Friday, December 15, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Jim Carrey (2009)



Robert Zemeckis' Christmas Carol skips straight from Scrooge's hiding in bed after Marley's visit to one o'clock. Scrooge is awake and very frightened, but there's no telling if he got any sleep before that or has just been awake the whole time. If he's been awake though, I doubt he's been fretting over the passage of time. He is clearly super freaked out.

As soon as the local church bell chimes one, Scrooge's bed curtains are pulled aside by themselves and a strong, focused light (like a miniature spotlight) turns on. It's pointing straight up at first, but then moves around the room to shine briefly in Scrooge's face before becoming a vertical shaft of light again. The Spirit has been floating near the floor and out of Scrooge's line of sight from his place in the bed. As it raises up, the shaft of light becomes less intense and settles into the flickering flame that makes up the Spirit's head.

The Spirit carries the cap and holly branch (at first, anyway; it'll lose the holly branch pretty quick). And it's a small-sized ghost. It kind of does the old-young thing, but in a different way from Dickens. Instead of human features, it's simply a flame with a face. And its body even suggests a candlestick.

Zemeckis has Jim Carrey playing the Spirit, which isn't a choice I like, but I do see where they're going with it. If the Spirit is the ghost of Scrooge's Christmases Past, then why not make it look like Scrooge? The problem is that I keep imagining Jim Carrey against a green screen, bobbing and jerking his head around to resemble the flickering of a candle flame. And that yanks me right out of the story. I had the same reactions to seeing Colin Firth and Gary Oldman too accurately represented in their CG characters. Pretty much all my feelings about this version of the Spirit are like that. Every choice is intentional and the goal is always to represent Dickens, but the overall effect is creepy and off-putting (only not just in the intended way).

Because the Spirit is so bizarre, Scrooge continues to be frightened. He does ask the Spirit to put its cap on, but he asks very timidly. And the Spirit is so oppressively bright that I understand why Scrooge musters the courage to make his request. (As the Spirit answers him, I notice that it's got an Irish accent for some reason. That would make some sense if Scrooge was himself Irish, but I don't recall that being revealed as true anywhere else in this version. It's probably just Carrey adding one layer too many onto this performance.) Reprimanded by the Spirit for the question, Scrooge is immediately submissive and apologetic.

The Spirit just kind of hovers there, being weird, and Scrooge settles down a little, becoming less frightened and more interested in the apparition. "O Come, All Ye Faithful" plays sweetly in the soundtrack as the Spirit reveals what it is. "Rise," it says, "and walk with me." The line is straight out of Dickens, but something about the way that the Spirit grabs Scrooge's hand and gently pulls him out of bed reminds me of the stories where Jesus Christ offered disabled people the chance to "rise and walk." In other words, the Spirit is already a symbol of healing.

Sticking with the religious theme, the song swells and becomes "Ave Maria" as the Spirit pulls Scrooge towards the window. As they walk, the Spirit is able to change the direction of the flame on its head so that the spotlight points directly in front of him. So that's how it was shining in Scrooge's face earlier.

Scrooge's fear gets the better of him and he grabs his bed curtain to keep from being ushered outside. He explains that he's a mortal and liable to fall. The Spirit touches Scrooge on the heart (leaving its cap floating in midair to do it) and Scrooge looks rapturous as light enters his body and his feet leave the floor. But his ecstasy turns to nervousness when the Spirit shoots them through the room, out the window, and into snowy countryside.

2 comments:

Caffeinated Joe said...

I finally watched this version this year. I had been reluctant due to Carrey and the weird, not-quite-real but not-quite-animated style. The story itself was fine, but that is more due to Dickens. I just never got into it because of the animation style. The worst, to me, were the children. Just creepy. The Spirit here being very candle-like was an interesting choice. But I will probably skip this in the future.

Michael May said...

Totally. It's interesting enough that I want to discuss it for this, but it's definitely not one that I revisit "just because."

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