A Gritty Christmas Carol

Breakfast was so gross. Rice, leftover gravy, eggs and insanely spicy hot dogs chunks. Oh gag me with a spoon already. So! Let’s purge that plate of Not Ever Gonna Eat That Yuck with a talk about a version of a Christmas Carol I happened to catch on FX.

It stars Aussie Guy Pierce in the role of the rich curmudgeon. And there’s this odd sexual smolder going on? Um? Have I wandered into some weird mashup of CC and Jane Eyre?

Maybe. Because this three hour plus offering also descends into actual horror movie territory, with the ghost of Jacob Marley thrusting his severed jaw back into his face, watching a child drown and the general overly dreary settings. Scrooge’s house is kept so dark and shadowy I kept waiting for Game of Thrones characters to wander through drinking mulled wine and speaking of their sexual conquests or why they deserve the Iron Throne.

Basically, it does follow Dickens’s storyline. We meet Scrooge, who’s a real awful craptoad, hellbent on making everyone around him suffer because money is king in his brain. Orphans and widows and beggars can all suck it, yeah, same ole shtick here that’s, um, oddly relevant right now, or always. Charity never seems to actually do anything at any time in history; okay, Dickens, yeah, we know this already.

Pierce can’t hide that he’s a sexy dude, even when frosted with age makeup a bit. I haven’t yet found a production or a movie where Scrooge is, um, sexually active or could be some sort of Victorian era stud. Kind of weird at first and then it descends into HE’S A RAPEY POS FUCK HIM kinda reaction. And we get the backstory about the school, and how his dad basically sold Ebbie into some sort of sexual slavery with the headmaster and…Not even kidding. I just…mm. This was to save money. See where Scrooge gets it, my lovelies???

Mary Cratchett goes to Scrooge for money to get the operation to save Tiny Tim. Now, was it just me or was Tiny Tim about the creepiest thing in this entire three hour plus retelling??? I…damn. He looked like one of those haunted dolls who goes about at night with your sharpest butcher knife clutched in his doll fist. His dialogue was also unnatural and stilted, compared to the actors around him. That might have been Dicken’s fault but still. Make him sound like a kid, not some killer doll who sucked helium from the balloon that will be used to strangle you as you bleed out from the butcher knife stabbings…

Where was I?? Oh yes. Mary, who usually doesn’t get much to do in this story besides bake a goose or shake her head over how mean Scrooge is…goes to the steely-eyed sexy master of Thornfield Hall for a loan. Sorry, no, that’s Jane Eyre! Anyway–

She posits this as a loan, where two shillings gets subtracted from her husband’s salary. Scrooge, cruelly good at math, calculates this all up, adding interest even, and figures, ha ha, it would take about six years for his employee to pay off a thirty pound loan, plus something like 4% interest. This is of course not a good scenario for smoldery slinky Mr. Scrooge! We then get subjugated to about the most gulp-inducing WTF, is this a Christmas movie?? scene where Scrooge offers Mary the money outright if she…lets him do whatever he wants to her. On Christmas Day, no less. She can earn the money on her back is the gist of that scene and she, being desperate and not wishing to watch her child die, agrees to this. As Scrooge taunts her, in that quiet slithery way Pierce can deliver so well, about what a good wife, mother and Christian she is. It’s…it’s unredeemable. There isn’t a coming back from this. I don’t care…it….fuck.

So here Mary returns, and Scrooge toys with her, then tells her he doesn’t want a thing to do with her. As she stands there nearly naked. He’s more interested in torturing people because he’s a scientist at heart or some such unjolly shit. She’s still violated and demeaned, she takes the money because it’s her kid and there’s no way she can get the money otherwise. She also curses Scrooge, telling him she’s a woman and she has the power to call spirits…ah. Ah! Interesting.

Vinette Robinson as Mary
Andy Serkis as Main Ghost/The Ghost

So the spirits.

The main spirit of Christmas is played by Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame. And yes, he knocks it out of the ballpark. We get to see a lot more of the spirits and Marley outside of their usual show up and spook Mr. Scrooge bits. There’s this giant, visually stunning, bonfire. The main spirit, who also seems to be all the other spirits as well, has strange pale eyes, a wild Santa Claus-like appearance and speaks about how this thing with Scrooge is more of a game than…any actual effort to save him. Ouch. That it’s the challenge presented by Scrooge’s stony unfeeling heart, not any actual need to save the man himself from a hellish fate, such as Marley earned. That the gods play with us rather that love us is very much the theme here with the ghost/s.

Now, this is a new one to me. Scrooge displays kindness only toward animals. He draws a blanket over two carriage horses, who are shivering in the snowy air. He remarks about the ponies used down in mines, rather than the children he watched cough and choke with utter indifference. And then there’s this pet mouse his sister gave him, with a little gilded bell about its wee neck. The ghost of this mouse shows up and we get to see Scrooge’s horrific father cut its head off. We see this framed as a shadow but still. Just a jarring, take me out of it, why are you including this, moment. In a Christmas movie.

I guess this slight care toward animals is supposed to make Scrooge a bit sympathetic and redeemable? That there is something still, um, good left in this sadistic snotwaffle?

So the three ghosts go to work on Scrooge and the way this is done is quite okay. The ghosts change and morph and dig into his memories like surgeons. The mine disaster was especially hard to watch. The young Scrooge being almost dragged to an older man’s bed was surreal and the sister arriving to save him…as Scrooge admitted in perhaps the most gutwrenchingly honest scenes about child sexual abuse, far too late. The ghost of Christmas Future, the one who decides if Scrooge is ‘saved’ or not, seemed a zombie or some sort of undead victim of the Inquisition. Blue skin, lips obviously sewn together at one point, silent.

Tiny Tim, Lenny Rush and Guy Pierce as Scrooge.

Here we get to watch Tiny Tim drown. He speaks the entire film about wanting to go skating. So this death of his is framed over the head of Scrooge and the ghost, who watch from below. As if both stand beneath the pond, looking up. The ceiling of the room Scrooge stands in becomes that treacherous ice sheath. Tim breaks through, weighted down by the borrowed skates and his clothing. He’s too weak to pull himself out so we watch him stop struggling and just hang there until a hook yanks him out and up and up…Such a well done scene yet so horrible.

Of course we get to the ending where Scrooge goes manic. He steals the gravel of an old lady, who’s been graveling the icy walkways, to make it so no one can skate on that bit of pond or river, then runs over to Mary and Bob’s to terrorize them with his manic promises that he’s changed and…yeah. It’s such a joyless, grim, abrupt ending. We also don’t get any reconciliation with his nephew. And we’re made to understand that maybe Mary is working with the Christmas ghosts? Wha…?

That’s what is missing from this adaptation. Joy. That redemptive joy of someone who decides to change who they are for the better. We saw this in Scrooged, with Billy Murray’s version bringing us to tears with his speech at the end, because he meant it, he had experienced an actual revolution within himself. Here, in this Guy Pierce led shadow-filled morality play, we get a grim character with very little or no redeeming values sort of…not be so awful for a bit. Will it even last the day? I’m not sure it will. Someone peeing on your gravestone is not really a life-changer, not for someone like Scrooge who went to court to make sure the families of those who died in his mine never got a ha’penny for those deaths.

Dickens wrote about a man who got a wake up call, so to speak. Who learned and grew and changed, due to three spirits, his old business partner and his own sense of conscience, guilt, shame and remorse. And how it was the light in his heart that got kindled toward others that made him over into a better version of himself. That light lit by his own willingness to face his past, what he had done to others, what he had allowed himself to become.

We do not see that so much in this version of Scrooge. This is a horror story, not a Christmas tale. If the goal here by the main ghost was to destroy Scrooge’s sense of self, then leave him with nothing much after that, then…hey, well done?

It was a well done production. Acting was first rate. The ghosts and other supernatural elements didn’t seem jarring or out of place or not to fit this Victorian setting. Making Scrooge into a rapey creep…just took me out of this and I could not wander back in with any sort of ability to care about Scrooge in any way. Too many women face this sort of crap, yes, I get it. It gave Mary real motivation and explained, maybe, the ghosts. She was able to see Scrooge when he and the second ghost, his sister Lottie, visited the Cratchett house. Get out of my house! might be my new go-to anthem when things get terrible, dark and twisted in my head.

But I think this production also missed the joy, love and light that are so rewarding in more traditional retellings of this well-known Christmas staple. It’s famous for a reason. I don’t want a gritty reboot of this one. No thanks. I admit it. I want a silly, happy, joy-filled, bedizened ending that fills me with happiness after watching a somewhat horrible man, a stand in for most rich people, let’s be honest, ahem, learn that others suffer and can’t get the help they need so often. So he can help the man who works for him and reconcile with his nephew, cause family family Christmas, the end.

Sorry, this was long. But the movie was long. And I wanted to write this all up while it was still fresh in my head.

Jason Flemyng as Ghost of Christmas Future

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