Monday, December 24, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Michael Caine (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol includes a fun transition scene where the Spirit flies Scrooge out of his room and over London. Not wanting to be left behind, Gonzo and Rizzo snag Scrooge's robe with a grappling hook and tag along. As they fly over the city, Scrooge sees a light in the distance. He asks what it is and the Ghost tells him that it's the Past. The light expands and envelopes the group, then they're through some kind of wormhole and flying over snowy forest. A cluster of buildings appears in a valley ahead and that's where the Ghost descends. It's Scrooge's school, but a cool version of it with lots of outbuildings. Instead of a mansion, it looks like it was converted from a farmhouse. That may say something about the kind of education Scrooge's father could afford, but as we'll see, Scrooge's dad doesn't play a part in this version.

Scrooge is happy to see the place and even happier to see the kids running out of the building for their Christmas break. He names a couple of them and points out one as his best friend. There's no crying in this scene. Scrooge thoughtfully takes it all in and he's mostly happy to revisit this time.

Caine's Scrooge is going to be pretty easy to change. He wasn't especially frightened by the Marleys and had almost convinced him that they were a dream. Perhaps he still thinks he's dreaming now. He's been nothing but polite to the Spirit though and is open to whatever she has to show him. It's hard to tell what he's thinking, but as we'll see, he doesn't have all the hurdles that some of the other Scrooges have to overcome.

Inside the building, the music becomes light and pastoral with some kind of flute as the primary instrument. Actually, it reminds me of the Hobbiton theme from Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings score. It evokes fond memories of simpler times, not oppressive loneliness. Scrooge walks around the room remembering sights and smells. These were mostly good times for him. He finishes his little tour by saying that he chose his profession in that room. This introduces the main point of the scene in this adaptation.

The Spirit points out Young Scrooge sitting at a desk. He's not reading though. He's writing on a tablet; working. A couple of other boys run in and one of them tells Young Scrooge that it's time to go, because the last coach is leaving. He's excited about it and trying to be helpful, but the other boy corrects him. "Come on. He never goes home for Christmas."

Young Scrooge yells after them, "Who cares about stupid old Christmas?" and goes back to work. It comes across as a childish response that Young Scrooge doesn't really mean. He probably does actually care about Christmas. And Old Scrooge notes that he was often alone, but he tries to put a positive spin on it. "More time for reading and study. The Christmas holiday was a chance to get some extra work done. Time for solitude." His face shows that it affected him though. This is as close as we get to tears from this Scrooge and there is a slight tremble in his mouth.

There's no mention of Scrooge's family in this version, but even if you weren't familiar with other versions you could deduce that there's some kind of problem at home that lets Scrooge stay in school over Christmastime. Whatever emptiness is there from Scrooge's family, he's replaced it with hard work and dedication to his future career. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the point of every version of this scene. Fan's love for him notwithstanding, Scrooge comes from a miserable home where he didn't feel valued. He's going to try to form his own happy family with a woman he loves, but he's not going to trust it. He gets his sense of value from succeeding at work and accumulating wealth. The Muppets version makes this especially clear right in this scene, but it's the underlying psychology in the other iterations, too.

The Ghost invites Scrooge to see another Christmas at the school, but Scrooge isn't eager. Still looking heartbroken, he says that they were all very much the same. "Nothing ever changed."

She says that he did, though. And sure enough we see images of a gradually aging Scrooge until we settle on one in his mid teens. Fan doesn't appear nor is she mentioned, but the schoolmaster does in the form of Sam the Eagle. We learn that Scrooge is graduating from the school, so Sam is there to give him some last advice. It's a funny bit and Sam is perfect as the overly serious mentor who encourages Scrooge to "work hard, work long, and be constructive."

He observes that Scrooge has been apprenticed to a fine company in London, which of course we'll see in next year's scene. So there's no Father who's decided to pull Scrooge from school and start him working. This is just the natural progression of things and we can infer that Scrooge obtained the apprenticeship through his own hard work and merit, with perhaps a little assistance from Sam and the school.

1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Always love that Caine took this all very seriously. Cannot be overstated how much it makes this version all work on all levels.

And never dawned on me that Scrooge sort of did what his father more or less wanted, which was study and do good at business, eschewing family and pleasure, as his father showed him by abandoning him to the school. Where some - most - children would rebel at such a thing, Scrooge took it and ran with it, further than even his father would have wanted, I can guess. Interesting.


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