Story #1: The Last Train to Christmas
Last night, I watched the new festive film The Last Train to Christmas. It focuses on a troubled nightclub owner, Tony Towers (Michael Sheen), who takes a train from London to Nottingham on Christmas Eve with his fiancé. On route, they are joined by his brother and his wife.
But this is no ordinary train ride. Towers finds that every time he walks into a new carriage, he is transported instantly back to another stage of his life. If he goes to a carriage in front he goes forward in time. If he goes to one behind, he goes back in time.
He gets a glimpse of where his current choices are taking him and the impact his business decisions will have on him and his family. He realises that he can change the future by making different decisions now. He also gets a glimpse of how the past decisions of his parents and his family have had on him and his brother’s life.
What struck me most was the similarity of its theme to so many other Christmas films. I have picked three more but there are probably many others:
Story #2: A Christmas Carol
Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is set on a Christmas Eve in Victorian London, when the selfish miser Scrooge is visited by ghosts who show him his past, present and future. The revelations lead to radical change in how Scrooge lives.
For the record, I think the best version is The Muppet’s Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit. Utter genius.
Story #3: It’s a Wonderful Life
The 1947 film It’s a Wonderful Life revolves around an angel’s visit on Christmas Eve to George Bailey (James Stewart). Facing bankruptcy and arrest and feeling an abject failure, he is drunk, alone and thinking of taking his own life.
Prompted by the prayers of friends and family, the angel shows Bailey the true impact of his life and work on his whole town. The revelation transforms his perspective.
Story #4: The Family Man
Another example is The Family Man where Jack Campbell (Nicholas Cage), an amoral New York playboy and wealthy stockbroker, is caught up in an armed robbery on Christmas Eve. Afterwards, a mysterious stranger promises him a ‘glimpse’ of how his life could have gone if he had made other choices.
He wakes up on Christmas Day in a house in suburban New Jersey, married to his former girlfriend and with two young children. Jack begins a process of radically re-adjusting his priorities and values.
There will be diverse opinions on the varying artistic merits of these films. Feel welcome to share your views in the comments.
But what I find interesting is the similarity of themes in all of them:
1.The significance of the decisions we make
Whether its Scrooge’s greed or Bailey’s kindness, each film shows the importance of the decisions we make. They emphasise the inter-connectedness of humans and the ripples created by even the smallest actions. Each film enables the core character to see and understand how these decisions have played out, both in their lives and in those around them.
2. The importance of values we live by
The message of each film is profoundly moral. They all emphasise values of kindness, decency, generosity, commitment and the importance of others. Alongside this they expose the shallowness of selfish ambition, greed and ruthlessness. Implicit in each story is the belief in an objective measure by which our lives should be evaluated.
3. The possibility of transformation
Each of these films deals with dark themes of poverty, debt, addiction, low self-esteem and meaninglessness. Each features people who have made bad choices. Yet through hardship and pain, each film speaks of the possibility of redemption and transformation. Each is a story of hope.
4. The role of supernatural revelation
Lastly, without being overtly ‘religious’, each film involves truth being revealed by a supernatural force. Whether its via ghosts, angels or a magic train, a revelation is delivered from beyond normal life. The message reveals a perspective deeper and truer than is available within the ‘natural’ world.
The story within all stories
One reason why I like all these films is because I believe that each of them contain echoes derived from the original Christmas story.
The story of Christ is also a supernatural revelation which came into a world of hardship, pain and injustice. It is a message of grace and hope which has power to transform our decisions, our values and our whole lives.