This article is part of The Daly Planet Presents: The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies, a daily series leading up to Christmas Eve 2015. To see all other entries click here.
Following the Daly Planet Twelve Days of Christmas theme of finding more value in Christmas movies as we grow older, there’s a lot going on in the subtext of this film. The movie is set in 1940, which means the Great Depression is easing up, but unemployment is still at about 15%. Pearl Harbor is still a year off, but World War 2 has already hit Europe. Ralphie’s neighborhood is, overall, pretty dilapidated.
It’s easy to forget that the black and white, old fashioned It’s a Wonderful Life is set in 1945, five years after A Christmas Story. So this film is a bit of an anthropological study of the past. Plot elements like the roving bullies Farkus and Dill take on a different cast when viewed as products of the Great Depression era.
Ralphie’s family can put food on the table, but subtle hints of deprivation pervade the setting. The perpetually broken furnace, the wheeling-and-dealing in the purchase of a Christmas tree, the two boys sharing a bedroom, a pack of practically free-roaming dogs – like I said, almost too subtle to remark upon, but clearly inserted intentionally. So this becomes not just a story about Christmas, but a story about the role of Christmas in the lives of people who are living within modest means.
Almost all the vignettes of this film work in at least a taste of that theme. Speaking of the vignettes – I love this movie for the novelty of its structure. It is more like a book of short stories than a single story. The Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring has nothing to do with anything else in the movie, but provides a delightful dose of characterization and humor. There are more subplots than I can easily enumerate: we have The Battle of the Lamp, the Furnace, the Bumpus’ Dogs, the Farkus Beat-Down, the Triple-Dog-Dare, “Fudge”, and probably at least as many more that I’m forgetting. And tying it all together is Ralphie’s overarching quest to obtain the Red Ryder BB Gun. (Which, incase you forgot, ends with Ralphie almost shooting his eye out, crowning the gloriously cynical sense of humor that pervades the movie.)
Probably due to its unique structure, this movie is responsible for more memes in my household than anything aside from The Simpsons. Below we provide a handy key for A Christmas Story meme usage in your daily life:
You see any package marked “fragile”: “Fragilé!”
Any kind of award, the more lackluster the better: “It’s a major award!”
Anything involving projectiles of any kind: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Frustrated but unable to swear: “Nada finga!”
Anything relating to the effects of punishment on children: “It was … soap poisoning!”
A child refuses to eat: “How do the little piggies eat?”
(For some reason, “Fudge!” and “Triple dog dare ya!” have failed to catch on. Perhaps they are too obvious.)
This movie is packed with small moments like these, moments of joy and mirth emerging organically from the lives of these characters, from their struggle to build a good Christmas for themselves. I think this is why this is my favorite Christmas movie. It reminds me to pay attention to the small moments embedded in my life, and the subtle joys of the season.
By the way, in case reading about Macaulay Culkin yesterday made you depressed, this is how child star Peter Billingsley turned out:
He’s earned consistent work as an actor and producer since he was a kid, including an acting and producing credit in Iron Man, and he’s apparently a good friend of Jon Favreau. Billingsley generally seems to have avoided ruining his life in any obvious way.