’m trying to say is that a lot of people’s favourite Christmas films aren’t examples of what you might call ‘traditional holiday films’. For some, the idea of a Christmas film is exactly that, a full on, ho ho ho’ing Christmas film. Something like the Santa Claus films; A Christmas Story; Miracle on 34th Street, or my personal choice, The Grinch That Stole Christmas (Jim Carrey’s best performance by far).
So yeah, for a lot of people, Christmas films focus solely on Christmas, but I want to talk about the alternate Christmas films. The ones that use the holiday to talk about something else, or show something else; basically the films twist and turn the Christmas spirit. For these people the ideas of a Christmas film is more open, and the bar is set much lower on how Christmassy the film itself has to be. Truth is though, it doesn’t matter which flavour you like your Christmas film, it’s something that’s unique to you and gets you in the spirit – so it doesn’t matter how focused on the holiday it is.
But, for a bit of fun, I’d like to go through some of the films that are regarded as Christmas classics, yet under the knife, don’t really scream mistletoe and wine.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Right, I know that it’s got Christmas in the title, but stay with me here – this isn’t a proper Christmas film, it’s half of one. Christmas is a big part of this beautifully crafted animation film from the 90’s, but as many people know by watching the film, it also endorses Halloween. While both Pagen in origin, these holiday’s collide and create a reaction that equally blends the two – well, maybe 60/40 because while yeah it’s in the title, and yeah the whole plot really centres around Christmas, the overall feature of the film revolves around mascots of one holiday not understanding another holiday. The whole point with Jack Skeleton’s desire to study and embody Christmas wasn’t out of an attraction to it specifically, but because he wanted something to change in his life (ironic considering he’s just bones).
The entirety of Halloween town itself never really gets what Christmas is about, but they just love Jack so much and they want to show their enthusiasm for his idea. And that’s exactly what the film is, no coincidence produced by Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is about showing love in a dark place. The message is actually anti-Christmas in essence, as it’s nothing to do with how wonderful the time of year is, or how exciting the holiday is, instead it’s really about realising what you have around you. In the end, it takes experiencing Christmas to show Jack he doesn’t need it to be happy, he already had what he needed.
Okay, okay, okay. Die Hard IS a Christmas film – hey, hanging out with John McClane is just as much fun as The Grinch, but it isn’t really a Christmas film. Come on, it’s not, it’s an action film above all else, and it just so happens to be set at Christmas. That’s not to say that Christmas isn’t something more than just a setting, as there’s so many great and memorable moments that remind us of the many traditions we’ve grown to know and love with the holiday – a lot of them are even twistedly humourous.
But, at the end of it all, Die Hard is an action film – it’s about an Alan Rickman led gang of thieves pretending to be terrorists, and how one lone cop is going to save their hostages, and stop them all together. From there on, it’s pretty much just shoot, kill, Christmas joke, which like I said, makes for some great dark humour. But, there is no acknowledgement of the Christmas spirit at the end, no kind of holiday message. It’s not like we see John and the fam sitting down to a lovely Turkey dinner, and it’s not like we get a scene of jolly old Saint Nic gunning down naughty fake terrorists in assist. Now, there’s an ending!
The only kind of holiday spirit we get, is knowing that after Die Hard with a Vengeance, the Gruber’s never had a merry Christmas again.
Brazil is noted for being one of the best films ever made, yet it’s been somewhat forgotten in recent years. I’ll admit, it’s not one of my favourites, it’s a little too zany for me, and a little stained by people who use it as a go-to to say that they understand cinema – but, even in this cynicism, I can recognise it’s a well-made film. In terms of Christmas, it doesn’t exactly paint the perfect holiday portrait: we have a dystopian world centered around bureaucracy and consumerism that pushes out and ostracizes those who don’t play along.
Like Die Hard, Brazil uses Christmas as more of a backdrop than as a key theme, but it brings the season in the form of twisted ideologies. Over the years, Christmas has been a debate battleground on what it’s all really about, with many traditionalists, who believe that Christmas should remain more of a religious time arguing against those who might be inclined to think that Christmas is more about the shopping, the food, and the gifts.
You’ve probably seen, or at least heard of the argument, ‘Let’s keep the Christ in Christmas’, well Brazil turns this on its head and gives us something different, something that puts consumerism as our Lord and Saviour.
It’s a strange film which won’t bring on any festive joy, but if you’d like to see a comedic spin on George Orwell’s classic, ‘1984’, then this is definitely for you.