1. HOME ALONE: Just the premise of Home Alone is enough to warrant a DCF investigation of the McAllister home. The film begins with bullied youngest child Kevin lamenting the lack of attention he receives from his family during the holiday rush as his household is bombarded with a virtual Noah’s Ark of aunts, uncles, and cousins. When the whole McAllister clan leaves to spend Christmas in France they pack all of their necessities, with one exception; Kevin. The film then chronicles the precocious eight-year-old’s efforts to fend for himself while outsmarting a pair of bumbling burglars who see his empty house as a perfect opportunity to swipe some stocking stuffers for themselves. While the film maintains a light atmosphere throughout, the fact remains that the springboard from which Kevin’s adventures are launched is his family’s neglect. The film attempts to explain the McAllister’s actions through stress induced forgetfulness, but their lack of action or concern once they realize that Kevin is missing indicates otherwise. When explaining their situation to police and airport security, Kevin’s parents repeatedly try to laugh off the very real danger that their son is in. This lack of an emotional response suggests that the McAllister’s are not the lovably daffy family that the film otherwise presents them as and that their wacky memory lapse is instead one piece of a larger pattern of child neglect. If such bizarre reactions are not jarring enough, the bored responses that their explanations receive from authorities are nothing short of shocking. The film does present Mrs. McAllister as more sympathetic after she embarks on a cross country journey to return home on the tour bus of a quirky polka band, but the obvious question remains; where do the McAllister’s priorities lie? Instead of returning home to reunite as a family, Mr. McAllister and the rest of Kevin’s relatives remain in France and continue to enjoy their vacation regardless of Kevin or Mrs. McAllister’s whereabouts. Even though the film cites holiday airport traffic as the reason that the family can’t return home together, what reasonable family would give up that easily when one of their own, especially a young child, has been left behind? All of this could be dismissed as a disconcerting one time fluke except for the fact that the film’s sequel features Kevin being left behind on family vacation again, just one year later.
2. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: While this film was featured as part of last year’s joint holiday review, I thought there was still enough of a dark side in this holiday staple to warrant a second mention. The film begins with self-sacrificing George Bailey contemplating suicide after his uncle’s incompetence threatens to have him imprisoned for embezzling from the bank that he has strove his entire life to salvage. The film then launches into a flashback as George’s guardian angel, Clarence, tries to understand what happened to lead George to his depressive state. As the flashback unfolds, Clarence (and the audience) learns of the struggles that George has faced throughout his life and the ways in which he continually sacrificed his own happiness for the sake of others. Although George’s actions are admirable, the film reveals how his good intentions forced him to put his own plans on hold until he was finally trapped into the mundane sort of life that he had swore he would never live. Fortunately, George is able to gain perspective upon the good things in his life by the film’s finish, but that perspective still can’t bring back the years that he sacrificed in service to the Bailey Building and Loan in place of pursuing his own dreams. While George’s struggles are true to the gritty reality of life during the Great Depression, the film’s final act leaves a key issue unaddressed; the fate of Mr. Potter. At the film’s conclusion, George runs by the wicked magnate’s office shouting “Merry Christmas” only to be met with a sneer and snide remark, and that is the last the audience sees of Mr. Potter. Throughout the entirety of the film’s lengthy running time Mr. Potter is portrayed as the most hated and feared man in Bedford Falls and the single greatest obstacle standing in the way of George’s success. Despite his role as the central villain in the film, however, Mr. Potter suffers no consequences for his behavior and none of the other characters ever learns of the way that Mr. Potter used George’s misfortune to frame him. As a result, Mr. Potter maintains his position and is free to torment the residents of Bedford Falls once again. Wonderful as it may be, It’s a Wonderful Life is a strikingly sober look at the reality of life during difficult times and the eternal struggle between the haves and have nots.
3. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET: On its surface, Miracle on 34th Street is a heartwarming tale of the power of believing, but beneath its sentimental surface lies a surprisingly sinister plot. The film begins with jaded divorcee Doris Walker firing the Macy’s Day Parade Santa for coming to work drunk. The intoxicated employee is conveniently replaced with the far more convincing Kris Kringle, who is then promoted as Macy’s Department Store’s Santa for the remainder of the season. Throughout his employment, Kringle is nothing less than delightful as he entertains the store’s customers and teaches Doris’ mature daughter the joy of being a kid. Cynical Doris, however, decides that the old man is taking the Santa act too far and tries to fire him for being ‘delusional’, for fear that he is unstable and a company liability. After a misunderstanding during his appointment with the store’s on-staff psychiatrist (didn’t all 40’s businesses have those?), Kris is committed to Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward. Doris’ neighbor, lawyer Fred Gaily, then takes it upon himself to defend Kris at a sanity hearing by proving that Kris is not delusional, but is in fact the real Santa Claus. Like Home Alone, the entirety of the film’s action hinges upon the main character suffering abuse by those around them as Kris is maligned for trying to make the world a better place. Like Wonderful Life, the film’s villain also faces only minimal consequences as Macy’s psychiatrist, Doctor Sawyer, is fired for bringing the store negative publicity, but continues to retain his psychiatric license despite misdiagnosing Kris and another employee. Although Kris does finally win his freedom, the court’s decision is revealed to be motivated by politics rather than justice, which unfortunately is how many cases are decided in real life. Between its depiction of broken homes and a strait-jacketed Santa Claus, Miracle on 34th Street contains a gripping look at the ways that good intentions and kind actions can haunt us later on.
|So he's not stable enough for your store but he's stable enough to babysit your daughter?!|