From Under A Rock: A Christmas Story
Happy Holidays from Michael and Aaron! Thank you for a great year at From Under A Rock, and for joining us for a discussion of a genuine Christmas classic.
You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.
Last week Michael made Aaron suffer through the Star Wars Holiday Special. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock for A Christmas Story.
A Christmas Story
Released: November 18th, 1983
Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark
Jean Shepherd as Adult Ralphie Parker
Peter Billingsley as Young Ralphie Parker
Melinda Dillon as Mrs. Parker
Darren McGavin as Mr. Parker (The Old Man)
Tedde Moore as Miss Shields
Aaron Hubbard: This is a movie that I’ve seen in disparate parts on television over the years, but only recently watched in its entirety, no commercials or anything. I feel that’s a common experience, even for people who love the movie unconditionally. But I wanted to see it, and since Michael hadn’t seen it in anyway, it felt appropriate for this column.
Michael Ornelas: Like I mentioned last week, I’ve never seen a single scene of this. I’ve seen the DVD cover all over the place, but that’s it. I’m always down to watch a movie that’s a celebrated classic, so let’s dive in!
Nostalgia and Cynicism
Aaron: A Christmas Story is a movie about nostalgia, and in a weird way. When it came out in 1983, it was largely targeted at an audience of children reliving the nostalgic memories of their grandparents. The film takes place in 1940-1941, after the Great Depression but before America’s involvement in World War II. Yet it’s told from adult Ralphie’s perspective; this is the film equivalent of sitting around at Christmas and hearing grandpa recount his childhood holiday. That’s an interesting move even in 1983, and over three decades later the experience is even stranger. But… I also feel that’s what makes it timeless. Mostly. That tacky joke near the end is just going to seem worse and worse every year.
Michael: Yeah, that ending did not age well now that we (kind of?) know better as a society. I thought the movie was alright, but if you take the narrator out of it, there’s very little through line tying the story together and that really hurt my overall enjoyment of the film. It feels an awful lot like someone is telling “a handful” of funny stories that don’t really relate from the same year of their childhood. It wasn’t bad, but it seemed disorganized at best.
Aaron: I don’t really agree, though I see how it can come across that way. It’s more “episodic vignettes” than disorganized, in my view. I think one of the reasons this connects with audiences is because it has a healthy dose of cynicism, but also is genuinely sappy and innocent enough to have a father giving his kid his most desired present as its emotional climax. But moments like the visit to the mall Santa, the pink bunny pajamas, the decoder ring, and Ralphie beating the shit out of Scut Farkus all go against that general tone. It perfectly captures the joy and the frustration of the season.
Michael: While this didn’t end up being one of my favorite movies, I did really appreciate the portrayal of a child’s point of view. When Ralphie is fending his family off from robbers in a daydream sequence, I loved it because it rings true to the type of things one imagines when you’re a kid. That was further emphasized later in the movie when he was seated on Santa’s lap and it became this big acid trip (not really, but you get what I mean). It almost reminded me of a more innocent version of the Axe Cop TV series, which has a special place in my heart. Seeing kids be kids is a rare feat in films in the sense of a realistic portrayal, and I thought this nailed it.
Aaron: I honestly can’t think of any other movie that nails that concept out of the park like this one. It’s best to come at this movie from a child’s perspective; the film is about little moments and the feelings attached to them. Getting a bad grade, dealing with a school bully, the first time you get to help your Dad and it going so wrong… those things matter to kids. So does the anticipation of Christmas or saving up to get a decoder ring (something I did as a kid to get a Fisher Price Invisible Knight toy), or the terror you feel when you’re in trouble. Ralphie’s parents seem pretty reasonable, but to a kid his age, it really would feel like his dad would kill him for getting in a fight. I adore this film on that level.
Michael: This was for sure the strongest aspect of the film to me, for all the reasons you just listed. It also created a weird disconnect for me, however, listening to an adult man narrate something that is so clearly from a kid’s point of view. The movie suffered a little bit for me because it couldn’t decide which voice to present itself through. Presentation was the word that kept coming up in my head while watching it. It’s a good movie, and I understand why so many people hold it in such high regard, but this probably won’t end up in my Christmas rotation (where Home Alone 2 still remains king).
Little Human Moments
Aaron: So, my favorite character in this is Mrs. Parker, and it’s because she has so many little moments that I love. Like everyone else, she’s caught somewhere between happiness and discontent, and her best moments are when those clash. Tasting the soap is hilarious, as is her trashing the world’s tackiest lamp and winning an argument with her husband while barely saying a word. But my favorite moments of hers are when she is dealing with Randy. While no one comes out and says it, Randy obviously has some issues, and it’s hard for any parent to deal with that. Mrs. Parker shows patience, understanding and creativity when taking care of him. I may or may not connect with those scenes on a very personal level.
Michael: And I feel this movie had a lot of those as well. You described this film to me as “slice of life” when we discussed it after I watched it, and that’s accurate. This film excels in its relatability. And Ralphie, to me, is even more relatable than his mother, at least to a certain type of kid. He’s an underdog, but he’s a complicated character. I appreciate that about him, because it would have been so easy to make him single-faceted (is that a word?), but they didn’t. He had several real, complex relationships with everyone in his family and his friends, and it played well for me.
Aaron: Speaking of complex relationships; let’s talk about the Old Man. While this movie doesn’t have much in the way of character arcs, I feel there’s a fantastic reveal here with the dad. He’s a bumbling sitcom Dad (this movie is basically an extended sitcom), but the big moment reveals that he is more caring and attentive than we thought. I won’t lie; seeing his joy at giving Ralphie the toy gun made me cry. As in “pause the movie and compose myself again” cry. I also love that he’s able to solve the one problem that’s too big even for Mrs. Parker. In many ways, this is about Ralphie growing up. And while they don’t mention it, context clues allow us to know that America’s involvement in World War II was just around the corner. Is it any wonder adult Ralphie remembers this as his best Christmas ever?
Aaron: A Christmas Story is a film that I really enjoy and I suspect I may come to truly love it the more times I see it. For me, the presentation works, though obviously it won’t work for everyone. Aside from one glaringly tasteless moment, I enjoy pretty much all of this movie.
Michael: And for me, it has several great components, but the presentation is what falls flat for me. I really wanted to love this movie, but as it stands, I only ended up liking it because the plot had too many vignettes that never really felt connected for me. Wasn’t bad, wasn’t great. I respect anyone’s opinion who is drastically different from mine though.
Aaron: I think it’s healthy not to love everything just because it’s popular. I’m actually kind of glad we differ on this one.
Michael: My tastes are different than most, and I fully own that. It was fine, just didn’t blow me away.
What are your favorite bits of A Christmas Story?
Michael: I like the idea of making the final pick of the year something that I just find to be a lot of fun, so that’s what we’re getting here. This was actually the movie I was most excited about in 2006 based on the title alone.
Aaron: I’m curious to know what there is to this movie beyond the meme. Looking forward to having fun with it.
Michael: It’s a guilty pleasure.
Have you had it with these motherfuckin’ snakes on this motherfuckin’ plane?
Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story
Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for over 650 films. Recent reviews include a slew of new DVD releases: The Magnificent Seven, Storks and Sully. I’ve also got a couple of holiday classics: Scrooged and The Santa Claus.