How the Grinch (almost) Stole Christmas

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One movie in our DVD must-watch collection is the 2000 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Jim Carrey in the title role. It’s based on Theodore (Doctor Seuss) Geisel’s 1957 book by the same name. Making a feature length movie out of a children’s storybook requires much expansion of the original. The writers of the screenplay created an entire past for the Grinch that makes him a somewhat sympathetic character and explains why he hated Christmas and the residents of Whoville. They also needed to add several extra scenes and plot points to the story, while staying true to Seuss’s rhyming style.

You may or may not be a fan, but Jim Carrey could not have been a better choice. If ever a role called for his maniacal style, this one does. Carrey delivers. I think it’s his performance and the brilliant makeup work that bring me back to this movie. My favourite lines do not appear in the book, like when the Grinch steps on the scale to discover his heart is down a size and he promises, “This time, I’m keeping it off!”

When the Grinch receives the invitation from Cindy Lou Who to their Whobilation festivities, Carrey adlibs. Flipping the pages of his calendar, the Grinch reads his tight schedule aloud:

“Four o’clock, wallow in self-pity; Four-thirty, stare into the abyss; Five o’clock, solve world hunger, tell no one; Five-thirty, jazzercize; Six-thirty, dinner with me—I can’t cancel that again; Seven, wrestle with my self-loathing. I’m booked.”

The part where the Grinch teases director Ron Howard by donning Howard’s famous ball cap and “directing” Max the dog on how to play a reindeer was all Jim Carrey’s. Howard loved it and left it in.

Like most Christmas movies, this one makes no references to the real Christmas. Its redemption comes in the lessons on bullying and its long-range results, on the emptiness of consumerism, and on the value of community, love, and goodwill.

But the real Christmas did include a grinch. His name was Herod the Great and he, too, had a past. Known for his architectural ambitions, this king of Judea was brutal. He executed members of his own family, banished at least one wife in order to “marry up” politically, and unfairly taxed the Judeans. Scholars agree Herod suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia. He was so concerned no one would mourn his death that he commanded several distinguished men to be killed at the time of his own death to ensure the displays of grief he craved would take place. Fortunately, this order was not carried out.

One equally horrific command was realized, however. King Herod felt so threatened when he learned about the birth of Jesus Christ, he determined to have the child murdered. When his initial plan was thwarted, he ordered all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem killed. While scholars tell us the total number of babies murdered would have been a dozen or so (not hundreds like is sometimes portrayed), I’ve sometimes wondered how I would have felt toward Jesus years later if I’d been one of those bereft mothers and if I understood why my child had died.

Jesus escaped this massacre, thanks to a warning given to Joseph in a dream. Like the Grinch’s, Herod’s attempt at stealing Christmas failed. Not long afterwards, Herod died an excruciating death.

Unlike the Grinch, Herod never experienced an epiphany. He never came to understand that, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.”