Monday, December 12, 2016
“More of Gravy than of Grave” | Jim Carrey (2009)
Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project
Robert Zemeckis' Christmas Carol really plays up the ghost story angle for this scene. It's the only feature-length animated version I'm covering and the extra run time gives it room to draw out the suspense in a powerful way.
I like how it handles the knocker-to-Marley transition too, because we don't actually get to see it. Scrooge drops his keys at the front door and bends down to get them. When he straightens back up, Marley's face is waiting for him, hair blowing in his own, personal wind. It's a cool scare, but I also like how dropping the keys reveals something about Scrooge.
He swears when they fall, then mutters to himself about how everything always happens to him. This Scrooge doesn't play the victim where Christmas is concerned, but he still sees himself as a one. Not just about Christmas, but about everything in his life. Things have not gone the way he wanted or thinks he deserves. As I said in the Fred scene, Scrooge made a horrible decision earlier and lost the love of his life. The Ghost of Christmas Past will reveal that this Scrooge is terrified of the world and seeks desperately to control it. That's why he's so rotten to everyone and why he's so miserable. His life has become a terrible self-fulfilling prophecy: misery begets more misery which begets more misery still.
His fright at seeing Marley's face causes him to stumble and slip on the ice, falling painfully on the doorstep. When he gets up again - in an even worse mood - the knocker is back to normal. He decides that he must have imagined it.
Inside, he lights a candle and heads upstairs. The staircase is enormous, both wide and long. There's no ghostly hearse, but the immensity of the hall and the failure of Scrooge's little candle to illuminate it makes it just as scary. Anything could be hiding in the shadows and corners.
Cut to Scrooge's room (his fireplace is in the bedroom, not a separate sitting room) where he's quietly eating his gruel. The stirring of his pot and the popping of the fire are the only sounds and they start to play tricks on him. As does his own, flickering shadow cast by the fireplace on the door. Disgusted with himself, he drops the pot on his table and goes over to triple-lock the door. There's one other door that leads to a large, disused room, so Scrooge closes that one, too.
He sits back down, mumbling comfort to himself, then the camera pulls back to reveal a series of servant bells high on a wall. One of them starts to move and Scrooge notices it before it ever makes a sound. I love Carrey's face as he goes cold, seeing evidence that it's not just his imagination. The bell starts to ring softly, then the one next to it joins in and then the others and some clocks and chimes from all over the house. They go crazy for a bit and Scrooge covers his ears, lips trembling.
When the bells stop, Scrooge looks panicked, not sure what's happening to him. Immediately, there's the sound of a large door closing in some other, deep part of the house. That's followed by heavy footsteps and dragging chains. Step. Drag-clank. Step. Drag-clank. Louder and louder, closer and closer, until it stops right outside the door. The doorknob turns back and forth, testing the lock.
Scrooge is scared out of his mind, cowering in his chair, but he's able to muster enough courage to yell, "It's still all a hum--" before a ghostly blue cashbox - attached to a chain - comes flying through the door right at him. It misses his head and goes through his chair, then other boxes follow, attached to other chains. Finally, Marley emerges, transparent and with not just blowing hair, but a blowing mist that surrounds him like an aura.
As the conversation begins, Marley seems like he's not entirely present. I don't mean that he's distracted, but he doesn't make eye contact with Scrooge or even really look in his direction. It's like he's blind or maybe struggling to acclimate to the physical world and doesn't quite have his bearings yet. I quite like it. He gets more focused as the conversation progresses.
This Scrooge isn't a humorous man, so his gravy pun doesn't even come off as a joke. Carrey plays it straight, with some accusation towards Marley as if the "hallucination" is tormenting Scrooge on purpose. Which of course means that Scrooge does believe what he's seeing, but is just trying to convince himself that he doesn't.
Marley continues to be terrifying as they talk. Gary Oldman is playing Marley, but unlike his portrayal of Bob Cratchit, it's impossible to tell. Zemeckis didn't use Oldman's face as the character model this time and Oldman has disappeared into the part. All I can see is a dreadfully effective spirit who really sells the horror of what's awaiting Scrooge after death. He has no patience for Scrooge's defense of his and Marley's actions. He never removes his bandage, but when Scrooge talks about being a good man of business, Marley wails so hard that he dislocates his bottom jaw.
Unfortunately, the scene gets silly for a minute there as Marley tries to fix himself. He uses his hand to bounce his jaw so that he can continue talking. Then he gets annoyed by that and adjusts his bandage so that his bottom lip covers half his face and he can't talk anymore. This is all disgusting to Scrooge, so it doesn't lessen the effect on him, but the goofiness doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the scene.
Once Marley gets himself sorted, the conversation continues and Marley offers Scrooge the chance and hope to avoid Marley's fate. Faithful to Dickens, Scrooge is grateful until he learns that the chance and hope involve being visited by three more ghosts (on the same three-night schedule as the book).
Marley flies out the window to join the other phantoms and Zemeckis does some imaginative things with those poor souls. They're all being tortured in various ways: one is trapped in a padlock and being hit on the head with a key, another is being continuously squashed between two giant coins; yet another is tethered to a giant bag of money that he can never reach. It's all very Dante and simultaneously funny and horrifying, but it misses Dickens' point until Scrooge looks down to the street and sees the woman with the baby. Several spirits are reaching out to her impotently with one even shouting, "I wish I could help you!"
That one notices Scrooge watching and speeds towards Scrooge's window, perhaps intent on trying to help him. But Scrooge runs to his bed and the window slams shut on its own (or perhaps aided by an unseen Marley?). We're left with a very frightened Scrooge who's now more afraid of the afterlife than he is of the world around him. That's not enough to change him, because like Walter Matthau's Scrooge he doesn't know how. But I'm betting that he's willing to learn.