Film Torments: Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (2014)

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DELAYED by technical mishaps, this week’s Christmas Month Torment depicts an insane man explaining, at length, the truth behind Christmas traditions – Rich takes on (Kirk Cameron’s) Saving Christmas.

There have been a swathe of low-budget, high-publicity Christian films as of late which, although they receive limited theatrical runs, manage to qualify themselves as Razzie candidates. Christian mythology has been the source of countless films for over a century with some beautiful and profound work among them that even a cynical atheist like me can appreciate, so the sword-and-sandals epics are not what I’m talking about. No, there’s a new tide of films made deliberately for the Fox News audience feeling threatened by the surge of irreligious diversity… and they are a comedic goldmine.

It’s an unfair generalisation to say that Christians, particularly in the USA where their religion is supposed to have no state protection, have a persecution complex. Especially as Christmas rolls around, these paranoid conservatives prepare themselves for a war which absolutely nobody is actually waging. These people pretty much buy whatever their talky-box tells them as long as they can’t paint themselves as the noblest victim. They need a leader, one who is a marginally relevant celebrity with more money than his ego knows how to moderate.

Enter Kirk Cameron. Kirk was a successful child actor turned teen heartthrob in the mid-80s to early-90s best known for playing the teenage son of the Seaver family in the sitcom Growing Pains. The same show would later introduce the world to Leonardo DiCaprio and starred Alan Thicke as the father of the house (his fictional son Kirk is nowhere near as loathsome as his actual son Robin), but Kirk was at the time the breakaway star.

A couple of years into the show’s successful primetime run, baby-faced Kirk became a born-again Christian, and the entire show suffered for it. He alienated many of his cast members and demanded that storylines be rewritten in accordance with his values, right down to not kissing his on-screen love interests. To his credit Kirk has apologised for this behaviour and made peace with his co-stars, but his reputation has been permanently sullied and he now rarely appears in anything he doesn’t have a hand in producing.

Yeah, this guy.

Yeah, this guy.

Kirk often works with the “banana man” Ray Comfort, another born-again evangelical with whom he co-hosts the religious talk show The Way of the Master and manages the notoriously censorious YouTube channel Living Waters. Kirk has used his former fame and clean-cut image to speak on behalf of the unrepresented Christian minority, which we all know isn’t accurate but he needs to maintain the pretence to stay relevant.

After several melodramas with heavy-handed religious themes (this is the man you can thank for the non-Nic Cage Left Behind films), Kirk decided that Christmas 2014 was to be the season of Cameron. Saving Christmas was an unprecedented disaster, “winning” several Razzies and earning a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, both of which in Kirk’s egotistical mind are anti-Christian conspiracies which can’t possibly be influenced by disdain for the film itself.

Because this barely qualifies as a film. Sure, it’s over 70 minutes long, has opening and closing credits, consists of a series of edited moving images, has a soundtrack throughout and was screened in cinemas… but apart from that, it’s not a film. It’s more of an essay disguised as a film, while meeting little of the criteria for either.

I suspect that the film was supposed to be only aired on television or online during the writing and directing phase (which were the responsibility of Kirk’s co-lead Darren Doane), but Kirk managed to wrangle a theatrical run and it needed padding out to feature length. This film has more gratuitous slow-motion than 300, and was directed by Doane who has far more experience with music videos than film. The sound design, lighting and everything else is totally lacking in atmosphere or competence. I didn’t see this film on the big screen because my country is better than Kirk Cameron’s country, but it couldn’t look more like a direct-to-cable production and must have been even more tedious in the cinema. Even most online stuff has better production values than this.

An unrelated representation of tedium.

An unrelated representation of tedium.

So what’s the film about? Honestly, it’s about almost nothing substantial. Kirk and Darren play a strawman “positive Christian” and a strawman “negative Christian” combined (the negative Christian is literally named Christian, by the way) and they step out of a party to enjoy a long conversation in Christian’s car. Christian doesn’t believe that Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus and other secular and pagan customs fit into Christmas. Kirk manages to address these spontaneous questions with the most perfectly scripted and impossibly reasoned arguments ever, and Christian is immediately convinced by every single one.

Historically, scripturally and logically, very little of what Kirk says is accurate or constructive, but the film frames it as if it is. It was at this point that I realised how severely Kirk’s ego was impacting on this project: when they named it “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” they didn’t just mean “Kirk Cameron is presenting a film named Saving Christmas” with the apostrophe working in the possessive tense. They mean KIRK CAMERON IS SAVING CHRISTMAS! Don’t panic, persecuted Christians, Kirk’s got this! Not since Santa Claus conquered the Martians and the Grinch stole and then unstole Christmas has Christmas been in such heroic hands.

The tagline for the film was “Put Christ back in Christmas”, which is a familiar and obnoxious declaration by those dreading their imaginary, airtime-padding war. However, the film actually sets out to do the opposite. Saving Christmas is about shoehorning Christmas into Christ. It’s scriptural revisionism, using quasi-religious rhetoric to justify secular materialism.

This is St. Nick, right before he violently beats the shit out of a man.

This is St. Nick, right before he violently beats the shit out of a man.

Kirk encourages the viewers that it’s just fine to have your cake and eat it too. You can observe the birth of Christ AND have a family piss-up with gaudy wrapping paper strewn across your upper-middle class house. It doesn’t matter that there are legions of homeless people freezing to death outside and the local soup kitchen is understaffed; Jesus wants you to be selfish, guys! Slow motion dance-off for Jesus!

And you know what? I’m not offended by the message Kirk puts out there, because I love me a cheesy secular Christmas where your family focus on each other more than the world outside. Because you only get so much time with the people you love. If wrenching the solstice back from Christians the way they wrenched it from those before them means we get that warm happy feeling that the impending doom of our mortal souls isn’t such a big deal, then I’m all for it.

But twisting the Jesus myth to justify our day of self-indulgence in a filibuster you have to pay to watch… yeah, even most Christians probably feel patronised. Kirk Cameron outright begged his fans to give this film enough thumbs-ups and IMDB boosts to drag it out of the all-time worst lists, and in the most profound Christmas epiphany since Scrooge, he learned a valuable lesson about demanding applause for inexcusably lazy bullshit.

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