I had two thoughts as I watched Disney’s latest production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, directed by Robert Zemeckis. One was that I’m glad I didn’t go to the 3-D version! The other was that I’m glad I’m not a small child. The movie was simultaneously terrifying -- and slow moving. It’s hard to believe it will be a hit with the younger set, or that parents will even want to risk it.
Which is a shame, because despite the drawbacks in the current film, the story and its message remain important. As Jews we need to put aside the ever-present Christmas theme and ignore Dickens’s slightly anti-Semitic portrayal of avaricious characters, and instead focus on the possible lessons to be learned.
Perhaps the most famous passage in A Christmas Carol occurs near the beginning of the adventure when Scrooge receives a terrifying (I jumped out of my seat!) nighttime visit from the ghost of Jacob Marley. Marley appears wearing the “chains he forged in life” -- through his greed and self-interest and lack of compassion for others. He comes to warn his former partner of the dangers of that path.
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” Scrooge replies.
“Business!" cried the Ghost, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
This is, of course, the point. But Scrooge needs to see it all laid out for him -- the pain of the past, the potential for the future -- before the idea is real to him, before he can change.
Most of us aren’t given that opportunity. We aren’t visited by ghosts and we don’t travel through time, in either direction.
But we can all reflect on the folly of self-absorption and selfishness, on the dangers of indifference to others, on the price we will ultimately pay for time ill-spent, time that can never be recouped or reacquired.
This is true for us as individuals as well as in any positions of leadership we play -- whether it’s community work, politics or as the CEO of a large corporation. “Mankind should be our business.” It should never be business as usual. The needs of others should always be paramount. Individuals and corporations are accountable.
John F. Kennedy recognized this is a speech he gave to the Florida State Chamber of Commerce on November 18, 1963 (note the date -- it certainly gives his words an added poignancy; yes, time really is short):
“I realize that there are some businessmen who feel only they want to be left alone, that Government and politics are none of their affairs, that the balance sheet and profit rate of their own corporation are of more importance than the worldwide balance of power of the Nationwide rate of unemployment. But I hope it is not rushing the season to recall to you the passage from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol… [here he quotes the passage we mentioned above] Member and guests of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, whether we work in the White House of the State House of the in a house of industry or commerce, mankind is our business. And if we work in harmony, if we understand the problems of each other and the responsibilities that each of us bears, then surely the business of mankind will prosper. And your children and mine will move ahead in a securer world, and one in which there is opportunity for them all.”
Click the media player to watch a video of the speech (article continues below).
This is a lofty goal, a noble goal. We may not reach it, but it is worth striving for. Although I didn’t enjoy Disney’s latest effort, I do believe that a high quality presentation of Dickens’ famous story (perhaps one of the earlier versions) will help drive the point home and keep it reverberating in our hearts and minds for days and weeks (and perhaps even longer) to come. That’s the real power of movies after all.
Click below to watch the movie trailer