A chaotic Santa-flick for feast of St. Nick

Out of the gate, I’d like to say that I like The Christmas Chronicles, not because it did anything in particular to advance one of my favorite causes, the life of St. Nicholas, but because it is a fun movie to watch with older kids (7+). Older kids due to some sad themes, like the death of a parent and single motherhood (soft spots for me), that must be discussed. Plus, watching fantastical Santa movies, if you’re a family that does such a thing, require alignment with the true St. Nick that many parents feel ill-equipped for.

The fun of the movie comes from the fingerprints of Gremlins director, producer Chris Columbus, which litter the screen like a crime scene from an episode of CSI (original, of course). It’s a bit scattered, the story is chaotic, and Santa’s elves are reminiscent of–well, take a look for yourself and I’m sure you’ll get it. The standout is obviously St. Nick himself, played by the rugged Kurt Russell.

Russell plays a rough and blue collar Santa, accustomed to hi-jinx, though reluctant to do any wrong. Stealing a stolen car, with intent of giving it back, is morally goofy, and reflects modern bent towards Marxist thought (end justifies the means); but ultimately this act serves more to further the action of the story than anything else. Overall, morality is focused on omitting bad things as opposed to performance of good things–except where love for family is concerned.

The movie confused me entirely during a scene where Santa is in a police interrogation room. He’s being questioned by an officer who Santa knows as “Dave” (Santa knows everyone’s name, it’s kind of his job). He’s asked for his own name, to which he responds, “Officially, it’s Saint Nicholas, I prefer Saint Nick. And actually, I’m not an official Saint, they haven’t bestowed that title upon me officially, so… I guess it’s who you know.” I heard this, and have listened to it numerous times (because I’m weird), and I’ve got no good ideas about the meaning.

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Is there any church that adopts Saints into their liturgy who don’t recognize Nicholas as an “official” Saint? He was removed from Rome’s calendar, but remains among the Saints who can be venerated within the home and elsewhere. Nicholas hasn’t, to my knowledge, been “defrocked” of his sainthood. Besides, who among the Sensus Fidelium would stand for it? I wouldn’t. Maybe the movie refers to the sainthood of the Santa Claus fashioned by Coca-Cola; yet, Kurt’s Santa often verbally denounces the marketing version. There’s an odd confusion of myths at play.

This confusion brings to mind an article by Father Dwight Longenecker called, “I Want My Mythic Lollipop!” In it, he talks about the myth and anti-myth; myth being “a story by which we experience truth through emotion” (Longenecker), and anti-myth “a story that shields us from the experience of truth” (Longenecker). The St. Nick from The Christmas Chronicles is obviously an anti-myth because the confusion caused by refusal to pick a myth, detracts from even the slight truth about the Saint that viewers could receive.

Despite this, my favorite moment of the film gathered idiosyncrasies, inconsistencies, and errors together, tied them up, and brought the movie home. If you don’t want to hear about the ending, I suggest coming back to this article after you watch it. You’ve been warned. Santa’s hat had been missing through much of the film, and it is through the hat that he performs magical feats, like turning into coal dust and making his sleigh fly. Thus, he and his two stowaways turned cohorts, Ted and Kate, must save Christmas on foot (thus the stolen car).

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The final moment between Teddy and Santa, we watch Santa give the teenager his hat. Teddy protests, “But won’t you need it to fly?”

“No, Teddy,” says Santa, “I’m Santa Claus.” With a gesture, and without his “magic” hat, his sleigh floats up behind him. This St. Nicholas, much like the real St. Nicholas, doesn’t need a hat, or even reindeer, to work wonders. He needs only the faith in God that he has always brought to the table, that enduring, though imperfect, adherence to Christ and his Sacrament-producing Church. Of course, this Netflix Original probably didn’t intend this implication, but my own kids walked away from it with this in mind, and that’s what I care about. I chose the myth.

So, if you don’t mind an action-packed Santa, hard familial truths about mortality, and a married St. Nick (which, come on, the Bishop of Myra could have had a “Mrs. Claus”)–and happen to be looking for a warm-hearted, modern Christmas movie to watch–then I recommend The Christmas Chronicles. If you do mind, It’s a Wonderful Life is always a great option.

Rated: TV-PG

Run Time: 104 minutes

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