Christmas Movies: The Whiter The Snow, The Better The Blood Shows Up by Adrian Reynolds:
Many stories can happen at any time. it’s not a factor that comes into the dynamics. Some films are so immersed in their own bubble that mention of real world concerns – money, jobs, family – would start to beg questions that threaten to bring the whole thing falling down. As soon as you start to imagine whether tough guys like Jason Statham speak to their mums on the phone, you’re on a road to nowhere. “Hi mum… Things are good…Nothing to worry about. Nothing that a well-placed knife can’t sort out…Love you too.”
Other stories not only survive that kind of interrogation, they thrive on it. Kill List would be a fascinating story just with its protagonists on their trail of death and getting over their heads. Introducing it with a social evening including the wives of the two hitmen opens the story in Mike Leigh vein before it careers off somewhere deep and dark and unexpected.
Any social event can be a cause of tension. Make it one with expectations attached, and you’ve got fertile ground for emotionally powerful stories. And expectations don’t get much bigger than those we have for Christmas. Everything’s supposed to be just so, a showcase for the myth of family life we’re peddled by advertisers, and which bears little relation to the actuality of being confined to four walls with perhaps twice the number of people who normally live there, all of them relatives with grievances going back who knows how long. Is it any wonder that filmmakers can’t get enough of the festive season?
You are Tony Stark, billionaire industrialist, playboy – and Iron Man. You are used to snapping your fingers and things coming to you – literally sometimes, in the case of the suit in Iron Man 3. And then all that is taken away from you when evil men blow up your luxury coastal home. Worse, you end up in the middle of nowhere, away from your fabulous workshop and wealth and girlfriend. And it’s Christmas. How are you going to cope with that, when you want to be sipping champagne with your lover, and you’re reduced to starting from scratch with the only support you can find – a snotnosed kid who is himself facing the festive season in less than ideal circumstances.
Pairing the two was one of the great ideas Shane Black brought to the script – no surprise, given that every script I know of his is set at Christmas. Especially with the distances families can be apart in America, the potential for poignancy and pathos alongside action set pieces is high. In no other circumstances would a member of the Avengers get help from a prepubescent child, but the Christmas setting allows the relationship to work just fine, and Shane milks it for all it’s worth, knowing that he can give Robert Downey Jr some sassy sarcastic lines to the kid because the spirit of the season is there implicitly to play against them. He does the same in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, when again you’re playing with that dynamic of innocence versus experience, contained in one character in the form of a young woman who came to Hollywood wide-eyed with dreams and has now been chewed up and spat out by the machine.
The light associated with Christmas in movies makes dark stories all the more powerful, which allows The Apartment and Trading Places both to feature seasonal suicide attempts. The same dark/light contrast is what drives Joyeux Noel, about the World War One Christmas football games between German and British soldiers, the two sides leaving their trenches behind to celebrate one day at least of shared humanity.
Christmas heightens any emotions which are played out against it. People do things they might not otherwise because of expectations, and that possibility is offset against the increased tensions that exist partly thanks to those expectations, as well as the pressures brought about by spending lots of time in the company of people you share DNA with, but not necessarily a sense of humour or worldview. And that’s good for drama, if not a bunch of fun in real life. Which is why I’m thinking of setting the psychological horror story I’ve just written a treatment for at Christmas to heighten the atmosphere still further…