If Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas is Christianity's best hope for "saving" Christmas, Christmas is fucking toast. The dirty secularists have this thing in the bag. Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.
I volunteered—nay, insisted upon covering this movie for Jezebel. First, I am a known advocate of the War on Christmas. Then there's my personal history with movies about saving Christmas; my father was once forced to remove me from a showing of Ernest Saves Christmas due to a hysterical crying fit at the possibility that Ernest might not, in fact, save Christmas. I also remember the moment I first learned that the erstwhile Mike Seaver was using his fame for evangelism, which was at the Fantasy in Lights Christmas spectacular at Calloway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
Put simply, this was fate.
But I was not feeling the Christmas spirit Friday, when I rose from my couch and ventured into Times Square to catch an evening screening of Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas, with special guest Kirk Cameron. I was hungover and I was cold. Even so, I doubt my crankiness was to blame for the fact that despite running barely an hour and twenty minutes, this felt like the longest movie I've ever seen. And I made it through Doctor fucking Zhivago.
The movie begins as it means to proceed: with Kirk Cameron smarming around about how much he loves Christmas. And also Jesus. But you see, Christmas devotees are under attack, both from outsiders supposedly demanding " you take your private stuff and keep it in your house. Don't let it spill out into the public and bother the rest of us," and insiders suggesting the holiday hullabaloo, Santa and the acres of presents, "has nothing to do with Christmas."
"What are they gonna do next—tell us that hot chocolate is bad, that the Druids invented it?" This remark perfectly illustrates the smug tone of this movie.
Eventually we come to the plot—such as it is. Kirk (the name of Kirk Cameron's character) is enjoying his sister's annual holiday blowout. But when he heads to the kitchen to congratulate her (yes, she's in the kitchen doing dishes or some shit while everyone else enjoys her hard work), he finds she's feeling a little down. You see, she LOVES Christmas, but her husband Christian just isn't feeling it this year, and so he's being a big wet-blanket baby. Christian is having a crisis of faith… in Christmas. ( Pilgrim's Progress is more subtle.)
Kirk can't allow this backsliding in his family. Rather than encouraging his sister to have a frank discussion with her spouse about her feelings, he decides the patriarchs will have a little chat. He goes hunting for his brother-in-law and finds him hiding in an SUV in the driveway, like a very mature adult. They spend much of the remainder of the movie in this SUV, with Christian outlining his objections to Christmas and Kirk refuting them with tortured justifications why traditions like the tree are actually 100 percent all about Jesus, self-satisfied smile fixed on his face all the while.
It's like a Socratic dialogue between stoned teenagers working as elves for a mall Santa. Jacob wrestling the angel, except a haunted tin of stale Christmas cookies slap-fighting a strawman.
Christian has three primary objections. First, he doesn't see Jesus anywhere but the nativity scene, crammed into the corner. Kirk answers him with a long refresher about how Christ was born to die on the cross and redeem man. Fine. Christian doesn't like the Christmas tree, either. No Christmas trees in the Bible. But Kirk has an explanation for that, too: Man fell because Adam ate fruit from the wrong tree. Man was redeemed because Christ died on a wooden cross. ERGO, CHRISTMAS TREES: "When you walk into a Christmas tree lot, I want you to see hundreds of crosses that will never be used because of Jesus's finished work." Pretty sure that's not the historical root of the tradition, but whatever.
Oh, and that business about the winter solstice? Kirk's not persuaded:
"The early church had plenty of good reasons to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, and it had nothing to do with the winter solstice. [Note: he does not outline these reasons.] By the way, last I checked? It was God who made the winter solstice when he set the planets on their path around the sun. And it's actually quite fitting that we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the bleak midwinter, when the world appears to be sleeping and dying."
Ah, the FIRE EVERYTHING school of theological argument.
But it's the justification for Santa Claus where this little Sunday School lesson really runs off the rails. "The real Santa Claus was a real bad, bad dude," Kirk explains, asking us to imagine this " Lord of the Rings-y." He proceeds to tell how Saint Nicholas opened up a can of WHOOP ASS on some dissenting bishop at the Council of Nicaea. We are treated to a reenactment complete with, I swear to God himself, DUBSTEP. "Truth was on the line, and it was not the time for this pastor to go soft on truth or stay quiet for the sake of being politically correct." Wow. I've always wondered what early Church history would look like rendered in alphabet soup!
Anyway, this is enough to persuade Christian, who runs back inside to apologize for his party-pooping with, I shit you not, a hip-hop dance party. Meanwhile, Kirk explains that giving presents is merely "doing what God does. He has always been giving gifts to his children at the base of trees. Abraham was given the gift of a son at the Oaks of Mamre. The cedars of Lebanon were given as materials for Solomon's temple. The salvation was given to us at the base of a tree."
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, and also an iPhone 6 for Jimmy and a really cute Tory Burch clutch for Annie.
In the Q&A afterward, by the way, Cameron also pushed back on the criticism of Christmas a giant orgy of consumerism:
"Materialism is actually a fascinating concept. The eternal God took on a material body, something we can touch and see. That's a miracle! And so it's right that our Christmas isn't just some religious idea in our heads and in our hearts that we think about and get goosebumps over. It should be able to download into the world in the form of things that we can look upon and touch with our hands. Like gifts for those who love us."
Don't mind me, I'm just choking to death on some gingerbread cookies, watching Kirk Cameron defend materialism in the name of one of the world historical figures most famous for renouncing it.
Obviously, I was not the intended audience for this movie. This was made for dedicated, outgoing evangelical Christians, a way of shoring up the convictions and arguments of believers before sending them off to battle against the horror that is a secularized holiday season. Did I mention this pile of reindeer dung was co-produced by Liberty University?
Of course, we're never bombarded with reminders about the true meaning of Easter, supposedly the most important holiday on the Christian calendar. That's probably because only Christians care about Easter—which renders it an ineffective conversion opportunity. Cameron's voiceover is pretty explicit on this point: "It's time to step out of the car, out of the quiet and safe place where we've been hiding. It's time to tell everyone that every inch of this creation belongs to Jesus." That's the whole point of all this War on Christmas crap—Cameron and Liberty and their comrades are attempting to seize a communal bowl of candy and say nuh-uh, you can't have it unless you convert!
Look, if you can't look at an evergreen without seeing a cross, that's no skin off my nose (as long as you're not chasing me around screeching about the offensiveness of the phrase "Happy Holidays"). But that's exactly who ought to be offended by this movie. You see, it isn't Jesus being glorified here. It isn't Christmas, either. It's Kirk Cameron. His self-congratulatory grin is inescapable. He spends the whole movie lecturing and correcting "Christian." His name is in the title, his face on the posters. Here comes Kirk Cameron, Christmas messiah! This backlighting, good gravy, it's a case study in pridefulness:
Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas currently has a 10 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But it's performing well with faith-based audiences, so that bit about materialism should becoming soon to a Facebook argument near you.