A Christmas Carol: A “Watch Along” Guide, Part 1

Posted: December 8, 2011 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Drama, Family
Tags: , , , , , ,

For nearly twenty years, our family has faithfully watched a number of movies exactly ONCE a year, during the Christmas season. This short list includes It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation (much to my wife’s chagrin), A Christmas Story, and A Christmas Carol. Now, of all the renditions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the 1951 version starring the late Alastair Sim is clearly superior, in overall dramatic acting and moviemaking. So, as it is my favorite, I questioned the need for yet another movie on the subject when Disney released its retelling of the Dickens classic in 2009. Stuck in my tradition, I didn’t even watch the newest version until last week–and I have to say, I was quite taken with it! Maybe I was just ready for a change of tradition (say it ain’t so Tiny Tim!) or maybe it was Jim Carrey’s excellent performance of Scrooge as well as the ghosts. Or, maybe it was the creepy, semi-realistic, and extremely flexible “performance capture” style of filmmaking used by Robert Zemeckis. Whatever the reason, I recommend your family watch the 2009 verson and use this “watch along” guide for some amazing discussion! (But if you are a traditionalist, it is perfectly fine to use this guide with the 1951 version…)

Who was really dead at the beginning of the movie, Marley or Scrooge? While Marley was physically dead, Scrooge was spiritually, emotionally, and relationally dead. From the very beginning of the story, Scrooge’s bony fingers extracting coins from Marley’s eyes, as well is his other deathly features, display his own soulish-death.

Why did Dickens name his main character “Scrooge?” If you call a person “Scrooge” today, you are purposefully calling him a greedy miser or maybe a person who hates Christmas. That’s just what Dickens would want you to think! Scrooge is actually a derivation of the old English word “scrouge” which means “to squeeze.” What did Scrooge “squeeze?” His money, of course. But, in the end, he was the one who was “squeezed” by the spirits! Bonus question: What is the meaning of his first name, “Ebenezer?”

Compare and contrast poverty of body versus poverty of soul. Dickens was a famous advocate for social justice in Victorian England. His chararacters dramatically depicted the evils of poverty and social inequity. In A Christmas Carol, we see not just the horrors of poverty, but the even more desperate poverty of the soul. While beggars and street urchins display great joy at Christmas, the richest man in town has not even a drop of soul-happiness. “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is clearly communicated here, as well as the other Biblical principles of the consequences of greed!

What is a “humbug?” When Scrooge mumbles, “Bah, humbug” to his nephew after being invited to his Christmas celebration, what was he really saying? A “humbug” is something intended to deceive; a hoax; or a fraud. Scrooge was claiming that his nephew and all others who celebrate Christmas are just fakes, deceiving themselves and others. All the joy at Christmas made no sense to Scrooge, since the poor had no real reason to be happy. So Christmas for Scrooge was true “humbuggery”–a time for fake joy and temporary frivolity with no real substance.

Is charity a virtue or a vice? The charitable focus of Christmas drove Scrooge absolutley insane! His worldview was antithetical to any idea of Christian charity. He believed people should work hard for their money and only be concerned with profit. The poor should not be given anything, not even a “whole day off” for Christmas! Scrooge is the dictionary definition of an extreme, hard-hearted capitalist. Charity, in his mind, was more of a vice than a virtue. A day for giving to others less fortunate is a waste of a day. So how does that match with a Biblical view of giving?

What are we to believe about ghost stories? At its core, A Christmas Carol is a classic ghost story. Ghost stories are great literary devices, but they also tempt us to believe false views of the afterlife. After death, do people wander aimlessly through the earth as ghosts? Do they haunt us? Do they try to communicate messages to us? Do they warn us of our future? While Scrooge was greatly served by these visions, were they real? Or do we believe what Jesus said when he told the parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus?” Dead spirits cannot be sent back to the living to warn them of anything!

Come back for the rest of our “watch along” guide tomorrow, when we really get theological!

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