Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

November 27, 2023

Hater Tuesday: Why Is “A Christmas Story” So Icky?

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Every year, I look forward to the annual rotation of Christmas movies. They’re characteristically feel-good, many of them following a similar storyline of a grumpy antagonist who becomes softened by Christmas. The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes, Buddy the Elf’s dad suddenly becomes a good father and Scrooge becomes generous, all in the name of Christmas. But the 1983 film A Christmas Story is nothing like this.The movie follows nine-year-old Raphie’s family during Christmas, but the plot is not clear, and every memorable scene falls somewhere on the spectrum from mildly to extremely disturbing. There are too many odd, creepy moments to mention.

Firstly, the fact that a grown man is narrating the thoughts of a little boy is weird. He offers no adult, retrospective knowledge and seems stuck in the mindset of a nine-year-old. Ralphie is hyper-fixated on getting a gun for Christmas, specifically the “Red Ryder Carbine-action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle.” He fantasizes about shooting robbers to save his family. Weird! When he does end up getting the gun for Christmas, despite his parents’ rightful concern, he hears his mother’s voice echo in his ear: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

As the movie progresses, more disturbing aspects of Ralphie’s life show up. To name a few, there’s a creepy bully that plagues Ralphie the whole movie, and their story finishes with Ralphie beating him until he bleeds. On a similarly disturbing note, Ralphie’s mom shoves soap in his mouth after he says a curse word. She then calls the mother of the kid she believes taught it to him, and, through the phone, you can hear the kid’s mother crying and beating her son. The list goes on. There is a scene in the mall with Santa that is utterly disturbing. Ralphie is forced onto Santa’s lap, and the camera shows him distorted from the little boy’s perspective while the elves yell at Ralphie to hurry up. He’s so afraid that he can’t remember what he wanted for Christmas. Throughout the movie, every scene either shows something actively going wrong or creates a feeling that something is about to go wrong. It feels icky and uncomfortable to watch.

You’d think that for this to become a Christmas classic, there would have to be some type of heart-warming finish to resolve all the discomfort and remind you that nothing bad can ever truly happen at Christmas. Not really. The movie ends with a pack of wild dogs that burst through the door and steal the Christmas turkey, so Ralphie’s family goes out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant instead.

Somehow, though, it’s a classic, grouped in with all the other heart-warming movies that come out of the vault once a year. The movie is so popular that TNT and TBS do an annual 24-hour showing of the movie, on repeat, the entirety of Christmas Day. 

This popularity could be because it’s less idealistic and more relatable than other Christmas movies. It’s difficult to relate to having an adult dressed as an elf show up and claim to be your son. Maybe it’s a little easier to sympathize with an awkward family dynamic from childhood, especially around the holidays. I’m not sure we should be quite so analytic about Christmas movies, though. Its popularity is more likely a result of good marketing and senseless nostalgia. 

Ralphie is a thoroughly creepy child who seems not to have grown up in adulthood, still sympathizing with his younger self in the narration. I’d guess Generation Z is the last one that will accept this bizarre, disturbing movie as holiday cheer.

Hater Tuesday is an authorless column that runs on Tuesdays and centers around critiquing media or culture.