Let’s face it. Most kids love Christmas for the presents. As much as we’d like to make them believe that it’s all about the giving, they prefer the toy fire truck or the Baby Wets Her Pants over watching Dad open up yet another striped tie or seeing Mom shout with glee over a diamond necklace. It’s all about the ripping open of the presents and reveling in seeing Santa demolish their Christmas wish list just as fast as the remote control car crashes once too many and heads off to the toy graveyard. Director Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story captures this sense unlike no other holiday film I have seen.
It’s the 1940’s and Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is your typical Little Orphan Annie-listening young lad. All he really wants for Christmas this year is an official Red Rider B.B. gun. Yet every time he tells an adult his dream gift he’s greeted with the same response, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” A Christmas Story follows the lead up to Christmas, following Ralphie, his family and his friends as they get ready for yet another big December 25th. The film follows them to places like the department store, a visit with Santa, evenings in front of the radio and afternoons during the final days of class before the holiday break. We’re also taken into Ralphie’s imagination as he dreams of all the good he can do if he were to get the gun and the horror of hearing the same phrase about him shooting his peepers over and over again.
A Christmas Story evokes a sense of genuine nostalgia. No matter what era you’ve grown up in, chances that if you celebrate Christmas you’ve experienced similar excitement and frustrations as Ralphie. You probably also know similar people as those he runs across every day, whether it’s the dad fawning over a tacky prize and cussing over a broken furnace or a scary looking and equally frightening bully or a younger sibling that refuses to eat anything that isn’t first made into playtime. Sometimes nostalgia can hinder a film because the viewer can get more caught up in the retro objects rather than the sense of the film. The Wedding Singer comes to mind as such an example. Although a cute film, much of the story is meant to take the audience back to the 1980’s by trying to cram as many references from the decade into the film’s narrative, even if they have to be forced. Instead nostalgia worked in A Christmas Story to take me back to a time when I was young. It isn’t formed in objects but rather a sense of childhood innocence where mulling over the toy section in the back of the Sears catalogue was an annual event. Once there, Clark sustains the momentum by going through situations I could relate to from my clouded memory.
The title A Christmas Story is an ambiguous one that draws on the fact that this is a typical Christmas experience for one boy. Yet at the same time, it has grown into a classic because it is such a near universal experience for those of us who have grown up in increasingly commercial and less religiously based Christmas seasons.
My annual viewing of A Christmas Story is a love built on humour, recognition and reflection of years past. It never fails to take me back to a place of welcomed innocence yet it doesn’t make me wish I were back there. And although I enjoy the giving side of the season now, let’s face it, adults like to receive things too sometimes.
A Christmas Story Gallery