Christmas Movies II

film 25 of 25

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

This is a really remarkable allegory, even if it was somewhat unintended by the filmmakers, or uncomprehended by some viewers who thought it reflected an eroding of Christian values. It’s certainly more remarkable, more substantial than is suspected by all the people who just got geeky over it.

Consider. The world is media-supersaturated, and it’s full of crime and casual horror. This results in nostalgic longings for the way things used to be, even if maybe things didn’t really used to be that way at all. A perfect circumstantial setting for a fable about that same battered, super-secular world, though now stylized and stop animated into unrecognizability. Things are hard, but not exclusively. Bad things happen here, but it’s also where we live, together. Not quite innocence and monstrosity! (Was this Abraham’s idea as he bargained so ardently with the Lord on the brink of S & G.s destruction?)

Nightmare… is not informed by the horror film’s usual antecedents or sensibilities—Poe’s grotesqueries and madness, Dostoievsky’s wracking self-doubt, his quavering faith and frequent, seeming self-loathing, Kafka’s inexorable, multiplying menaces. Rather, in Selick’s (and Burton’s) fantastically realized land of waking, and of cheerful (!) nightmare, all that 20th century artist-of-anxiety stuff is so familiar that it’s become the norm, no longer even questioned. The comfortable mayhem is even commercialized as the film craftily lampoons its own commodification, even while reaching deeper into the significance thereof.

This is the context in which Jack Skellington’s accidental view of an unironically perfect Christmas world generates a yearning in him for some dim primordial plenitude, which he attempts with all sincerity to bring into his own monstrous reality. It’s like his Road to Damascus, except that he’s not Paul, but rather some guy who heard a noise, turned to look from afar, and then saw a light that disappeared before he could get to it. No Acts 8: 25-34 ( for him. How could he ever get it right? How could you ever blame him for getting it wrong?

Jack’s attempt fails for two reasons: he doesn’t have the tools or experience to pull it off, and even his own inadequate perceptions are completely plowed under by the distorted picture he has to give to the hallowe’en folk in order to sell them on the idea. A well-meaning but short-falling politician, in other words, forced to further compromise by the restiveness, the wanton distractability and ignorance of his constituents.

(“Nightmare…” is amazingly executed, but not so unprecedented, neither in technique nor sensibility.  Starevich [find the second part yourself]: Trnka:

Furthermore, the seemingly inappropriate, nearly sacrilegious violence that is visited upon the kidnapped Santa might actually be neither sacrilegious nor, if our intent has any bearing, even inappropriate. It’s merely the logically absurd embodiment of what happens when the monstrous tries to co-opt the sacred. They knew where to turn, but not how. Don’t get mad, but be grateful! Or, if you feel so stirred, don those missionary duds. Maybe this film, this world isn’t a red door painted black after all. Maybe it’s really a field that is all white and ready to harvest.