Finding Christmas in Christmas Movies that Aren’t About Christmas

Do you find it weird that some movies make it quite clear that they are taking place during the holiday season, but then almost seem to go out of their way to ensure that Christmas in no way directly impacts the plot? Or do you penetrate past the crudity of setting a movie during Christmas just to take advantage of its plot mechanisms in favor of looking for more subtle thematic connections to setting? Never given it much thought? Well, check out these Christmas movies that aren’t about Christmas and use them as a way to exercise your brain.

Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick’s dreary little career capper is set during the holidays, although it seems as if it could have just as easily been set during Easter, Independence Day or Labor Day, for that matter. Traditional Christmas movie elements like learning that love is the greatest gift of all or finding redemption for an evil past are entirely absent from “Eyes Wide Shut.” Finding any kind of meaning in Kubrick’s bizarre swan song is difficult enough without attempting to enforce some kind of Christmas message upon the all the ludicrous symbolism.

The Apartment

Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning sex comedy about morality and ethics in the business world seems as far removed from 21st century views as “Much Ado About Nothing.” That Wilder chose to shoot “The Apartment” in black and white rather than color in 1960 seems to indicate that setting his love triangle during the Christmas season is part of an overall thematic structure intended to point up the coldly colorless vacuum in which these urban characters often interact but rarely actually connect with each other. That’s the kind of subtlety found in most of Wilder’s films, so I’m going with as an explanation for why “The Apartment” is a Christmas movie without much Christmas. Well, that and the fact that Wilder was Jewish.

Psycho

Few films have been the subject of as much critical analysis as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” To the best of my knowledge, no major paper has ever been published that examines the thematic important of “Psycho” being set during the holiday season. In fact, most people probably don’t even recall that Christmas intrudes upon the film. I’d like to read that paper since it would be a terrific example of how reading the meaning of a film should ideally not depend much on what the makers say they intended. A good critic could easily produce a coherent paper on how Christmas is thematically important to the narrative despite the reality behind “Psycho” having anything to do with Christmas is that it was only after footage was already shot that Hitchcock realized Christmas decorations in Phoenix were clearly visible. To save money, he merely inserted a graphic indicating the movie was taking place in December rather than reshoot the scenes minus the decorations.

The French Connection

Our introduction to Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection” comes in the form of his doing undercover work dressed as a sidewalk Santa charity bell ringer. That’s pretty much the last connection that “The French Connection” makes to its holiday season setting. Unless, of course, you want to stretch a thematic point by tying a white Christmas to the slang terms for heroin that revolve around snow.