“This is the imagination. It’s a wonderful place.”
- Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)
Perhaps the most vivid memories of Christmas’ past belong to the early morning hours of Christmas morning. This is where I would get up alone, organize the presents in the lights of the Christmas tree, and watch a Christmas movie as I waited for the rest of the house to awaken.
Once upon a time a choice pick would be the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street. Its affectionate spirit and message about the relationship between the imagination and the ability to believe in sonething greater than merely that which we can observe, especially when it comes to reconciling the way things are with the way we hope things to be, has always been an important part of my own christmas reflections. Following the remake in 1994, a film that sometimes gets unfairly maligned but went on to leave it’s own mark on the cinematic landscape, I have watched one of these versions every Christmas morning without fail.
One thing this 75th anniversary deep dive special edition from Time uncovered for me is the real world connection between the story in the film and the real world story of the late 1940s. Christmas had turned into a dreadful time of year for workers and Christmas itself had been taken over by an invigorated post war capitalist landscape. There was perhaps no greater example of this reality than the Gimbels-Macy rivalry, which the Director set out to give a redemptive spin. The hope was to inspire a kind of reenchantment at a time when American society seemed to have lost the ability to imagine. The 1994 remake, which actually marks my graduating year, set out to do something similar in its time.
The film’s continued appeal to the promise of the imagination shines through in the contrasting portraits of childhood innocence and the cynicism of a world the adults have built for themselves. Part of what makes this film so daring in it’s time, aside from the well drawn portrait of a strong, independent single divorced woman, is the way it is able to uphold the spirit of the gift giving season while critiquing its commercialization. Making the giant conglomerates subservient to the power of the imagination to believe in something greater might not parallel the late 1940s reality, but it did offer us a story that gave a generation permission to challenge the status quo. As the 1994 adaptation’s appeal goes, the more the world changes the more it stays the same, making the message of this film timeless