1983 – A Christmas Story

As you all know, A Christmas Story is a holiday tradition thanks to TBS and TNT showing it for 24 hours starting on Christmas Eve and running through Christmas Day. We’ve all watched it, probably more times than we can count. In fact, of all the movies I’ve ever seen, A Christmas Story is probably the one I’ve seen the most due to those 24 hour marathons year after year. The overall story is a simple one: nine year old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) desperately wants to get a “Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle” for Christmas. He’s attempts are rebuked by his mother (the wonderful Melinda Dillon), his teacher Miss Shields (Tedde Moore), and even Santa Claus (Jeff Gillen) himself. Along the way there are hijinks featuring a tongue stuck to a pole, fudge, a leg lamp, a bunny suit, and the list goes on. It seems like a lot, but it oddly all makes sense as you watch it.

 When preparing for this, I assumed that I would be writing about Return of the Jedi and I was shocked at myself that I ended up landing on A Christmas Story instead. So, what makes this my favorite movie to be released in 1983? Quite frankly is that while it’s extremely quotable and absolutely hilarious, the film is full of so much heart that the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz would be envious of it. The family dynamics in particular are fantastic. They actually feel like a real family. Ralphie’s feelings about his mother goes back and forth throughout the movie, alternating from adoration to frustration depending on the circumstances; just like any kid that age. The parents rib each other constantly, though by the time we see one of the final shots of the film, we see that they truly love one another. Ma Parker isn’t in the June Cleaver mold: she’s disheveled and tired from all the work she has to do around the house. And little brother Randy (Ian Petrella) is the typical “annoying” younger sibling. It’s the family that makes A Christmas Story the classic that it truly is.

For this piece, I’m going to focus on a specific moment in the film. To set it up, we need to look at Ralphie’s father (the outstanding Darren McGavin), affectionately or otherwise known as “Old Man.” It is shown that the Old Man isn’t exceptionally intelligent nor does he care to be informed of the world around him. He hates his neighbor’s dogs. He works hard to provide for his family. We can see that money is tight for the Parkers: they cannot afford to get their furnace fixed or replaced, their car isn’t exactly the best thing in the world, the tires the Old Man buys are of low quality, he tries to get a deal everywhere he goes as can be seen with the Christmas tree, and they have red cabbage far too often. He’s prideful as shown when his slow tire changing time is called into question or as he shows off the major award he won: the infamous leg lamp. He’s also gruff and straight to the point to the point, often weaving quite the tapestry using colorful words. 

There is one moment, however, where that all melts away. We see bits of it before. He seems to enjoy Christmas, gift wrapping aside, a great deal. He splurges on a large Christmas tree and he makes sure the kids do get a bunch of toys. But there’s one gift that’s special, one that he has hidden even from his wife. He tells a crestfallen Ralphie, who hasn’t received everything he wanted for Christmas, that he sees something behind the desk. He has Ralphie go investigate it and tells his wife that Santa Claus brought it “probably.” He watches his excited son open the gift: it’s indeed the Red Ryder BB gun. It’s hard to tell who’s happier: Ralphie who is getting everything he wanted or the Old Man, seeing how happy the present made his son. Ma, who forbade the BB gun with the oft quoted “you’ll shoot your eye out” line, relents as she knows just how magical the scene she’s witnessing is and she can’t help but smile seeing how Ralphie is reacting to it. As Ralphie rushes to try out his new rifle, the Old Man, clearly knowing he’s in trouble, just says that he had one when he was a boy.

Ma Parker was right to be worried about the potential dangers of the gun as Ralphie nearly does shoot his eye out. That’s just how life goes. There are consequences to everything, but the fact that Ralphie gets a little hurt doesn’t take away from this wonderful scene. It’s so heartwarming and it surprises me that it’s so often overlooked when speaking about A Christmas Story, even though it’s the film’s climax. When you watch it this coming Christmas, and you definitely will, take it in and try not to smile as big as the characters. I triple-dog dare you.

Next month: we leave the past in 1983 and head into 1984 in an attempt to prevent a dystopian future from happening. See you then!