Movies reflect the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Here is what our community says about a classic Christmas film.
This post is part of our “Movies and Manhood” series that gives some of our regular writers an opportunity to share their views on how movies have impacted their thinking about men’s roles today. Our objective is to find the intersection between these films and the themes and topics we address here at The Good Men Project. Be sure to check out our other posts here.
When we think about Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is not necessarily “manhood.” We might think of Santa, gifts, shopping, family gatherings, decorations, or a number of other more obvious images or connections. But manhood?
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation gets to the heart of what many men experience during the holidays: a desire to provide well for their families and create the perfect Christmas experience. From the lights and decorations, to the meal, to (hopefully) receiving a Christmas bonus, many men have an inherent need to make Christmas great for their families. Christmas Vacation gets to the heart of this need with laughs, heart, and a good dose of quotable lines.
Let’s see what a few of our GMP writers have to say about this Christmas film. You can check out their comments after the clip.
Here are the GMP Perspectives:
Christmas Vacation has a bit of a bi-polar attitude toward men. Half the time, Clark Griswold is caught up in Freudian ego-building enterprises: announcing to the world through demonstrations of resolve, strength, ambition and reckless enthusiasm that he is the Man and Provider for his family at Christmas and, by extension, all through the rest of the year. These are the scenes invariably played for laughs.
Quietly caught up in between his out-sized hyper-masculine exploits, Clark has quieter, more introspective moments usually based around his own childhood, and memories of what manhood and fatherhood looked like when his own father was the icon of masculinity in his life. These scenes play less for laughs, and are instead the primary source of sentimentality and heart in an otherwise irreverent movie.
The message seems to be that being a man is hard, both emotionally, and (because we can’t allow ourselves a more rational conception of masculinity) physically. Childhood is doomed to become a wistful, long-forgotten period of development that young men lose all-too quickly. Everything in the movie amounts to a struggle between the forces of youth, and adulthood.
He fantasizes about his bonus check from work—as a reward for his kids. He fantasizes (twice) about other women—to have his daydream interrupted by children. He is stricken at the prospect of housing his idiot brother in an already uncomfortably crowded home—but relents for the sake of his brother’s children. Clark even has a childlike temper tantrum over the contents of his bonus check—only to have to take adult responsibility for his outburst when his brother misinterprets his words. The spiritual resolution of the whole film seems to come from a final exchange Clark has with his father, asking a question from his childhood, and receiving an answer steeped in adulthood. It isn’t fatherly advice, so much as an admission that, yeah, being a man is hard, punishing, and relieved by tiny glimpses of a simpler time.
By the end of the film, it is clear that beneath all the chest-beating and general dumbassery of Clark’s Christmas rituals, he is trying to bring some small measure of magic into the lives of his own children—and recapture some of the more innocent abandon of his childhood, if only for one night.
Edgar Wilson, The Good Men Project Author
Despite his best efforts, Clark is continually foiled in his attempts to create the perfect Christmas—by his family, by the Christmas tree, and even by the turkey at dinner. We might assume that Clark is trying to live up to the example set by his father, Clark Sr. However, this turns out not to be the case; in fact, holidays during Clark’s childhood were always “a mess,” and so Clark’s tried ever since to be a wise, all-providing paterfamilias to his own family.
Clark Sr. finally confesses his own inadequacies to Clark, and advises him to forget about trying to make things perfect—the family will remember all the love he showed them even if things don’t go as planned. Released from the pressure he’s been putting on himself and saved by the reinstatement of his Christmas bonus, at the end of the film, Clark is finally able to enjoy himself and say, “I did it”—that is, created the ultimate memorable, if anything but perfect, Christmas.
Mary Ann Borer, The Good Men Project Author
I love this movie. It’s my wife’s favorite since in her family we have relatives who filled almost every character in the movie. While I laugh at the antics there is a certain sadness as well. Clark is a man who has surrendered his soul to symbols of manhood which he can not attain or sustain.
Spencer Dryden, The Good Men Project Author
I can’t speak of this film without mentioning my father. Every Christmas after the film’s first release on VHS, and I do mean EVERY Christmas, my father would put this movie on post dinner. For him, the film really summed up the oft times ludicrous struggles of playing the role of father. Dad would gather key family members to review critical moments in the slapstick of Chevy Chase’s performance. Rapturous laughter would ensue.
The first Christmas after my father died, it was only a couple month after, I watched Christmas Vacation again. That time there were more tears than laughs.
Wilhelm Cortez, Executive Editor at The Good Men Project
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.