Saturday, December 12, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Jim Carrey (2009)

Like in Mickey's Christmas Carol, Robert Zemeckis sets this scene at Scrooge's office. Which, I think, it probably the best place for it. I like the outdoor versions just from an aesthetic standpoint, but what better place to talk about Scrooge's changing priorities than in the place that symbolizes his new idol?

Belle is wearing a black dress and bonnet and even mentions during the coming conversation that she's been left penniless by the death of her parents (as Dickens intended, but didn't specify). Robin Wright plays Belle (she was also Fan in the schoolhouse scene) and she and Carrey both do phenomenal acting work here. The blocking is exceptional too and helps bring this conversation to powerful life. Young Scrooge appears to be terrified of poverty, giving a lot of weight to Belle's observation that he fears the world too much. He doesn't actually want to let her go, but he feels trapped between his still real love for her and his powerful anxiety about financial want. I believe that the battle between love and fear is the great human struggle and I love that it's demonstrated so clearly and powerfully in Scrooge with this version.

When Belle claims that Scrooge was another man when they were first engaged, clearly preferring that one to his current self, he gets angry. "I was a boy!" he shouts, and slams his fists on his desk, startling not just Belle, but even the older version of himself watching on.

Belle takes a few seconds before saying resignedly, "I release you, Ebenezer." She gets up to go.

But Young Scrooge isn't done. He rushes to her grabs her roughly by the arm. "Have I ever sought release?" 

The conversation continues on in the usual way, but filled with the pain of both participants. He eventually lets go of her arm and by the end of their talk he's standing apart from her, not looking at her. "I release you," she says again and her wishes for his happiness in the future are heartfelt.

Old Scrooge is still humble and respectful, as he was with Marley and the previous Christmas Past scenes. When he demands to be removed from the memory, it's a request, not an order. He phrases it like an order, just as Dickens wrote it, but he's clearly uncomfortable and not even looking at the Spirit.

He does look at the Ghost when it insists that these memories are the way they are because of Scrooge, but even then Scrooge looks frightened. He freaks out even more when the Spirit's face starts to morph into various other faces from Scrooge's past. The music turns ominous during this part, too. Scrooge wants to be let go, but the Spirit only forces him to relive everything yet again in the faces of these people.

Scrooge's mouth is quivering when he utters his final, "Leave me! Take me back!" He grabs the extinguisher cap in desperation, shouting, "Haunt me no longer!" as he forces it down on the Ghost.

There's resistance from the Ghost and the bright light even flares into flame at one point, but Scrooge finally manages, with a great deal of effort, to get the cone all the way to the floor. There's no light spilling out around the bottom edge, but Zemeckis will communicate the Ghost's final victory another way.

Obviously we're not going to see Belle's life after Scrooge in this scene, but what Zemeckis replaces it with is unfortunate. As I've mentioned before, my big complaint about this film is that Zemeckis tends to go overboard with the lack of limitations that animation has allowed him. Fezziwig's gravity-defying dance in the previous scene, for example. And in this scene, Scrooge has the extinguisher cap all the way to the ground and appears to have overcome the Ghost when the cap explodes and shoots into the air like a rocket, with Scrooge still clinging to it.

It takes him high into the atmosphere before sputtering out and then disappearing in Scrooge's clutches, leaving him alone above the clouds to plummet to Earth. There's no reason for any of this except to further terrify and torture Scrooge. But instead of the psychological agony of having to confront his past, this is easy, physical terror for it's own sake. It has nothing to do with redeeming Scrooge that I can tell; merely with punishing him. It feels extreme and unnecessary, both on the part of the Ghost and of Zemeckis himself.

Scrooge lands in his own room, not with the deadly splat that physics would demand if he actually had fallen from the upper atmosphere, but it's still hard enough to look like it hurt. And when the camera pulls back, it's apparent that Scrooge has fallen out of bed. 


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Seeing these versions back to back, I’ve grown to dislike the versions that show Belle with a new husband/family which feels cruel to show him and breaks the format of being “his past”. Reliving the moment is painful enough ahead, why put to screws to him further?

Michael May said...

Even though that's the way Dickens wrote it? I feel like Scrooge needs all the screws turned that he can get.

Caffeinated Joe said...

I don't mind Scrooge being shown Belle's happy life. It adds to showing what his choices have done to his own life. But this version is too much for me, in the scene you spotlight, and just in the off-putting motion-capture stuff. Too far removed from the original intent, for me anyway.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Even if things are “canon” by their original creator, doesn’t mean I have to agree with all of them.

Michael May said...

True that, Erik. It works for me, but totally fair that it doesn't for you.

Joe, I agree about this movie in general. I think it does some things in a unique, thoughtful way, but it undercuts the good aspects with just as much silly nonsense. And yeah, the character designs are very off-putting.


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