Thinking about redemption and the complex parts of the newest addition to the canon of A Christmas Carol.
Redemption stories are Christmas stories. If one genuinely believes that “Jesus is the reason for the season” then one believes that redemption is the core of the Christmas story.
“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Since the release of the 1843 novella by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol has been adapted and performed in plays, radio, movies, musicals, and animated shows. It has been condensed, modernized, and retold in many ways. “Spirited” has us revisiting this story with superstars Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell leading the cast.
Warning: this review of “Spirited” will contain spoilers, mostly because the topic of suicide is present in the story.
The Highlights of “Spirited”
Will Ferrells’ well know as the character Buddy the Elf in a well-loved Christmas movie, Elf. (There is a delightful Easter egg about that.) He brings his comedic charm to the song and dance numbers of the film. While Ryan Reynolds plays the character in need of redemption he does so in a way that is less grouchy and cruel than then Scrooge. More of a nihilist and pessimist really.
There are several moments where the film breaks the fourth wall in a hilarious way. Both in songs and not. Flipping the story to be from the perspective of the Spirits is a delightful way to turn a familiar story on its head.
Octavia Spencer has the best voice in the story. Her reflections and voice are truly stunning. She was my favorite part of the whole thing.
The Hard Stuff
My kids were excited to watch this and for a while, all I knew was that it was an adaptation of a story we had spent last Christmas diving into. (We watched as many versions as we could, and I read the book to them.) But when I saw the PG-13 rating I turned it off and did a bit more research. Common Sense Media gives excellent breakdowns of triggers such as language, violence, etc. That is my first stop to learn about why a movie has a PG-13 rating.
The real concern I had was the trigger of suicide. While in the original story Tiny Tim is ill and seen to die of that, in a modern timeline the actions of our “Scrooge” have the potential of resulting in cyberbullying and a child’s suicide. While this plotline is resolved by the redemption arc it is a serious conversation that may need to be had. I am trying to teach my children about social media’s dangers. We have had conversations about bullying and cyberbullying. Depression has been a factor for me and for my children. If you are not ready to have those conversations with your children you definitely hold off on watching this film.
There is another suicidal scene that is more visceral. Will Ferrell’s character, who is the original Scrooge turned Ghost of Christmas Present, goes through a crisis of feeling that he may not have truly been redeemed and reformed. He steps in front of a bus and is saved by Ryan Reynolds’s character. This redemption arc (while not bloody or ugly) may have been necessary to storytelling, but as a former Christian good girl/exvangelical, I found it personally triggering.
Redemption and Reconstruction
“Am I forever unredeemable?” is the song that will haunt me. Why? Because the faith I was handed as a child put a considerable amount of emphasis on being good enough, holy enough, and righteous enough, to earn God’s favor. Sure, your salvation is guaranteed, but living a holy life was the way to really guarantee a place in heaven. This burden of perfection became mine for a long time. It is based on the ideologies that certain groups of men have created.
As I reconstruct my faith and beliefs I find that God is far more welcoming than I was led to believe as a child.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
The Jesus of the virgin birth is deeply compassionate. The redemption story does not require my perfect behavior or living a prescribed life. If it does then Jesus himself failed to live up to the required standards. That is the story I am learning more about this Christmas season.
Should you watch it with your kids?
Yes. If you feel safe to have hard conversations, if you are in need of humor in your life, or maybe some new Christmas songs, you should watch this movie.
No. If you are not ready to discuss suicide or you don’t want to hear swear words in your home, don’t watch this.
This review of “Spirited” is merely my opinion. Hopefully, it can help you make a wise decision for yourself and your kids.
I created a guide to having better conversations about Christmas movies.