‘90s alt-rockers Everclear once sang “I hate those people who love to tell you ‘money is the root of all that kills / They have never been poor, they have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas.”
Well, child actor-turned-evangelist Kirk Cameron has never known such a Christmas either. He, too, hates people who espouse that particular saying, but for a reason unrelated to singer Art Alexakis’ daddy issues. Cameron seems to hate those people quoting 1 Timothy because they make him feel awkward about his excessive celebration on his favorite holiday, so he does what any millionaire with no self-awareness would do: He spends $500K making a movie that justifies his behavior!
And that’s what gets us to the 2014 release Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas.
Now, pay attention to that apostrophe, kids. That’s not the possessive apostrophe, like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. No, that is the contraction form of the word, as if to say “Kirk Cameron IS saving Christmas,” and he wants to make damn sure that you know that he, Kirk Cameron, is doing it. To that end, Kirk Cameron starts off Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas with a four-minute lecture to the audience about how any person who doesn’t love Christmas is “listening to the wrong people,” implying of course, that he is the right person.
So what exactly is Kirk saving Christmas from? From the title and the star’s reputation, you’d assume that this is a movie about the so-called “War On Christmas”, wherein Kirk must lead a rag-tag group of Christ-loving kids on a wild romp to fight against a misanthropic Atheist businessman who wants to take the nativity scene away from the community center. I mean, just look at the poster:
Instead, Kirk’s target is an utterly baffling one: Other Christians.
Specifically, the ones who complain that Christmas is too materialistic and forgets the reason for the season. These are the people he is mad at. Imagine a version of A Charlie Brown Christmas where Charlie Brown says he doesn’t know what Christmas is all about, and instead of quoting the book of Luke, Linus traps him in Snoopy’s doghouse for an hour and lectures him on why shiny metallic Christmas trees are really amazing and how he’s a real blockhead for not understanding that material goods are wonderful. That is what this movie is.
The entire film takes place at a Christmas party in what appears to be Kirk Cameron’s house. Kirk’s enjoyment of the party is halted when he asks his sister about his brother-in-law Christian White. (Really, that’s seriously his name, I am not making that up). She tells him that Christian “really just isn’t into Christmas this year”, although she doesn’t really seem too bothered with it. When Christian sneaks out of the party to sit in his car so his bad mood doesn’t affect the other partygoers, Kirk feels he must intervene. Literally, that’s… that’s the whole movie. Two guys sit in a car having a conversation about Christmas. This is EIGHTY MINUTES LONG.
Christian’s depression comes from his reflection on his family’s extravagant celebration. “How many mouths could we have fed with the money we spent on this?” he questions. “How many wells could we have dug?” This seems like an impossible point to argue, and yet Kirk proceeds to do so, explaining how modern Christmas traditions have biblical roots through a series of… well, I can’t call them “vignettes”, because nothing actually happens in them. They’re more like video dioramas, except for the St. Nick one which I’ll get to later.
Here are the three topics that Kirk covers in his feature-length PowerPoint presentation, and his justifications for each:
- Nativity Scenes: I’m not actually sure why Kirk feels the need to explain this one, but okay, sure. His bizarre explanation asserts that somehow biblical farmers fed their livestock in caves out of troughs carved from stone instead of wooden barns, and that’s not the weirdest part. He also suggests that the cloth baby Jesus was wrapped in doubled as the Turin shroud adult Jesus was buried in, and this is symbolic somehow. Perhaps he was thinking of Superman.
- Christmas Trees: Kirk’s explanation basically boils down to: There are lots of trees in the Bible! Sometimes people put stuff on them! Adam ate from a tree, and Jesus hung from a cross that was made from trees! (Seriously, this is it.) He also takes this opportunity to discredit any relation between Christmas and the Winter Solstice with “Uh, excuse me, but didn’t GOD create the Winter Solstice when he put the planets in motion?!”
- Santa Claus: So here, Cameron tells the story of St. Nicholas, the Constantine-era bishop who fought against Arias, a fellow bishop, during a convention of clergymen regarding the divinity of Jesus. Historically, the story is told that Nicholas got so heated over this that he slapped Arias in the face. But in Kirk Cameron’s version, St. Nick gets in a bar fight with Arias and beats the living shit out of him with a cane before leaving and going home to give blessings to the children in the village. You know, like a psychopath.
It only takes about an hour to get through all of these topics, and Christian White becomes a more and more transparent strawman throughout. The movie miraculously still has another 20 minutes to go after Christian and his unnamed wife reunite in their immaculate kitchen with two stainless-steel double-door fridges after a half-hour separation.
We are treated to a dance party, of course, but even after that we still have yet another ten minutes of Kirk Cameron pontification, wherein he says out loud the films morally deplorable message: “Don’t worry about people who say Christmas is materialistic. This is a celebration of the eternal God taking on a material body. So it’s only right that our holiday is marked with material things.” Kirk Cameron is going to get that camel through the eye of that needle, folks, and he wants you to see when he does.
On a technical level, the medium inadvertently supports the message here.
The visuals here are clearly shot on hi-definition RED cameras, but abysmally formed. Since the entire film is just a visual aid for Kirk Cameron’s lecture, there’s no need for visual storytelling or basic composition. The majority of the movie is three shots of two men in a car. We have people making genuine masterpieces on iPhones now, but the direction here seems like a couple of kids playing with an expensive toy they don’t really know how to use.
To be fair, this is true of most dialogue-heavy films, especially comedies. But when filmmakers like Adam McKay or Judd Apatow just set up the cameras and let their actors riff, the people on screen can carry it and an editor can clean up the pace. Kirk and Christian’s back-and-forth in the car is obviously very lightly scripted, but it goes on forever and says nothing, other than giving Kirk another excuse to look smarter than other Christians – I mean, than Christian.
Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas isn’t just bad, despicable, and bordering on sacrilege; its very existence is baffling.
At times it feels dirty to watch, like we’re seeing outsider art made by a mentally ill, delusional man. The only reason this movie exists is to make rich white Christians delete the cognitive dissonance between the teachings of their faith and literally every other aspect of their lives. (Which is why, surprise! It was co-produced by Jerry Falwell’s private university!) But those people don’t need reassuring; they don’t care. Except Kirk Cameron, apparently, who cares a lot. The only other possible audience, then, is poor or middle-class Christians, who will use its justifications to act against their own self-interests. I’ve seen many bad movies in this gig, but this is one of the few films whose existence actively makes the world worse.
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