By Michelle Maiese
With the holidays approaching, many of us dream of the spot on the couch where we can curl up and watch rental videos. All thoughts of exams, problem sets and papers disappear as our minds enter into a blissful state of nonactivity. Because watching movies and eating make up our agenda for the day, we find ourselves wondering how we ever had the energy to walk to class. For just a moment, we are like children who have all the time in the world.
For one of these rental video adventures, I recommend "A Christmas Story" Taken from the writings of Jean Shepherd, this 1983 film combines wacky humor and nostalgia. Told from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Ralphie, the movie explores childhood hopes, pitfalls and family life as humorous themes to which we all can relate.
Without fail, the movie will lead viewers down the path of "Remember Whens," to a time when there was just one gift that they wanted so badly they could taste it. Surely, as Shepherd says, Christmas was the day "around which the entire kid year revolved." We counted days, making little slashes on our walls and calendars. Before Thanksgiving even rolled around, we were devising wish lists and writing letters to Santa Claus.
From this nostalgia springs the movie's humor and also its popularity. Ralphie's wonder and imagination, his sense that everything that transpires is the most important thing that has ever happened to him, reminds us of our childhoods.
Remember when your mother wrapped you up in so many layers of clothing that you could barely walk? We watch Ralphie's younger brother, Randy, wobble down the sidewalk with minimal use of his arms and legs. Like Randy, we refused to eat our vegetables, and our mothers reminded us that people were starving in China. Conjuring up an image of Randy showing his mother how the piggies eat always makes me smile.
Back then, "double dog dares" challenged our courage and pushed us to the limits of childhood stupidity. In the movie, Ralphie's friend Flick cannot resist a dare and ends up with his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole. Police and fire trucks rescue him, and the melodrama with which the narrator tells the story is hilarious.
As kids, we knew that uttering an obscenity would be looked upon very poorly. While helping his father change a tire, Ralphie utters the "F" word, the great-grand-daddy of all obscenities. He suffers for this mistake, getting his mouth washed out with soap.
When we were punished, one of our greatest childhood wishes was that something bad would happen to us, so that "they'd be sorry." In the movie, Ralphie imagines that he's been made blind by "soap poisoning," and his parents fall at his feet, begging for forgiveness.
The leg lamp that Ralphie's father wins in a contest and the infamous Red Rider Air Rifle B-B gun take center stage in this movie. Viewers may find much humor in the zeal with which father and son behold their dream possessions. Ralphie's father admires his lamp from the street, and Ralphie devises ways to give his parents hints about his coveted Air Rifle. He dreams of the heroic deeds he'll accomplish with the rifle. These loves form our memories, no matter how silly they might seem in retrospect.
One of the greatest times to travel down the pathway of "Remember Whens" is while we are vegetating on the couch. Like Ralphie, we have memories of family traditions and funny experiences. Some memories stand out as bizarre and become part of the shared experience that bonds families. For Ralphie's family, the unusual experience was going out for Chinese food for Christmas dinner because dogs had devoured their turkey.
Whatever the memory, we cherish it because it is ours. Watching "A Christmas Story" leads us back to these memories..
Finally, we are left with the most widely known message of the movie. Ralphie has feared that he will not get his Air Rifle. He has heard adults tell him over and over that B-B guns are dangerous. But he does not listen. Instead, he runs outside so quickly with his present that he almost forgets to put on a jacket. The Air Rifle backfires, and his glasses end up on the snow. He steps on them, breaks them, and runs inside crying that an icicle fallen from the garage has caused the problem.
Ralphie gets away with his lie, and falls asleep happy, with his Air Rifle close by. Not all of us are always so lucky.
Therefore, I leave you with a thought to ponder while you sit on your couch and stuff yourself. Be careful what you ask for for Christmas. "You'll poke your eye out with that thing!"
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