“It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we… we… we smile a little easier, we… w-w-we… we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”
Stapled dormice, TV censors who swear like a sailor, the Manson Family Christmas Special, L.A. slimeballs, cats and dogs watching TV, Mrs. Santa Claus with 11 fingers, the Ghost of Christmas Present being guilty of multiple counts of assault, the night the reindeer died, Russian vodka poisoned by Chernobyl, five pounds of veal, the solid gold dancers, Operation Reach Out and Operation Out Reach, and Chinese food…all the things you look for in a Christmas movie….or not…
This is one of the six or seven movies I know every single line of by heart, and could probably transcribe a full copy of the screenplay with a very high level of accuracy. Since it came out 23 years ago this movie had been watched every Christmas in my family (sometimes more than once during December) and it never gets old.
So why do I love this movie so much when I have a general distain for A Christmas Carol? Well, first off, it’s funny. Really funny. Watching the Ghost of Christmas Present hit Bill Murray with a toaster oven never gets old. I can’t even begin to rattle off the jokes of this movie, because there are just too many to pick from. In its own right, even without any considerations of Christmas, this is one of the funniest movies ever made. Really, if you have missed this film, that is pretty close to a crime. I don’t know how but before the end of this week you need to see this movie. (Your life jut might depend on it) You will laugh.
Second, and more importantly, unlike Dickens, who had no understanding of Christmas. Read this, the 2nd to last paragraph of A Christmas Carol:
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
Notice what’s missing? Scrooge seems to get nothing out of this change…only a mocking laugh at those who saw a change in him and didn’t believe it. (And the line “as good a master” just bothers me, although I’m sure if I lived in late 1800’s London I would find nothing wrong with the phrasing…but still.) Why did Scrooge change? The fear of death, of hell, of being forgotten…not because of good for its own sake, no what glimpses Dickens might give as Scrooge changing are more rationalizations and excuses…Ebenezer Scrooge changed for fear of damnation, not because of good as its own end, or even the benefits it brings. In the “classic” version of the film, Alastair Sim as Scrooge makes the most ethically abhorrent line at the end “I have no right to be so happy.” If you’re a good person you have every right to be happy the moment you have changed your course in life. But not for the dark and miserable ideas of Dickens.
Scrooged does not fall into this trap. No. Not only do we see Murray’s character showing remorse and the desire to change even during the Ghost of Christmas Past, but Bill Murray’s character in his last speech makes it quite clear why you want to embrace Christmas.
“It can happen every day…you’ve just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it you’ll get greedy for it…you’ll want it every day of your life, and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it’s gonna happen to me now, and I’m ready for it. It’s great! It’s a good feeling…it’s better than I’ve felt in a long time! I’m ready….have a Merry Christmas, everyone.”
Certainly more understanding than anything in Dickens. Certainly, not just a better argument, but a more accurate one. When we are the best we have in us, it gives us happiness.
And unlike all the other versions which wait only until the Scrooge character is at the end of his life, here the Ghosts come to a man still in his prime, who can still make up with the love of his life and who has time to truly embrace his newfound realization.