Monday, December 26, 2005

The common welfare was my business” is the essence of Dickens’ message to his fellow Londoners, where many lived in unspeakable poverty in a heavily polluted city (in Dickens, the London fog was not romantic—it was more like smog laden with disease.)

But since Scrooge is such a monster at the beginning of the story, Stewart got the opportunity to play a person behaving badly that he didn’t get on Star Trek. It is also a full part (even when he’s restricted to playing only Scrooge in the film) that showed Scrooge as sullen and mean, then frightened, humbled but still trying to retain control in his encounters with the ghosts, and then his second chance transformation and its aftermath. Stewart is more than adequate to the challenge each step of the way. His performance is a triumph.

More than a decade earlier, George C. Scott did a TV movie version of the story, and put his stamp on Scrooge’s transformation upon waking up on Christmas morning with his sudden, gleeful jumping up and down on his bed, when he realizes he has been given the chance to redeem himself. Stewart managed an even better effect in this crucial scene: he begins to choke, the choking sounds accelerate, and suddenly it turn into laughter. Scrooge had not laughed in so long it was physically wrenching to get one out. It’s not only an inspired idea, Stewart made it work beautifully.

But equally impressive is his attitude when he shows up for Christmas dinner at his nephew’s house, after this transformation. Though he’s been ebullient in the street, wishing a Merry Christmas to everyone he passes, when he gets to his nephew’s house he is suddenly shy and embarrassed. He slides into the dining room as if expecting to be rejected. It’s a terrific moment.

Dickens may seem a bit simplistic to us now, or even not realistic, because his selfish rich are mean and penny-pinching, whereas the rich of our era go in for conspicuous consumption and high times. But in linking virtue with healthy high spirits and family affections, Christmas charity with making merry on Christmas, Dickens is making a case for a good society in which social responsibility and the pursuit of happiness go hand in hand. It is a general theory of love. And not so different from Jean-Luc Picard’s Star Trek century.

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