This is the first of my “Favorite Things of Christmas” series. I need to start with a SPOILER ALERT! If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen A Christmas Story, be warned that I’m going to give away the plot and most of the funniest lines. Now even if you read this before seeing the movie, you’ll still laugh when you see it. I can practically recite the lines with the actors and I still laugh. But you may want to stop reading until after you watch the movie. Just be sure to come back.
Just in case someon who hasn’t seen the movie is still reading, here’s a short plot summary: Nine-year old Ralphie lives with his parents and younger brother Randy in Indiana in the late 1930s/early 1940s. He wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. His mother, his teacher, and even Santa tell him it’s too dangerous because “you’ll shoot your eye out.” There are LOTS of subplots!
I don’t even know where to start when describing what I like about this movie. The short but accurate answer is “everything” but I’ll try to be a little more specific. When I watched the movie for the 274th time last night, this is what I loved the most.
First of all, I love the hyperbole. Hyperbole is one of my very favorite literary devices–I’ve even been known to use it myself at times and I think A Christmas Story uses hyperbole as well as anything ever written. Some examples: “Our hillbilly neighbors the Bumpuses had at least 785 smelly hound dogs” and “My mother had not had a hot meal for herself in 15 years” and “The line to see Santa stretched all the way to Terre Haute.” The best part is the casual, offhand way the narrator voices these lines. Understated hyperbole at its best.
Another aspect I love is the creative way Ralphie’s daydreams are handled in the movie. The kid has an active imagination. We see Black Bart and his gang threaten the Wild West family, who are lucky enough to have Ralph the dead-eye shot show up to save them. We get to watch Ralphie’s teacher go into the gleeful Dance of the A+++++++++ as she glides through the classroom adding + signs across the blackboard and along the wall since Ralphie’s theme is so beautifully written. And, on a sadder note, we get to see poor blind Ralphie show up at his parents’ house, finally revealing to them the cause of his blindness: “ It . .it . .it was . . .soap poisoning.” Dramatic silent-film piano music accompanies his parents’ repentant wails.
The language is another fun part of the movie. Through the adult narrator we get such wonderful sentences as “my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that, as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan” and “Rarely had the words poured from my penny pencil with such fevered fluidity.” And of course, there are all the lines that are now part of our collective vocabulary”
- “It’s a major award!”
- “Fra-gee-lay. I think it must be Italian.”
- “Oh fudge. Only I didn’t say fudge. “
- “I can’t move my arms!”
- “I triple dog dare you.”
- “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Of course, this is a movie, so what we see is just as funny as what we hear. Some of my favorite moments include Ralphie in the pink bunny suit Aunt Clara sent; the unveiling of the Major Award, which really can’t be described in words; Flick with his tongue stuck to the flagpole; Randy rolling around in his snowsuit, unable to get up; the 785 Bumpus hounds demolishing Christmas dinner and making off with the turkey. That last leads to the scene that makes me laugh the most. After their dinner is destroyed, the family ends up at a Chinese restaurant, where they’ve ordered duck. It arrives with the head still on, and all four are a little grossed out by that. Dad explains, the waiter pulls out a big cleaver and WHACKS off the head. The whole family and I laugh hysterically.
But what I think I really love the most about A Christmas Story, and what makes it a great Christmas movie, is the sweetness that underlies the humor. Two scenes in particular get me every time. The first is when Ralphie is beating up Fargas, the bully who torments him every day, and his little brother Randy comes and carefully picks up Ralphie’s glasses before running home to get their mother. The second scene is on Christmas morning after all the presents are opened. Ralphie is a little down because he didn’t get is BB gun, but is trying not to complain to his parents when his dad points out a present he missed, which isn’t surprising since it’s hidden behind the desk. The look on Ralph’s face as he shows his dad he knows how to load the BBs, and the pride on his dad’s face as he watches . . . well, I do get teary.
But of course, the humor cuts in immediately, keeping the sweetness from turning into sentimentality. Right after that touching scene, Ralphie goes out to shoot his new rifle, the BB ricochets off the metal target and hits him in the face. He falls, and the narrator immediately says, “I shot my eye out!”
Final spoiler alert: he didn’t really.
I’ve left out so much that I love about the movie, but this is long enough. What are your favorite parts? Anyone who hasn’t seen the movie? Anyone not like it? (It’s okay. You can answer honestly.)