A Christmas Carol (2009)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V-3 ; L-0 ; S/N-1 Running time: 1 hour 36 min.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap
whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you
will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to
the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So
let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we
will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then,
whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the
good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Galatians 6:7-10

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ Luke 19:8-10

Marley s Ghost warns Scrooge of things to come.

2009 Walt Disney Pictures

Do we really need another version of A Christmas Carol? I asked this just before the lights dimmed and di rector Zemeckis’ 3-D extravaganza began. Almost immediately, with our cool glasses in place, we were fly ing over London and then skimming through a crowded street, offering us a thrill only possible by means of CG special effects joined with 3-D photography. No doubt that Zemeckis is a master of motion-capture filmmaking this being his third motion-capture film—remember Beowulf and The Polar Express?

Little wonder that Dickens’ hoary Christmas ghost story should attract him. Nor that an actor like Jim Carrey would want to voice not just Scrooge, at all his ages, but also the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come. Other talented members of the voice cast include Gary Oldman as Scrooge’s cheerful clerk, Bob Cratchit, as well as his son, Tiny Tim, and Scrooge’s former partner Jacob Marley. Colin Firth voices the good-hearted nephew Fred; Bob Hoskins portrays Mr. Fezziwig, the portly former employer of young Ebenezer, and Robin Wright Penn has a small part. Some critics have faulted the filmmakers for reducing Tiny Tim to a minor role, and yet when we read Dickens, we find that he is more of a plot-device than a well-rounded character in the original as well.

The 3-D aspect will be off-setting to some, though the director at least does not over-use it by sending something flying right at us every few minutes. The falling snowflakes and the movements in the streets certainly do make us feel a part of some scenes, especially when viewed on the large Imax screen. What is over-used are the special effects, namely those in a wild chase and carriage ride through the night-time streets of London, a sequence that was inserted merely to add excitement for young viewers. Trying to transform the old morality tale into an action thriller, the filmmaker distracts us from the main point of the story.

The musical score by Alan Silvestri works in some traditional Christmas carols, making the connection clear between the 19th century story and the 1st century original. Another thing I appreciated was the little addition of Scrooge standing before the coffin of his partner and taking away the two pennies that had been placed over his eyes. What a delightful vignette summarizing the old miser’s obsession with wealth. This is a flawed film, but nonetheless a good one to start the Christmas Season (even though Thanksgiving has not arrived as of this writing), a tale that those with eyes that see will discern has a strong similarity to the story of another wealth obsessed man, the diminutive citizen of Jericho whom Jesus called down from a tree.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of Dickens’ use of the ghost genre? Compare this to other ghost stories: what do you think is its theme?

2. Some see this story as a great step toward secularizing the celebration of Christmas: what do you think? What do the horde of “Christmas” stories and films claim to be the “true spirit of Christmas” ? How is this usually reduced to a warm and generous heart, or, to separate it from the context of the birth of Christ, a matter of “peace on earth and good will to humanity” ?

3. And yet how have the filmmakers shown that the story does depend on the birth story? How many Christmas carols did you recognize—and especially, how or when was “Joy to the World” used in the film?

4. What do you think of the reply of Marley’s Ghost to his partner’s statement, “But you were always a good man of business” ? “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were my business…” (Note that this, like almost all of the dialogue in the film, was taken directly from the novel.)

5. Compare Marley’s statement with what you know of the teachings of the Hebrew prophets or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

6. How is Marley’s fate a working out of Galatians 6:7-10?

7. What do we learn of the early life of Scrooge from his nocturnal experience? Why did he seem to prize riches so much: that is, what was it that he feared that drove him to accumulate wealth? Who was it that noticed the change in his heart as he grew older? What happened to their relationship?

8. What moments of grace do you see in the film? How are both nephew Fred and employee Bob Cratchit agents of grace?

9. How is Scrooge a good example of what the New Testament writers mean by “metanoia,” of repentance? Compare Scrooge with Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10.

Compare the story with It’s a Wonderful Life. The chief characters are different, though both are handlers of money, but there is divine intervention in each film. What character is Scrooge in the Frank Capra film?