The Darkest Evening of the Year

It's a Wonderful Life

The winter solstice marks the moment when the year goes into turnaround, the subsidence of the encroaching night. Celebrations of the event embrace the idea of the lengthening days to come in defiance of the long, disproportionate evenings. Specifically, Christmas recalls the birth of the Redeemer, son of God and the light of humankind, in the midst of Roman oppression and the slaughter of the innocents. The best movies set in Christmastime, which are in order of their creation the 1935 version of A Tale of Two Cities, It's a Wonderful Life, Brazil, and Batman Returns, employ seasonal dichotomies of darkness and light, despair and hope, loss and redemption, to echo and amplify the inner and external conflicts of the characters.

These films are crowded with doppelgangers, wishful projections of different, better lives--Sydney Carton reflected in Charles Darnay, Selena Kyle in Catwoman, Sam Lowrey in the superman of his fantasies, and the world in which George Bailey had never existed. In these alternate realities, the characters aspire to erase past wrongs, Brazil Batman Returns to be reborn in a superior incarnation, one that is loved and secure, and which is a potent force for good--Sydney sacrifices himself for Charles and his family, George contemplates suicide to save his family and business from financial ruin, Sam tries to rescue his dream girl, and Catwoman avenges her own murder.


Batman Returns

True to the stories' Christian origins, the characters efforts meet with mixed results. You could argue that they meet their most narrowly defined goals, but George is still poor, Selena and Sam are still nuts, and Sydney is still dead. That's why these Christmas movies resonate in a manner similar to the original Christmas story. As well as that begins, and ultimately ends, there is the little matter of the trials and crucifixion in the middle. So rent or revisit one or more of these titles this season, and join in the rage against the dying of the light.

(Written by Sharon C. McGovern)

From vol. 13
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