It’s been said that before one hears the good news, one needs to hear the bad news. It’s only in hearing the bad news that one can truly hear what the good news has to say, embrace it and change.
“A Christmas Carol” is the familiar story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey), the miser who lives in and gives misery to those he meets. At the beginning of this version of the classic tale, Scrooge is attending to the arrangements of his departed partner, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldham). One can see how bad a person Scrooge has allowed himself to become. He reaches into the casket and takes the coins off the eyes of his former friend. As he walks back to his counting house and passes carolers in the street, his presence silences the joyous strain of Christmas.
This is a movie about redemption and holds out the hope that any can find it if they are willing to look within and see themselves as they are. Scrooge not only needs to see how he is, but also, as Robert Burns wrote, “the gift to see ourselves as others see us.”
In Scrooge’s case, it takes more. He must go and see his own intended end before he will change. It is the grave that he must look into, the abyss of death, before change happens for him.
Robert Zemeckis wrote the screenplay and directed this computer-generated animation feature (available in 3D in some theaters). It’s his third, following 2004’s “The Polar Express” and 2007’s “Beowulf.”
What he places on the screen is visual magic. The eye of the viewer flies through Victorian London in the opening credits. When detail is given, it is stunning. The faces of the characters are especially well done. You see the grime of London on the faces of the poor. The crooked nose and bony fingers of Scrooge show long years of personal pain.
Zemeckis offers insights into Scrooge’s origin. When he is shown as a young adult, we see him with his sister, Fannie. We hear her speak of the change in their father. Scrooge’s father was once abusive but had a transformational experience that brought about a new kindness. Even in youth, Scrooge knew of the possibility of redemption.
We also see how Scrooge falls into the hole of holding tightly to every penny. His once beloved Belle (Robin Wright Penn) confronts him about his ways. She tells him that she wishes to release him from his vows to her because she knows his greater love is for gold. Scrooge comes to believe the more he gets, the more he has. But in his getting he loses far more than he gains. And we all do.
This story is timeless. Whether it is Bill Murray’s Frank Cross in “Scrooged” or Cicely Tyson’s Ms. Ebenita Scrooge or Jim Backus in “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” the story touches us. It tells us we are not islands unto ourselves and that kindness and compassion are gifts we give not to others, but to ourselves.
It also reminds us that anyone can change. Redemption is possible for any who would turn from their old ways and embrace a new way of life.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for scary sequences and images. Reviewer’s note: It should be rated PG-13 because it has many scary scenes that will make young children hide and could inspire nightmares. Disney produced and distributed the movie, but it’s not a “Disney” movie. It is far too realistic in the depictions of the ghosts, for example.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Robert Zemeckis, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Cast: Jim Carrey: Scrooge; Gary Oldham: Marley/Cratchit; Bob Hoskins: Fezziwig; Robin Wright Penn: Belle; Colin Firth: Fred.
The movie’s Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.