Recently we watched the movie Miracle on 34th Street (the 1994 version). My ears were a bit more attentive to what was actually being said in the movie this year vs. in years past. At any point, the next day found me sitting at the PC and replaying selected scenes from the DVD and capturing some key phrases from the movie to share today in this post.
If you have not seen this movie and you think you might, please skip this post. I’m sure to give some things away that you would rather not know before you watch the movie.
OK, let’s start with the title. Miracle on 34th Street. I never really stopped to consider the significance of the word ‘miracle’ in the title before. But this morning as I was once again reading Major Ian Thomas I came across this (purely coincidentally, I’m sure – NOT), “A miracle is something that happens for which there is no possible explanation except God.” I can tell you that God gets no credit for the perceived miracle in this movie. And Santa Claus gets all the credit …
Here is the basic premise of the movie: Dorey Walker is a divorced mother who now is a manager for Cole’s Department Store in NYC … on 34th Street. As such, she is responsible for the annual Thanksgiving Parade and the Christmas activities/marketing at the store. On the spur of the moment, she must hire a replacement Santa for the parade … and ends up hiring the “real” one, Kriss Kringle (this is the spelling used in the movie). Dorey’s daughter, Susan, is probably 6-7 years old and already knows the secret, ‘There is not really a Santa Claus – Mom buys her presents.” The Walker’s neighbor and Dorey’s romantic interest is Bryan Bedford, a lawyer … who is a pseudo ‘believer’ in Santa Claus and who for the entire movie, basically is undermining Dorey’s parental authority with her daughter Susan (this critic’s evaluation) and in conjunction with Kriss is trying to convince her to believe that Santa is ‘real’. Due to a set-up by a competing store, Kriss Kringle is arrested and a big trial ensues where Bryan Bedford must first prove that Santa Claus is real and then that his client, Kriss Kringle, is indeed that person. There’s more … but that is the basic premise.
Brian schedules a number of activities where Dorey’s daughter, Susan, spends time with Kriss Kringle even going so far as taking her to sit on his lap at the store … only to then be caught in the act by her mom Dorey. As Dorey leads Susan away from the Santa throne (think about that … the kids coming before Santa on the throne seeking their reward for good behavior. Also, Santa has a nice list … and a naughty list), Bryan whispers to Kriss ‘Nonbelievers’.
Eventually, as a result of the actions of Bryan and Kriss, Susan begins to doubt what her mother has always told her and one evening approaches her to talk about her doubts. In the midst of that conversation, Dorey tells her daughter about the importance of truth:
“Truth is one of the most important things in the world – to know the truth and always be truthful with others, and more importantly, with yourself. And believing in myths and fantasies, just makes you unhappy.”
I would really have been happy, if the screenwriters then chose to insert the following as part of the dialogue:
“Susan, you need to know that the real truth of Christmas is not found in Santa Claus. It is found in Jesus. Jesus is the way, the TRUTH and the life. And while believing in myths and fantasies just makes one unhappy, a belief in Jesus will bring you into the midst of His joy … and your joy IN Him will be made full and complete.” (John 14:6, John 15:11)
Alas, the screenwriters did NOT choose such a path. Instead this really became the turning point in the movie, as Susan began to test the Santa myth and through the wonders of movie magic and some interesting dialogue – truth was redefined … sort of.
I say sort of because Bryan’s closing arguments at the Santa trial, reveal something else. (please note Santa is being pushed thru a trial and the reason he is allowing such a trial to occur is because he is willing, like Jesus, to sacrifice himself for the children … this is scary stuff when truly considered for what’s said … subtle entertainment propaganda of the highest magnitude).
Here are the final two statements of Bryan’s closing argument. Consider the first statement in the light of what Jesus has done and is doing on behalf of His children …
“Kriss Kringle is willing to sacrifice himself for children to create in their minds a world far better than the one we have made for them. (BW – excuse me … who created the world we live in?)
If the court rules there is no Santa Claus, then I would ask the court to rule which is worse: a lie that draws a smile … or a truth that draws a tear.”
I couldn’t tell you how many times I have watched this movie through the years, but this final viewing was the first time I really heard that last sentence …
‘… which is worse: a lie that draws a smile … or a truth that draws a tear.’
Think about it … despite his so-called belief in Santa, Bryan Bedford is asking the judge to rule in favor of a lie … because it draws a smile. WOW!
Finally, the judge must make his ruling and he is has decided to rule against Santa Claus. But suddenly he comes to a new conclusion based on what he observed regarding a one dollar bill inserted into a Christmas card he received from little Susan just as he was about to read his decision (one which he then just crumpled up and tossed aside).
“It’s a one dollar bill … she reminded me of the fact that it’s issued by the Treasury Department of the United States of America, and it’s backed by the government and the people … of the United States of America. Upon inspection of the article you will see the words, “In God We Trust”. Now we’re not here to prove that God exists, but we are here to prove that a being just as invisible … and yet, just as present exists. The Federal Government puts its trust in God. It does so on faith and faith alone. It’s the will of the people that guides the government. And it is and was their collective faith in a greater being … that gave and gives cause to the inscription on this bill. If the government of the United States can issue its currency … bearing a declaration of trust in God without demanding physical evidence … of the existence or nonexistence of a greater being, the State of New York by a similar demonstration by the collective faith of its people, can accept and acknowledge that Santa Claus does exist, and he exists in the person of Kriss Kringle! Case dismissed!”
For all you folks out there, that think I just have a vivid imagination or maybe a bit of a bah humbug streak (and nothing could be further from the truth about me … I love the Christmas season); there it is. Just as the collective faith of the people confirms the existence of the unseen God, a similar collective faith of the people in Santa Claus will also confirm his existence.
God and Santa Claus are therefore both justified using the same rationale … the collective faith of the people.
(I guess the judge’s ruling also means “In Santa We Trust” …)
Even though where Santa Claus is concerned, it is not really a collective faith of the people but is instead an elaborate game of pretend and deception, a ruse so to speak, played not with but on the children in the guise of truth, faith, wonder and joy. How often are children told to “Just believe!” in magic of Santa?
Based on this post, it may surprise you to find that I believe this version of Miracle on 34th Street is an extremely insightful and though provoking movie. It’s only a good family movie to the extent, which parents discuss the truths revealed in the midst of the movie with their children. Nonetheless, it is no longer in our Christmas DVD collection.
I don’t know about you, but I really prefer the miracle in a manger … God with us … Immanuel.
Glory to God in the highest … glory to God in the highest!
Note: This post was originally published in December 2008.