10 best things about A Christmas Story

Posted: December 25, 2009 in Holiday, Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve wanted to write a review of A Christmas Story for about six years now. Even before I started doing reviews regularly, I wanted to do it. Every year I tell myself this is going to be the year I write it, this is going to be the year I do it, and then it never happens. The problem with trying to do a review of A Christmas Story is that if you’re under 50 you either know the movie or don’t want to. I wouldn’t find it impossible to believe that a person had just never managed to see it, but I would think that person maybe didn’t have it high on their priorities and didn’t want to see it. And while sometimes it’s fun to play along, I don’t want to do a review just to reinforce the feelings we have for this movie. So I decided on a 10 best list. And then, I decided to go one step beyond and do this 10 best list. Not agreed favorites, not what we all love, but my own personal favorites. These are the things I love.

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The Ten Best Things about A Christmas Story (1983 MGM Dir. Bob Clark)

1
This is your God. (Watch They Live and this will make sense.)

10. And No Religion Too
This is a movie about the secular side of Christmas. It’s just Ralphie and his quest to get an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass and sundial in the stock. The movie never tries to moralize to us, or make us feel bad about the childish glee of materialism. There isn’t a moment of learning that the holidays are really about family, or god, or any other horse hockey. It’s just about the stuff in this movie, because that’s what the holidays are for kids and this is a movie about a kid. The movie is told completely from the point of view of a child, and as such the idea of Christmas representing more than a materialistic joy would ruin the film. Since it stays with the kid the whole time, it keeps its audience with it the whole time. I suspect that the reason we all still love this movie is that it never tries to tell us we’re wrong for focusing on the childish glee of wanting an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass and this thing in the stock that tells the time.

2
Hard concept to illustrate, so as one of Detroit’s sons, I went for cars.

9. The Year 194X-ish
If you’ve ever really tried to research this movie, you’ll notice that it doesn’t take place at any particular year. Ralphie’s decoder pin is labeled 1940, but some of the music wouldn’t be written until 1943 and there seem to be a few holdovers from the 1930s left scattered around. There isn’t a solid date for this movie, so it sort of takes place in that Anime/Video game year of 194X like the 199X or 20X6 that we always had in the 80s. The reason is obvious, they didn’t want to nail this movie down. They wanted to convey a feeling of an age rather than one Christmas in particular. As a result, you could play a fun game of averages, trying to find what year has the most references to it. OR! You could form a drinking game out of the whole thing and take a drink every time something that was specific to any one year is spotted.

3
Those women, how they tempt us with their cosplay.

8. You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.
This is one of the lines that I hear repeated most from this movie. I was once told that I shouldn’t be collecting knives and swords because, as the person put it “You’ll shoot your eye out. Well, cut it out anyway.” It’s one of the greatest teasing lines of all time, carefully placed it can crush anyone’s soul. Can anyone forget the bit when Ralphie is trapped in Room 101 and the interrogator keeps saying that to Ralphie, no matter what requests he makes? “Please! Let me out of here!” “No, you’ll shoot your eye out.” “I’ll tell you anything, just let me go.” “You’ll shot your eye out.” “There are four lights!” “You’ll shoot your eye out.” And in the end, Ralphie is reduced to a jibbering wreck. All throughout the movie, every authority figure from his mother, to his teacher to Santa himself throws this line at poor Ralphie, each time crushing him. The fact that Ralphie gets to the end of this movie with anything like his sanity in tact is a testament to the indomitable American spirit.

4
Is it me, or does Ralphie seem ready to bite Flick’s tongue off and eat it whole? Probably just me.

7. Flick’s Tongue
Is this a warning against peer pressure? A symbolic expression of the escalation of the Cold War? Perhaps it’s just a moral lesson that explains to us all that we can get our tongues stuck to metal on a cold day. Does it matter? I doubt it. What starts as a simple conversation about your tongue freezing works up to a dare, a double dare and eventually a triple dog dare. This end with personal disaster for young Flick as he’s stuck to that flagpole. It’s sort of like the Saw movies, only with more horror and less guys planning things WAAAAY too far in advance to be plausible.

5
Jean’s The MAN! In the credits, he’s just ‘man’ in the roll.

6. Jean Shepherd’s Sense of Humor
Let’s face it, none of this would exist without Jean Shepherd’s writings, since many of the stories from his books are copied into the film exactly. There are many little things that jump out at you if you’ve read those stories. There is a sort of dark cynicism present in the books, which fortunately remains alive within the movie, even though it remains counterbalanced by the nostalgia. It’s an amazing balancing act which, while reliant on the skills of Bob Clark, owes a great debt to the stories themselves.

6
The elders would gather and decide disputes among the tribe.

5. Real Kids
Have you ever noticed that these kids swear? These are some of the most realistic kids I’ve ever seen in a movie. They’re not sugar coated, talking in that Brady or Cosby kids cute speak, or shown to be the ‘oh so innocents’ that most adults want kids to be. There is both the good and the bad in these kids. They are sort of selfish, thoughtless, profane, but over all good and at least trying to be kind. The point is that instead of being a collection of what adults think kids should be it’s a collection of kids closer to real than most movies you’ll see.

7
Hot, hardcore scene in 5… 4… 3…

4. They Do Love Each Other
This is a small moment, positively minuet in fact, but I love it so. After putting the kids to bed, Ralphie’s mother comes downstairs and is called to look at the falling snow by The Old Man. She sits on the arm of the chair next to him, and his hand touches her back. She then puts an arm around him and they sit in silence, watching the snowfall outside. Ralphie’s parents are given 30 seconds to themselves in this movie, which is just about average for most parents on the holidays as I understand it. It’s nice though, to see a married couple in a movie that love their children and love each other without having it fall into a sense of over-sentimentality.

8
All to the music of Moby.

3. Ralphie Goes Jason Bourne on the Bully.
Scut Farkas, what a douche. Scut fires a snowball directly toward poor Ralphie, temporarily blinding him and leaving his flank open. Scut makes a few remarks and suddenly things change. Techno music starts playing, the camera goes all wobbly, Raphie rolls up a copy of Open Road for Boys and starts going all amnesiatic assassin on his ass. During the epic four-minute fight scene that ensues, we watch as Scut is beaten bloody while Jean Shepherd calmly voices over the beating. Half way through watching Scut getting taken apart you have a sudden realization… wow, Ralphie knew capoeira this whole time but didn’t reveal it until just now! Muscle memory, I’m telling you.

9
I can’t wait to kill something!

2. I Can Has BB GUN!
You might think this would count as the number one option and ten years ago, you would have been right, but these days it only comes in as a close second. Ralphie, slightly disappointed that the present opening binge is over without the inclusion of blued steel, is told there is one more gift left. Actually, The Old Man points out he can see something behind the desk and tells Ralphie to go and check it out. At that point, he opens the wrapping paper and finds the gun within. It’s the culmination of all Ralphie’s efforts. This is the happy ending we all want and have always wanted. Good triumphs, right prevails, and everyone clutches their beloved firearms. Even though the movie doesn’t quite end there, it’s the emotional highpoint. After that, there is just the understandable sequence of action. Ralphie loads up, and goes after all those who so abused him. It’s a little surprising to find a Christmas movie turn into a revenge flick, and for it to have such a high body count is really something, but that’s why we love this thing.

10
Ah the simple joy of spoiling your kids.

1. The Old Man Knew
This is the number one partly because it’s so cool, and partly because it took me so long to notice. Watch carefully, Ralphie’s Dad is the one person he never actually asks for the gun. The Old Man is treated as a disinterested party and he is never consulted on the mythical BB gun. He only once mentions it to his mother, and then tries other parties like his teacher and Santa. In fact, watch even more carefully and you’ll notice the Old Man is never once in the room when the gun is mentioned. Yet, it’s The Old Man who finally does good and buys the gun. In fact, knowing his son as well as he does, he goes the full effort of hiding the gift until the end of the gift opening so it’ll have its rightful status as “Best Gift Eva” as it should have. The Old Man giggles as Ralphie opens the present, clearly having a flashback of similar boyhood enjoyment. I like this moment best because it occurred to me that you kind of have to be past a certain age to notice it. Until I’d reached that age, I never notices that The Old Man knew what his son wanted, knew no one else would get it for him, and without telling anyone else, went out and got the gun for his boy.

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