In a market dominated by super heroes, let’s focus on one of the more overlooked forces of good.
He has the power of flight, talks to animals, wields a TARDIS-like bag that is bigger on the inside, and can seemingly manipulate time itself. Despite this, he only gets attention once a year.
I speak, of course, of the jolly big man himself – Saint Nicholas, AKA Santa Claus! HO-YEAH!
The Netflix original, A Boy Called Christmas, thrusts his origins into the spotlight. This shouldn’t be considered a spoiler. Title aside, the main character is named Nikolas! Even the youngest of viewers should put that one together.
Our tale opens with a Princess Bride-like device of a elderly Aunt Ruth (Maggie Smith) babysitting three children who are struggling through the first holiday season without their mother. Will their grief rob them of a Merry Christmas, or can Aunt Ruth transcend their skepticism? She attempts to do so with the power of story telling!
So the kids are told of the world of 11-year-old Nikolas (Henry Lawfull), living in the woods of Finland with his father, Joel (Michiel Huisman). It’s a protagonist with familiar struggles, for Nikolas has also lost his mother.
Nikolas would often find himself enthralled by tales of Elfheim, in which a little girl gets lost in the woods and is befriended and protected by a community of, well, elves. It’s a story that his mother always insisted was based in reality and would often request his father to recite to him at bedtime (for those of you keeping score at home, yes, this is a situation of a someone telling a story within the story of someone telling a story. Thankfully, it stopped right there before we went full Inception!).
The two are happy, but barely scraping by. Joel finds a potential ticket out when the king (Jim Broadbent), suffering from low approval ratings, offers a hefty reward for anyone who can provide hope to a kingdom that is lacking. Might Joel find salvation for the family if he could discover and bring back proof of the legendary Elfheim?
Joel sets off to find out, leaving Nikolas in the seemingly capable hands of his sister, Carlotta (Kristen Wigg). She turns out selfish and mean. COLD! So off Nicholas goes in pursuit of his father, along with his only friend, the mouse Miika (voiced by Stephen Merchant, providing much of the screenplay’s comedic punch).
Holiday Lessons With a Little Noosh
Adventures ensue! It’s a perilous journey that finds him face to face with reindeer, trolls, and an explosive-obsessed pixie who can only tell the truth (Zoe Margaret Colletti, who steals the show in a performance I can only describe as adorably psycho). And, of course, elves, headlined by a grandfather-granddaughter Father Topo and Little Noosh (Toby Jones and Indica Watson). In rescuing Nikolas, the duo immediately set the tone for the movie, namely lessons in kindness and goodwill, even to strangers.
Elfheim proves to be as magical as the stories promised, but it is no longer the merry place it once was. Betrayed by outsiders, head elf Mother Vodol (Sally Hawkins), had taken the rather extraordinary measures of closing the borders. Meanwhile, Nikolas falls in with a band of resistance tasked with keeping the spirit of Christmas alive!
Setting Itself Apart by ‘Going There’
A Boy Called Christmas is hardly the first film to explore the origins of Santa Claus, joining the likes of the classic Rankin/Bass animated Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970), the Generation X nostalgia-driven Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) and the comedic Tim Allen vehicle, The Santa Clause (1994).
The aforementioned films keep things light. Boy sets itself apart with its mature themes, dealing with heavy topics such as trauma and loss, cruelty and hardship. Does that equate to “not for kids”? Not necessarily, says Matt Haig, author of the book and source material.
“Lots of children have had dark experiences, and if they are not having direct dark experiences they are thinking about things and learning that life is fragile. You have to acknowledge that side of life to be able to then offer comfort and hope and goodwill,” Haig said in an interview with The Bookseller.
As if to affirm this, Aunt Ruth offers this observation as she breaks from the story: “Grief is the price we pay for love, and worth it a million times over.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as the film settles into a fine balance.
There is plenty of fun to be had as Nikolas learns the origins of traditions such as the British custom of Christmas crackers that pop and reveal the paper hats and silly jokes.
I won’t reveal how things come together in the end, but I did appreciate the film’s emphasis on showing kindness and grace, particularly upon our enemies. We are used to, maybe even conditioned, to expecting our antagonists to get what they deserve! It’s somewhat refreshing to receive something counter to that.
The stellar cast is in top form and sells it.
Help Others to Help Yourself
We would do well to follow the lead of Nikolas and his friends. When we make an active decision to be kind to someone, we are not only helping them but we are helping ourselves. It’s not a matter of opinion. Science supports this!
According to the Mayo Clinic, kindness – showing generosity and compassion, with expectations of nothing in return – increases empathy, self esteem, and even improves the mood.
It can help lower both blood pressure and the release of cortisone, which is also known as the “stress hormone.” Conversely, we then see a rise and serotonin and dopamine. These are neurotransmitters that give us feelings of satisfaction and well-being.
Simply ask yourself: How am I being kind today? Help others to help yourself. Talk about a win-win.
Revenge is a Dish Best Served Not at All
Anyone who is well versed in their Star Trek lore have likely heard the Klingon proverb, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Using that logic, grace must be warm. Think of that food metaphor and it adds up to some positivity. Words like serving and a helping.
When we’ve been wronged, our natural impulse is to wrong someone back. Make them feel the pain to make ourselves feel better! But is this a healthy way to react?
Seeking revenge on someone would likely just perpetuate a cycle and generally cause more misery and pain in the long run. It helps no one, neither you or the offender! To that end, Psychology Today recommends the following steps:
- Wait until you are calm emotionally and then think rationally before making a decision.
- Consider whether the loss of trust is justified. Is it a misunderstanding or a miscommunication? A problem that can be solved?
- Learn from the experience.
- Focus on what is in your control and take the next steps.
- Practice acceptance that it is more about them and not about you. Our response. That is about us.
Nikolas wasn’t the only hero in the business of inflicting kindness around on his enemies. Enter Spider-Man!
NOTE: DO NOT CLICK THE BOX BELOW IF YOU DON’T WANT SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME SPOILED. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Maybe we are seeing a new story telling trend developing here?
Where to Watch
A Boy Called Christmas is currently streaming on Netflix.
What do you think? Is revenge worth it? Have you experienced some of the positive effects that acts of kindness can hold over the lives of others and yourself? Let me know in the comments below.
A Boy Called Christmas (2021)
Director: Gil Kenan
Screenwriters: Ol Parker, Gil Kenan
Cast: Henry Lawfull, Kristen Wigg, Michiel Huisman, Maggie Smith, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Toby Jones, Stephen Merchant, Zoe Colletti
Rated: PG, for peril, action and thematic elements
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Scott is a movie lover who brings over 20 years experience in mental health, journalism and vocational ministry. He has a Masters of Divinity degree, which is not nearly as amazing sounding as Masters of the Universe, but it is what it is. It is here at Movies That Move Us where his powers combine! It is not uncommon to find him pretending to open automatic doors using The Force.