A Christmas Carol & The Man Who Invented Christmas

I recently read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It was elected as a ‘short read’ by the bookclub I belong to and fitted well with the time of year. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Its arresting beginning – ‘Marley was dead: to begin with’ is a great start.

Scrooge, who is completely bad and miserable is at first ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner’ who hates Christmas. But he ends up in the last lines of the book knowing ‘how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.’

What exactly does ‘keeping’ Christmas mean? In A Christmas Carol it seems to be about caring for others, especially for the poor. Giving, receiving, enjoying.

The film The Man Who Invented Christmas backs this up. During the film’s telling of how Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol, the housemaid protests when Dickens initially kills off Tiny Tim at the end of the story. ‘But you can’t let Tiny Tim die’ she wails. And so Tiny Tim lives to see another day and in fact to speak the last words of the book, ‘God bless us everyone’.

Ensuring a happy ending gives A Christmas Carol a Disney feel. In today’s context ‘giving and receiving at Christmas time’ are gushy, feel-good sentiments. Both can be viewed as rather superficial. However, Dickens makes strong comment in many of his other books about the unfair treatment of the poor. Equally, A Christmas Carol may be making a more serious point about poverty and inequality. The rich Scrooge, with all his self-made money, can help to raise the unfortunate circumstances of poor, sick Tiny Tim.

Again, what exactly does ‘keeping’ Christmas mean? If we take the Christian origins of Christmas into account, keeping Christmas would be to remember and rejoice in the birth of Christ who was born to die for the sins of mankind. Although A Christmas Carol does make Christian references, I think Dickens does not explicitly endorse the Christian message. In some of his other works he is in fact quite disparaging of the hypocrisy of the church. In this sense, then, A Christmas Carol may in fact be Dickens showing the church to ‘put its mouth where its money is’ and help to lighten the load of others.

 

Hope in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

A review by Brenda Daniels

When I heard the title of this film I thought it must be an animated feature or a children’s film. And it does open with a 13-year-old boy sobbing at receiving an “F” on a school paper. But, no, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, is a sobering story of how two young boys survive a summer holiday in a very real, difficult, adult world. It carries an age restriction of 16DL.

The story starts at the end of school term with the main character, Mister, having a bad day. He’s told by his teacher he’ll have to repeat Eighth Grade. When Mister gets home, his drugged-out mother gives him a “benefits” card to go and buy food. The card doesn’t work. Worst of all, Mister is lumped with nine-year-old Pete, a neighbour whose mother is absent.

Mister’s mom, Gloria, also absents the scene after she is arrested for doing drugs. Desperate to stay out of a juvenile facility, the two boys, left alone, dodge the police and do their utmost to make it through until Mister’s mom returns.

Different adult characters people Mister’s world, from the dim-witted man on the corner, to an aggressive store keeper, an unkempt war-veteran beggar, a sympathetic friend of his mother’s, and a loud hoodlum. All play an important part in advancing the plot. At one point one of them tells Mister that the boy will, inevitably, be caught by the police. Mister looks up the words “inevitable defeat” in the dictionary. It is these words that played out in my mind as Mister and Pete fought a losing battle against poverty and the realities of life in an underprivileged part of Brooklyn.

I was constantly aware that there would be no miraculously happy ending in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.  It seems surprising, then, that the film is not depressing. Or hopeless. And I think it’s because the action is seen through the eyes of a child. So what’s important to Mister is failing his English paper; having to babysit a too-young Korean boy (Pete); auditioning for a part in a play. All this, together with the school scenes, left me wondering if The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete wasn’t just a child’s “story”. But juxtaposed with the all-too-real adult world of drugs, crime, prostitution and struggle, I realised it couldn’t be.

And I think that’s what director George Tillman Jr wanted to achieve.

Skylan Brooks as Mister and Ethan Dizon as Pete act superbly. And their developing relationship of love and respect is touching to watch.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is an intelligent, interesting film. It opens at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on Friday 6 June.

Despite their defeat in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the boys have hope.

Despite their defeat in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the boys have hope.