“Now it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a ‘triple dare you?’ And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.” – Adult Ralphie (Jean Shepherd)
Oh come, all ye grown ups to adore A Christmas Story — a film that encapsulates the Christmas season from a child’s eyes with humor that can be enjoyed best by those on the other side of the bridge.
Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is a 10-year-old wishing for a Red Rider BB gun in 1940s Ohio, but shot down by every adult he asks, including Santa himself. His brother is a wet blanket with limited communication skills, and his parents (Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon) are the typical married couple who fight and makeup in every scene. That Christmas is going to be one to remember, from Ralphie’s brush with the bar of Lifeboy after swearing to his father’s major award that lights up the front window and terrorizes his wife.
The film’s charm doesn’t simply lie in the multitude of jokes stemming from the Midwest family, such as “I’ll triple dog dare you!” “You’ll shoot your eye out” and “Fra-gee-lee: must be Italian.” Of course, you can’t discount these, as they’ve made the film iconic in many families, quoted all year long and smile-inducing even in the middle of July.
A Christmas Story’s real attraction in its universality. The film is aptly named with the ambiguous use of “A” in front of it — the events portrayed are those of the everyboy or everygirl who has spent a Christmas season pining after a gift he or she knows won’t be under the tree. How many of us stopped believing in Santa Claus when the smelly imposter at the mall refused to substantiate our wish lists because it included something outlandish or dangerous?
And much of what happens in the film doesn’t even pertain to Christmas. Ralphie’s fantasies of saving his family with the Red Rider BB gun and revenge dream of showing up blind after his mother forces him to suck on Lifeboy soap in punishment for swearing are all realistic to how we as children handled our problems — through imagination.
And that’s certainly the height of A Christmas Story’s ability to connect with the kid left in every adult who watches. None of the humor is sophomoric, but it’s all experiential in a way that capitalizes on the way we’ve chosen to remember things. Ralphie’s brush with Scut Farkus the bully is described in sinister yet synthetic detail. “His lips curled over his green teeth…he had yellow eyes. Lord help me, yellow eyes!” Scut doesn’t have yellow eyes or green teeth, but he does possess the threat that many viewers remember schoolyard terrorizers to have, be it true or not.
A Christmas Story turns childhood memory into film with a wit and dry humor that will keep it from being too traumatizing. Everyone has a Ralphie inside of — the kid trying to be good to get what he wants at Christmas. Luckily, the 1983 film delivers, both for Ralphie and for viewers who want assurance that they weren’t alone in being told they’d “shoot their eye out.”