CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS
2 Stars – Entertaining
by Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin
"Reprinted with permission by cinemainfocus.com"
The cultural expectations of Christmas can become an expensive burden on a family. Rather than focusing on the event as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the focus can be on lights and decorations, parties and presents. When the children leave home and the necessity for this burden is lifted, there are those who decide to “skip Christmas.” Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora Krank (Jamie Lee Curtis) are two of those people.
Based on a novel written by John Grisham, Joe Roth creates a comedic version full of the usual sight gags of the Tim Allen genre. Full of laughs and a wholesome moral message, the “magic” of the film is not found in Jesus, but in a Volkswagen-Driving-Santa.
The scene is set when Luther and Nora’s only daughter, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), leaves at Thanksgiving to spend the next year in Peru working for the Peace Corps. Having traditionally thrown themselves and their modest fortune into their annual Christmas decorations and party, in keeping with the expectations of their suburban-Chicago neighborhood, the Kranks decide to skip Christmas and go on a Caribbean cruise instead. But rather than quietly going, Luther prints a letter for his coworkers in which he explains that he won’t be celebrating Christmas this year.
Although the pressure on the Kranks is artificially inflated, their decision raises a tired question that many ask during the hectic days of Christmas: Why are we going to such expense and bother? Is this just a cultural moment that we can forgo, or is there something inherent in the event that is important to continue?
Though the film never mentions Jesus, whose birthday Christmas celebrates, the message of thinking first of others and not of ourselves is clearly presented. It is most pointedly presented in the person of Luther Krank.
Named after the reformer who protested the Roman Catholic church’s control, this Luther protests the control society has over his Christmas celebration. He decides he will give no presents and engage in no merriment. He will, instead, get a tan, go to the Caribbean and indulge himself.
Though we won’t spoil what happens to his plan, the film demonstrates the next phase of the evolution of this holiday. In a desire to be sensitive to those from other religions, we have shifted our practice away from the Christian “Holy-day” where we wished one another a “Merry Christmas,” to an inoffensive and innocuous greeting of “Happy Holiday.” This removed Christ from the center of Christmas and left us as a society only with the trappings and decorations of the event. Without a central purpose for the celebration, the empty decorations and obligatory gift-giving only become an unfulfilling burden. It is natural that Luther and many others like him, would want to just skip the whole thing.
The cure for this is to honor the Christian faith by being respectful when Christians celebrate their beliefs. In a nation where there is true freedom of religion, each faith has the opportunity to keep their core beliefs at the center of their holy-days and not “take offense” at others doing the same. This respectful attitude is far more powerful than a tenuous “tolerance,” or an innocuous politically correct non-religion that requires each religion to abandon its beliefs in order to share the same social fabric.
Luther Krank learns a valuable lesson about self-sacrifice which is the core teaching of Jesus Christ. Sacrificially putting others before self is the result that celebrating Christmas is meant to produce – with this message we can all agree!
1. The Kranks discovered that they spend over $6,000 annually on their Christmas decorations, party and gifts. Do you believe this is wasted money? Why or why not? What do you think they could have done with this money that would have been more in line with Christ’s teachings?
2. Do you believe the anger of the neighbors came from their religious beliefs or the conformity requirements in suburbia? How much of Christmas do you believe are requirements of conformity and have little to do with Jesus?
3. The importance of family is clearly seen in the film. What do you believe your parents do because you are in their life that they would stop if you were gone? What do you do differently as a parent simply because you have children? What is wrong with this?
4. From what motivation do you believe Luther’s gift to his neighbors came from: his not wanting the $3,000 he had paid for the cruise to be wasted, or his sincere desire to help them have a last, romantic time together before she dies of cancer?