Depending on who you ask about classic Christmas cinema, you may just be recommended one of many beloved, but worn out, masterpieces. It’s A Wonderful Life, any one of the twelve million adaptations of A Christmas Carol, Gremlins, Die Hard, Home Alone, Jingle All The Way, you know the drill. By the time December has rolled around again, all the classics have been played out.
Well, I’m here to give all of my fellow jaded grinches reminders of the grittier side of Christmas films, that us nerds may have forgotten taking place over the festive period.
Living in a dystopia, you often hear people remarking “We are living in 1984.” Or if they are a real boffin, they may quip “We are living in Brave New World.” Both of these statements are untrue. The fictional dystopia closest to our own reality has to be 1985’s Brazil. As with all of Terry Gilliam’s original works, there are layers upon layers of story, details, meaning and craftsmanship. Nothing is as it seems and with multiple endings produced, Brazil is a masterpiece that demands your attention.
Brazil is the second film in Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination” films, starting with Time Bandits (1981) concluding with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). According to the great man himself, each of them
Taking place “sometime in the 20th century” Sam Lowery works in a cushy bureaucratic position in a world firmly divided between Have and have-nots. Security enforcers and bomb scanners break up day to day interactions with fears of antiestablishment terrorists. Sam has grown bored of his everyday life and dreams of a fantasy adventure life and his fantasy woman. After her neighbour is wrongly arrested a woman that appears to be the one from his dreams comes into Sam’s life and leads him on an adventure through a totalitarian nightmare.
How Hidden Are The Christmas Parts?
There are Christmas trees in every communal area of the film’s locations but never in a solitary character’s personal spaces, almost as if people are only celebrating Christmas on the surface to keep up appearances while the world around them crumbles. While we are never told a specific date from the language used I would place the opening of the film on Christmas Eve Eve (December 23rd).
The timing is further evidenced by how at one point Sam Lowery, the main character played with equal parts expert level awkwardness and underlying anger by Johnathan Pryce when being given a ticket by a jobsworth guard is asked what the date is. He responds with “December twenty… I don’t have time for this.” And then promptly flees the scene, probably should have just got the ticket boyo. There is more to the story of Brazil than just being set in late December, and there is more to life than just Christmas.
If you are done with saccharine Hallmark channel Christmas specials and feel good films, Brazil is your year-long antidote to Xmas and consumerism.
Questions you never asked get answered 30 years later in Prometheus. This overproduced marvel tells the tale of the world’s greatest scientific discovery being bungled by incompetent scientists that are supposed to be at the top of their games.
After waking up from a long deep sleep the crew
How Hidden Are The Christmas Parts?
This one’s a bit a stretch but stick with me. “What the hell is that?” CT asks “It’s Christmas! We need a holiday to show time is still moving.” Janek (played by Idris Elba) Is it Christmas Day? Probably not but it is adorable to see Idris being so festive and caring for his crewmates (while smoking in space, how limited is your oxygen supply Luther?). The absurdity of seeing a lone Christmas tree on board a spaceship from the year 2093 feeds into the central theme of Prometheus which is the incompatibility of faith and technology.
The Christmas tree as a tradition has often been attributed to being appropriated from many sources. Most famously the modern legend has it that Quen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, imported them from his native lands to create modern Christmas. But where did he get it from and what does it have to do with an Alien Prequel? One source of our annual tree murder could come from an effigy or representation of the sleeping deity Attis. A classical Greek figure associated with the gods of vegetation whose temples would feature sacrifices and annual ceremonies where worshipers would bring a large fir tree into their temple’s altar that would be decorated and celebrated.
According to various legends, there are many versions of Attis, but whether he was a heroic shepherd or a monk in a star-crossed love affair, all share the same theme. Attis was punished, much like Prometheus for giving humanity the fire of knowledge, for his crimes by being castrated under a fir tree before dying and being discovered by sympathizers and memorialized from then on with large fir tree in their temples and the rest of the monks from then on had to be made into eunuchs. Merry Christmas! Everything means something, while we are reaching for tenuous links to the Nativity legend how about the Virgin Birth of the proto-xenomorph by the Engineer at the end of the film?
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Roger Murtaugh is waiting to retire when he is partnered with the very damaged Martin Riggs. Their first case together is investigating the suicide of the daughter of one of Murtaugh’s ex-army buddies and quickly snowballs into a massive conspiracy involving international drug smuggling, murder, sex trafficking and shadow corporations. Merry Christmas!
How Hidden Are The Christmas Parts?
Not at all. The film opens with jingle bell rock but Christmas is never the real focus. After the disturbing hotel room opening sequence we smash cut to, our hero, Roger Murtaugh in the bath quietly enjoying some alone time. Suddenly he is interrupted by his entire family with a birthday cake! Eating cake in the bath is always good, it doesn’t have to be a special occasion.
The holiday setting is used to emphasise the loneliness of a solitary life. Some of the festival fun featured in Lethal Weapon includes: A policeman casually remarks he cried in bed last night because he was alone, 3 attempted Suicides (plus the threat of a Suicide bombing), partners arguing, birthdays depressingly close to the holiday season, Choir cops are singing silent night under threat of Truncheon beatings, pointless torture (they have no information to give up) as well numerous casualties of varying culpability and a drug bust in a Christmas tree sale lot that ends in carnage with Mel Gibson shouting “Shoot me!”
Sometimes this is a depressing film to watch. The Christmas theme is completely validated by Gary Busey answering back to a televised Ebeneezer Scrooge asking at the end of his film “What day is it?” “it’s God Damn Christmas!”. He then shoots the TV dead. Could this signify the death of the family Christmas making way for the consumer Xmas?
The real mystery of Lethal Weapon is not who is in charge of the heroin but what day is it set? Christmas decorations are sprinkled delicately throughout never drawing attention away from the story and characters and the Murtaugh family’s Christmas tree’s decorations build up throughout the film. For many, if not most, people around the world December 25th is just another day full of the joys and stresses of life. Riggs and Murtaugh are two of those people and have commitments greater than celebrating, whether it’s work or rescuing a kidnapped relative. I believe the film opens on Christmas Eve Eve and closes on Christmas night, with Riggs finally accepting the Murtaugh family’s love and dodgy food. I’d like to say that somebody needs to tell Hideo Kojima that the makers of Lethal Weapon ripped off Snatcher.
Festive Final Thoughts
An honorable festive mention has to go to Psycho (1960). The classic motel based horror opens on December 11 (the day after my birthday). This date is only mentioned once at the very start of the film and holds no bearing on the plot. Anytime you ask yourself a question during a Hitchcock movie a film director this more than likely the genius auteur working his magic, beguiling audiences with his masterful storytelling skills, although one could imagine that Christmas time was probably quite the horror show for young Norman Bates, so maybe the timing does have some relevance?
No matter how snobby your cinema preferences or whatever your holiday plans are, I hope you get some time to do what you enjoy and never forget you are loved! Don’t hold it in, if you’re hurting speak to someone. Be all Murtaugh and never be Riggs. Stay tuned to n3rdabl3 for all your festive news, reviews and rumours.