We got ourselves into the Christmas spirit, Laurel and Brian style, by going to see “Bad Santa” last night. Since the reviews of this movie had emphasized that no one should see it who expects to be uplifted or inspired, naturally it was tops on our Must-See Holiday Flick list. Our sense of humor tilts decidedly in the direction of wry dry cynicism, so a movie that stars Billie Bob Thornton as a drunken, womanizing, thieving Santa is right up our alley.
We also love HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Comedy Central’s “Reno 911”—when we’re not watching PBS or listening to classical music, I mean, which is almost all of the time, of course, these other shows being a mere drop in the ocean of our exceedingly cultured entertainment proclivities. I should add, though, that the only movie I’ve ever heard Laurel laugh out loud at was the “South Park Movie,” which featured gads of fart jokes, one of which, as I recall, led to Laurel’s rare mirthful outburst.
She chuckled often through “Bad Santa,” as did I. Right off the bat, as Bad Santa starts talking about his unredeemably shitty life, you know that you’re in for a treat—a brutally honest movie. Well, brutally probably isn’t the right word, because Thornton and his cronies are always a pleasure to watch, even when they’re doing the most disgusting things. I usually don’t enjoy watching drunk scenes, but somehow Thornton makes inebriation seem almost like a holy experience, a diving into the Divine Pile of Crap that saints, seers, and mystics tell us this world is, compared to the Infinitely More Divine Heap of Wonder that lies above, in the spiritual realm.
In this movie, though, you never get above crap level, except at the very end, when Thornton does one quasi-good deed. Up to then, his only epiphany was when he beat up a boy who had been giving another kid a bad time. “That felt good,” Thornton says, “after hitting him in the eye I feel like my life finally has meaning.”
It isn’t all that much of a stretch to find some connections between Bad Santa and the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius. As I noted in an earlier posting, the Stoics want us to look at life just as it is with crystal-clear clarity, no value judgments of good or bad covering up the simple “this is.” Bad Santa has more than a little Stoicism in him, though you wouldn’t guess it when he launches into one of his drunken tirades at the department store Santa Section.
Thornton realizes that sometimes it is a lie to look on the bright side of life, because there isn’t any bright side. It’s all darkness, depression, despair. Bad Santa embraces the unbelievably shitty truth of his life because that is what he has to hold onto. I admired that. Truth-tellers are so rare. Bad Santa said that his father wasn’t trying to teach him a lesson when he slammed him into a wall; his father wasn’t trying to make him into a man when he beat him up; his father was just a mean sadistic son-of-a-bitch who liked to hurt people. End of story. Pour another drink.
Next we’ll go see “Love Actually,” or some other feel-good movie. But “Bad Santa” made me feel good because it reminded me that life doesn’t always feel good, and that’s just fine, The Way It Is.