The holiday season is upon us, and I began thinking about a Christmas film. A few years ago, I reviewed several versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the December issue of Psychology Times, and on another occasion It’s a Wonderful Life. It came to my attention that there is a third Christmas classic—one that I had never seen, and that the famous movie critic Roger Ebert has characterized as having acquired iconic status.
Since 1997 Turner Classic Movies has featured a 24-hour marathon beginning on Christmas Eve of the 1983 MGM film A Christmas Story. I thought that deserved a pre-holiday look. Then I read that the iconic original had spawned a 2022 sequel, Warner Brothers A Christmas Story Christmas. That committed me to a mini-binge, watching the icon and its sequel, both of which are available on HBO Max.
The iconic original is a narrated 1940 Christmas reminiscence by the protagonist, Ralphie Parker as an adult, interspersed with episodes recreating key moments in his growing up in Hohman, Indiana. As a nine year-old, Ralphie had yearned for a Red Ryder 200-shot BB rifle, an ache that would be familiar to any young male of my generation. The film’s episodes recreate Ralphie’s interactions with his grumpy father, his cliché-bound mother, his feckless younger brother, his stern elementary school teacher, his classroom and playground buddies and the neighborhood bully as he struggles to find a way to get Santa to bring him his heart’s desire. The nostalgia is as thick and rich as a fruitcake as the movie moves toward its conclusion. Ralphie manages to reconcile himself to the failure of his multiple strategies to acquire the gun, but his grumpy Dad points out an overlooked package. So Ralphie can drift off to sleep with rifle by his side, savoring the best Christmas ever.
Now the sequel. Thirty-three years later Ralphie is married, with two children of his own, living in Chicago struggling unsuccessfully to get the 2000-page novel that he has taken a year off to write published. On the eve of a planned Christmas visit by his parents, Ralphie learns that his father has unexpectedly died. Ralphie and his family drive to Hohman to be with the widow and to celebrate, as best they can, the holiday. Ralphie must not only take on the role of pater familias, but write an obituary for his Dad.
His having given up his job to focus on the novel has constrained their financial resources, but he and his wife manage to provide for Christmas gifts, only to have them stolen from their car. Ralphie re-engages with his former schoolmates as the couple tries to prepare their children for a skimpy Yule.
Rather than an obituary, Ralphie writes an account of his childhood’s “best Christmas ever” as a tribute to his father. It is published in the local paper and Ralphie becomes recognized as a nationally syndicated author.
Whether intended or not, the psychoanalytic implications of a father and son relationship centered on the gift of a gun are manifold, and Freud’s remarks on the massive impact of a father’s death are well known. But at Christmas, perhaps, a fruitcake can be taken to be just that: a gustatory treat. coming to see that compassion trumps vengeance, an outcome that seems a bit forced. And at the end of the three hours of screen time, I was both glad to see the curtains closing—and ready for the first sequel.