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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 12:09 pm | A Few Clouds 59º

 
 
 
 

Cinema in Focus: ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

3 Stars — Inspiring

It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t read or seen a version of Charles Dickens’ famed story, A Christmas Carol, showing the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from a miser to a generous and joyful giver.

This book has sold more copies than almost any other literary publication except for possibly the Bible. What The Man Who Invented Christmas tells us is the backstory of the motivation and inspiration that compelled Dickens to write and release his book in 1843.

There are many stories about the history of A Christmas Carol, and this delightful version is a guess at some of the elements that created this blockbuster of a tale.

First, it stays true to the core of the Christmas message, that the giving to others out of love is transformative. Second, it shares the motivations that drive us all, primarily that our backgrounds and trials are but a foundation for making different, life-giving choices.

In this version, Dickens (Dan Stevens) is a successful author living a good life, but well beyond his means. Necessity being the mother of invention, he needs to write another book by Christmas to keep from falling further in debt.

He is also dealing with some long-standing ghosts from his past that are represented in his mind’s eye as a miserly old man played by Christopher Plummer, who follows him throughout his life, whispering in his ear that he isn’t good enough and doesn’t deserve what he has gotten in life.

In his real life, Dickens is confronted with the fact that his financially irresponsible father, John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce), and his mother show up at his home while he is struggling to conjure up some form of inspiration to write this book. The elder Dickens had gone to debtors’ prison when Charles was very young and, as a boy, he was left on his own, supporting himself by working in a factory.

Dickens had been angry at his father for being careless with money, even though his father’s generosity with anyone he met had been at the root of his financial problems. All of these ghosts from his past spoke to him in his head every day about who he was and whether he was worthy of success.

Then, the present enters his internal conversation, when he meets a poor child who is begging on the street, reminding him of his younger self. The poor boy is also suffering from a crippling injury, and Dickens’ heart is touched, but he holds back helping him out of fear of becoming poor again.

Needless to say, these voices are common to all of us and they motivate each of us to either retreat into self-protection, or they reveal to us a greater possibility in our life — if we have faith. The struggles that Dickens goes through are the grist for his inspiration, and are revealing to the viewer as well. Are we not in the same dilemma? Who are the voices that speak to us and tell us who we think we are? What is the state of our faith in some cause greater than ourselves?

When Dickens has his “aha!” moment, it is on the last day he can get something to the printer in time for books to be sold for Christmas. What emerges is his own life history, and it is released on Dec. 19, 1843. By Christmas Day, his book had become an inspirational hit and completely sold out. Within a year, it was reprinted 19 times.

Today, the celebration of Christmas in the western world has been shaped almost as much by this one story as it was by the original story — 2,000 years ago — of the birth of Jesus. And, in a similar fashion, the message came in an unexpected form and spoke more to the unbelieving world than to the theologically pure insiders. It is yet another gift from God to all of us.

Discussion

» The popularity of this story speaks to the shared experience of our lives. What are the ghosts that haunt you and try to define who you are? How do you deal with these internal voices?

» When a father is overly generous to the point that he is thrown into debtors’ prison, then you can understand how his child would struggle with his own greed and generosity. How have you found the balance between wise money management and generosity for those in need?

» How old were you when you first saw A Christmas Carol and how did it impact you?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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