Sunday, December 28, 2014

Deconstructing "The Miracle on 34th Street"

At some point every holiday season, we sit down to watch The Miracle on 34th Street.  Not the atrocious 1994 remake with John Hammond and Matilda - a movie that, in my mind, had no business being made - but the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood.  I've seen this movie countless times throughout my life, and the assumption I'd always made was that Kris Kringle was really Santa Claus and that the ending of the film confirmed that fact.  However, after watching the movie this year, I came away with a much different conclusion.


Kris Kringle was not Santa.  He was indeed "just a nice old man with whiskers."

Kris Kringle was simply an elderly man who had made it his mission in life to act as a sort of real-life version of Santa Claus.  I think he believed he was the real Santa Claus, perhaps due to some form of dementia or other psychological disorder.  But nowhere in this movie is it suggested that he is the jolly old man from the North Pole who delivers presents to children all over the world on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.  Sure, he acknowledges the reindeer in the beginning of the movie and even shows the drunk Santa how to lash the whip, but acknowledgement is really as far as the movie goes.

When Doris first meets Kris, she asks "Could you play Santa Claus?  Have you had any experience?"  Kris laughs and says "A little."  It is reasonable to believe that, although this line was crafted to make the audience wonder, the truth is that he HAS played Santa before.  Later, his interaction with the kids inside Macy's supports that theory.  Yes, he speaks Dutch to the child, however as Doris says, "Susan, I speak French, but that doesn't make me Joan of Arc."


Haven't you ever wondered why, when the children sit on his lap, he doesn't just tell them he'll bring whatever gift they've asked for?  Instead, he tells the parents where they can find those gifts.  He tells the boy's mother where to find the fire engine.  He tells another girl's mother where she can get skates.  Seems odd - why wouldn't Santa just bring them himself?

When Doris begins to question Kringle's sanity, she finds that he lives in a home for the elderly under the care of Doctor Pierce.  Shouldn't Santa live in the North Pole?  Or if Kris spends the "off season" as a member of the general population, wouldn't there be some questions about his whereabouts whenever he returns to the North Pole?  None of this sort of thing is suggested - instead, Dr. Pierce appears to know Kris well and seems to have a positive relationship with him.

As for the gifts, just about each one of them is explained throughout the course of the movie.  As already noted, Kris tells the parents how to get their children's requested toys during the Macy's scenes.  Later, we are shown a scene in which Mr. Macy gives Kris a bonus check.  Mr. Gimbell asks Kris what he's going to do with it, and Kris says he knows a doctor who needs a new X-Ray machine.  This is the X-Ray machine later given to Dr. Pierce at the end of the movie.  Then there's the part where little Tommy, after coming off the stand in the courtroom, runs over to Kris and says "Don't forget, a real official football helmet!" to which Kris replies "Don't worry, Tommy, you'll get it!"  At the conclusion of the case, the prosecutor (Tommy's father) exclaims "I've got to get that football helmet!" and runs out of the courtroom.
 
This brings us to the finale, where Susan's grand request for a house is fulfilled.  Not just any house, mind you, but the exact house from the photo she gave Kris.  If you notice, the picture is a page out of either a newspaper or magazine.  Additionally, you can see that there are other homes on that same page.  It is probable that this page came from a real-estate listing of some kind, and all Kris did was show Doris and Fred where to find the house knowing full-well that Susie handle the rest.  Remember, when they enter the home in pursuit of Susie, Fred says "The sign outside says it's for sale.  We can't let her down."  Kris didn't give them the house.  He just showed them where to find it.  As for the cane against the wall, it could've very well been left there by the people who moved out.  Or Kris might have left it behind either by accident or to solidify Doris' belief in him as Santa. 

Maybe everyone else already picked up on all these details and I'm late to the party.  I don't know, but these subtleties give me a new respect for Miracle on 34th Street as a remarkable piece of storytelling.  Just don't ask me to watch the 94 version.  I won't react well.


I hope you and your loved ones have had a safe and Merry Christmas.  As we approach 2015, I pray for a peaceful, prosperous, and uplifting new year for all of you. 

God bless,

Kevin

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