If gingerbread cookies and home-knit sweaters have got you feeling all warm inside, here are three holiday classics guaranteed to have your soul feeling as cold and empty as the windy, lifeless snowscape outside. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) dir. Frank Capra
"Was this what adulthood promised?
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation." - Wendell Jamieson
As Jamieson points out in his brilliant NYT piece, It's a Wonderful Life is a bleakly honest, depressing movie about a man who has every dream and desire frustrated and torn from him. It's a story about compromise after compromise, and the utter and complete incomparability between success and moral behavior. George Bailey was only able to keep up his marriage to Donna Reed by being an ass to her, and only able to keep his bank afloat for another year or so by relying on charity in the most humiliating way possible.
And yet, we find the film inspiring. Perhaps for the same reasons we find the story of a perfectly innocent child being born in a filthy, stinking manger with barn animals, the horrific massacre of all his would-be playmates and his eventual torture and death even more inspiring.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) dir. Stanley Kubrick
"For desire is like Christmas: it always promises more than it delivers." - Lee Siegel
Christmas, according to many, is supposed to be a time to celebrate the time when God was made man, and the human and divine interacted and communed. It is supposed to be a time of family, love and drinking the milk of human kindness. Yet, that connection is subverted by greed and results in materialism and objectification.
Kubrick uses the Christmas motif to complain about the other great interpersonal communion that we've plasticized, neutered of meaning, and turned into a materialistic power game.
The very final scene in the movie makes my point for me.
Scrooge (1970) dir. Ronald Neame
"I hate people, and I don't care if they hate me." - Ebeneezer Scrooge
Much like It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol is a terribly depressing story about a man who wastes his entire life. I don't know that I've ever made it through either film dry-eyed. And at least George Bailey gets to stay with Donna Reed at the end -- Ebeneezer loses Isabel forever.
But, Scrooge also provides a much-needed pick-me-up after all this depression: