We've spent a lot of time lately watching a variety of Christmas episodes of our favorite television shows, as well as the first season of The Walking Dead--ah, the joys of Netflix! For more on my zombie watching, see yesterday's post. In the midst of it all, we watched a very quiet movie which may end up being one of my favorite Christmas movies: Midnight Clear.
I'm not talking about the movie about World War II (called A Midnight Clear), but the movie that came out in 2006 with Stephen Baldwin in it. It's got lots of characters and story lines that I knew would intersect but I wasn't sure exactly how.
Because part of the film involves a church youth group that's out carolling, some have written it off as a feel-good Christian movie, but I didn't see it that way at all. A feel-good Christian movie would have a more upbeat, rah-rah Christian/Christmas message, and this one didn't.
The movie follows a variety of characters through the day and night of Christmas Eve. Along the way we see that no one is living a perfect life, although the diversity of ways that these lives have gone wrong almost stretches my willing suspension of disbelief at times. The movie also presents several characters whose lives haven't gone wrong so much as just not according to plan. I thought it was refreshing to see a conversation between the youth group leader and the pastor, in which the youth group leader expresses his doubt that carolling is worth the effort. The unspoken part of the conversation that hovers below the surface is the possibility that the youth group leader doesn't think that any of the church work that he's doing makes any kind of difference at all.
In some ways, this movie has a lot to say to us about work and the ways we look for meaning in our work. One of the characters owns a shabby convenience store out on the edge of town, and we see him doing tasks before opening up the store--including scrubbing the toilet. I thought, hmm, I don't think I've ever seen the American workplace depicted quite this realistically.
So, these characters go about their lives on Christmas Eve day, and their lives intersect--a typical movie might go the route of their lives will never be the same, but this movie doesn't--or does it? It's hard to say. The ending is very subtle, but very powerful.
I've spent days thinking about this movie. It's an interesting counterpoint to the zombies which also took up a lot of my viewing time. If zombies work as a metaphor for some of our deepest fears, this movie shows a more realistic depiction of the fears that many of us have: what if my work/life really doesn't make any difference at all? what if I will end up abandoned after all? what if I am stuck in an endless loop that will make me brain dead sooner rather than later? Perhaps this movie has more similarities to The Walking Dead than I realized.
In the end, Midnight Clear is a Christmas movie in the best sense of that tradition, with a quiet, gentle insistence that we will not be left alone to our own self-destructive devices. In our hectic Decembers, we often forget that part of the Christmas story, that glad news, the great tidings of joy. This movie reminds us of the true message of Christmas, and it manages to do it without sinking into either irredeemable pathos or treacly sentiment.
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