Saturday, December 24, 2011

A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)

"28 Days... 6 Hours... 42 Minutes... 12 Seconds... That is
When the World Will End..."–Donnie Darko (2001)
On the thirtieth and penultimate Lynchian day of Christmas, we present Bob Clark's classic family comedy A Christmas Story (1983). Depicting a typical American small town during the 1940's, A Christmas Story follows young Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) who desperately wants a "Red Ryder carbine-action 200 shot range model air rifle" for Christmas. The film is Lynchian in subjectively showing Ralphie's frame of mind as he daydreams through life, constructing entertaining fantasies about gaining the admiration and respect he deserves.
A Christmas Story also takes a humorous approach to its narration, which is told from the perspective of Ralphie's older and more eloquent self. In a Lynchian twist, the narrator recounts his self-aggrandizing thoughts as a child. This is most effective when the more mundane reality presented on screen contrasts with his grandiloquent narration. The charming disparity between his feelings and reality provide the movie some of its best moments of humor and helps set it apart from other movies depicting childhood.
Although David Lynch's nostalgic time frame of choice is normally a decade or two later, the small-town American zeitgeist of the slightly earlier 1940's shares many similarities with the more Lynchian 1950's and early 1960's. In fact, the style and humor of Lynch's TV series On the Air (1992) could coexist comfortably with A Christmas Story (1983). And as we mentioned in previous articles, even Lynch's films set during modern times, like The Straight Story (1999) and Twin Peaks (1990-91), all seem to possess a a charming sensibility that feels at home in the same cinematic world as A Christmas Story.
A Christmas Story has another Lynchian tether when Ralphie's father wins a lamp depicting a woman's leg in a fishnet stocking, which temporarily acts as an opening to a new and exciting world. This lamp is a humorous doorway that Ralphie passes through in his development and innocent expressions of his preliminary feelings of attraction toward the opposite sex. Although extremely benign compared to Lynch's films, it is an important connection.
The delightful childishness of Ralphie's attempts to get what he wants should be reminiscent to what most of us did at the same age. For instance, Ralphie attempts to use a subtle ploy to implant the idea in his parents' heads that roving bears in the neighborhood might necessitate the need for a Red Ryder B.B. gun so Ralphie can protect the family. These little touches are amusing and true to life. And although the movie revels in the nostalgic glow of childhood, it is not afraid of slipping under the surface and revealing the darker and more fearful side of growing up.
In a particularly poignant counterpoint when Ralphie's childish dreams seemingly slip away from him, he also must regularly cross the path of the school bully Scut Farkus (Zack Ward). As Ralphie and his friends evade Scut's reign of terror throughout the film, we cannot help but be reminded of another Lynchian Christmas film directed by Bob Clark a decade earlier: Black Christmas (1974). Although it did not make our list, it is a solid horror movie set at a sorority house during Christmas break when the young women must face down a far worse bully. Be careful not to confuse Black Christmas with its inferior remake released recently.
Rightly considered one of the most entertaining holiday movies ever made, A Christmas Story (1983) epitomizes the charm and magic many associate with the holiday without descending into unrealistic camp or engaging in bland sermonizing that all-too-frequently plague other Christmas films. A Christmas Story has a razor edge to its wit that helps the movie get rediscovered by new viewers all the time, and will likely always remain a favorite movie for families to watch this time of year.


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