Every Christmas, our family loves to dive into the sea of Christmas movies and enjoy many favorites. I’ve noticed, that some of the best Christmas films are actually about deeper existential truth. In fact, one could say that Christmas is the one time of year where Hollywood is truly theistic. I mean, if you really think about it, some of the best Christmas movies wax more philosophical about faith than a college lecture. They are often about faith in Santa Claus, but some of the underlying themes can be applied to Christianity as well. There are some that I’ve been thinking about:
1. The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause, starring Tim Allen, tells the story of Scott Calvin, who after accidentally offing Santa Claus, puts on his suit and unwittingly becomes the next Santa Claus. This upends his professional career, his relationships, and his body image.
Now, besides the whole creepy aspect of killing Santa Claus and not even one of the elves seeming to care, Scott Calvin represents the modern man in so many ways. He’s successful, sarcastic and generally self-absorbed. But Charlie, his son gives him the ability to try and be loving, caring and generous. When Scott starts turning into Santa Claus, Neil (Scott’s ex-wife’s new husband) a licensed psychotherapist, is the vocal skeptic. Scott does everything in his power to repress the memories of his experience at the North Pole, but he can’t and it’s starting to take over almost every aspect of his life.
It’s hard not to see that this movie somewhat bucks the modernist idea that empiricism is the key to understanding everything. Scott Calvin tries to shake off his experience as a dream, but he can’t as this reality overtakes him and he eventually accepts his role in the magical world of Santa Claus. It’s also possibly just a coincidence, but I think it’s interesting that his last name is borrowed from one of the most empirical Christian scholars of the Reformation.
So, the moral of the story is…kill your form of empiricism and start from scratch. It will be difficult and agonizing at times, but ultimately worth it. It’s almost like G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis could have written the script.
2. It’s a Wonderful Life
We follow George Bailey from his childhood, through his college years, into being a beloved family man who is then dealt a blow by fate and that bumbling uncle of his. Just as he’s about to end it all, Clarence the ditzy angel comes to his rescue and shows him what others lives would have been like without his presence.
Now, obviously, the whole point of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life revolves around existential crisis, but I also think that Mr. Potter and the whole system that sought to oppress George Bailey was a stinging indictment on the oligarchical structure of the day. Mr. Potter obviously doesn’t like George Bailey, not just because he’s a goody-goody, but because he’s an obstacle in his way. Mr. Potter represents capitalism and George Bailey represents the proletariat,
working class, entrenched in a war for independence from the machine of industrial progress. Deeper than the economic implications, are the existential and spiritual implications as God Himself sees George Bailey as an integral cog in humanity. Enough so that He orders an angel to save him. Bailey is obviously a cog that would go missed.
So, the moral of the story is…never give the uncle with a reputation for shenanigans a sack of all the money in your business.
3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph? Isn’t that a special? Ok, I’m bending the rules a bit, but I think we need to talk about this sad, sad film for a bit. Alright, it’s not entirely a sad movie, but I find it’s mainly depressing.
First, Rudolph is born into a family where his dad, Donner, doesn’t want him to be different. Of course, this was made in a different time, when people didn’t talk about their feelings and parents were emotional cripples. Even when Santa Claus first sees Rudolph he tells Donner that he should be ashamed of his own son. This causes Rudolph to runaway to a frozen, barren wasteland with Hermey the “dentist” elf, where they meet a bumbling Yukoneer, consumed by greed. They eventually land in the Island of Misfit Toys, which represents the disenfranchised class in society.
Years later, Rudolph wanders back home, rescues his parents and girlfriend from the Abominable Snowman and is then finally hailed as a hero by his friends and family. Only after proving his worth to these shallow people does Santa come creeping up to Rudolph to ask him for a favor. Santa says that it’s really snowy out and he now sees that Rudolph’s nose has some utilitarian value. He may be a freak, but now he’s a useful freak! Then, it ends with everybody cheering for Rudolph, who will probably need years of therapy and a good publicist.
I think Rudolph could be determined to be a parable about self-worth in an age of narcissism and discrimination, but I think the real lesson is…don’t estrange your children for their genetic mutations.