The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

A Christmas Carol (2009)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Rated PG
Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes

Review by Ben Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
The bitter, stingy Mr. Scrooge stomps begrudgingly through the streets of 1840’s London, disgusted with the Christmas cheer that seems to emanate from everyone from his lazy employees to the street carolers. One Christmas when he arrives home to his dark, cold mansion he’s visited by the specter of his former business partner, 7 years dead, who warns him he’ll be visited by 3 spirits. The spirits arrive as foretold, and through their interactions with Scrooge, we learn of the causes and conditions that have led to his current miserable state, and Scrooge learns of the inevitable consequences if he doesn’t somehow change course.

Beneath the Surface:
The most important element of any depiction of the Dicken’s Christmas classic is that we viscerally believe in Scrooge’s transformation. At the opening of the story, we should cringe at his penny-pinching cruelty and severity, but as he gradually expands his awareness and grows outward, we are moving in the opposite direction. In other words, our initial revulsion begins us at a cold distance from Scrooge, but the more he opens, the closer we approach as WE open in empathy and understanding to how he became what he is. When the story is done well, we reach his core, his spiritual center, just as he reaches his final moments of desperation and relinquishes his grip on the world, crying out in repentance to the last, most macabre of the spirits–the ghost of Christmases yet to come.

My biggest worry going into this version of the story was that Jim Carrey, as much as I love his uncanny ability to caricature, would overshadow the important humanity and frailty of Scrooge. I was expecting slapstick and comedy that would somehow drain the emotional charge of Scrooge’s journey. The opposite was true. The film had a dark, somber tone true to Dicken’s original telling. The fact that the movie was animated in excruciating detail (and I guess blu ray helped) meant Scrooge’s inner characteristics could be mapped into his physical world, and this meant Carrey’s normal over-the-top approach could be balanced and absorbed by the film’s setting. Carrey was admirably self-contained (or maybe we can credit director Zemeckis), often allowing long pauses or hollowed out sequences where the echos of 19th century London were allowed to reverberate.

Another key element of the film so important for the way we process it is how the 3 spirits are depicted. If they are too softened and conventional, we aren’t convinced by the terror and eeriness that is necessary for Scrooge’s transformation. If they are too terrifying, it becomes a horror movie, and the true terror Scrooge experiences–witnessing the effects of his own actions–is overshadowed. Here once again Zemeckis and Carrey struck a wonderful balance. Carrey portrayed all 3 spirits, and perfectly embodied each, from the odd, flame-headed and breathy spirit of Christmases passed, to the jovial, merry and, in the end, wrathful spirit of Christmas present.

The final test is this: when Scrooge eventually wakes from his tumultuous night and throws open his window to find Christmas morning, and a life yet to work with, do you feel the same enormous sense of hope, gratitude and possibility that he does?

In this case, my gratitude is for Carrey and Zemeckis and their surprisingly loyal and authentic portrayal of the Christmas classic that lies at the core of all others.


Cocoa Factor = 8 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 10 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 9 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 10 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 10 out of 10


About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

3 responses »

  1. […] know how the story goes from this point on: Scrooge is taken on a life-altering journey through his past, present and future, in which he sees the […]

  2. […] The irony is that last year we sung the praises of Carrey’s remarkable self-control in A Christmas Carol (2009). It’s amazing how one of our favorite over-the-top but extremely talented artists matured […]

  3. […] see Ben Koch's review of Jim Carrey's 2009 A Christmas […]

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