Scrooge never lets me down—well, hardly ever

Last year I posted a couple of links about why A Christmas Carol still works more than a century later. First, because it reminds us that the capitalist system doesn’t work so well if the people running it are gigantic slimeballs (something that seems even more relevant this year). Second, because it’s a painful story of regret: Scrooge has to spend Christmas Eve looking at the mistakes he’s made that transformed him into a pinched, hollow excuse for a human being.
The classic Alistair Sim A Christmas Carol (1951) is an excellent example. Sim’s Scrooge starts by reliving his bitter teenage years, when he was cut off from his family, with no love in his life but his sister, Fan. Then we see him happy and joyful as a young clerk working for Fezziwig, in love with Fezziwig’s daughter. Then, as his pursuit of money becomes more single-minded, he allows Fan to walk out on him; rejects his nephew after Fan dies bearing him (in a scene not in Dickens, old Scrooge watches the dying Fan beg him to care for her boy and realizes he’s failed the one person he loved above all);and when he learns his partner Marley (Patrick Macnee) is dying, refuses to close the office down early, even at the risk of Marley dying before Scrooge arrives (it’s to Sim’s credit that he makes this complete bastard believable rather than a caricature). Scrooge’s regret is a small taste of what Marley’s been enduring in the afterlife: The film uses Dickens’ premise that men such as Marley and Scrooge must spend eternity looking at human suffering up close, knowing they could have done something about it in life and now unable to do anything but watch (American reviewers found this a little too horrifying when it first came out).
But another aspect that I think makes the Carol such a powerful story is that it’s about joy and caring and becoming disconnected from both of them.
For all his wealth, Scrooge is miserable. As he tells his nephew, there’s no such thing as rich enough, so he hoards his pennies and his guineas, eats cheap miserable dinners, lives in a dark, miserable house (it’s no wonder he despises his nephew for having a nice house and entertaining large numbers of guests at Christmas, as if he had unlimited cash). He can no more let go his gold than Gollum can renounce the ring, even though it’s just as destructive. There’s no joy for Scrooge without money or with it, and in pursuing it, every other emotion and concern has faded. Concern for his clerk, his kin, the poor … he won’t let himself feel any of it. It takes the visions of the three ghosts to make him feel someone else’s pain or his own joy. That may be one reason several adaptations of Christmas Carol——Christmas Cupid, Valentine Carol, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past——focus on romance: Joy and connecting (and stupid mistakes) play a large role in that.
I doubt we’ll ever run short of Christmas Carol adaptations (even if we don’t count all the TV sitcoms that do their take on it). It’s just too potent a story not to play with.

3 Comments

Filed under Movies, Personal, Reading

3 responses to “Scrooge never lets me down—well, hardly ever

  1. Pingback: Christmas Carols, 2011 « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: More on Scrooge | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Man against joy: this week’s Christmas movie (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.