GREMLINS (1984), Christmas, and the dark side of nostalgia.
NOTE: Originally published in THE MONSTER GOSPELS (2017). Photos added.
“First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight, it'll kill him. Second, don't give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight.”
Distributor: Warner Bros. Producer: Michael Finnell
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Chris Columbus
Runtime: 82 minutes
Scripture Reading: James 1:2-18
My favorite Christmas movie is Gremlins. I watch it every year with the same fervor that some people watch A Christmas Story. A struggling inventor discovers a strange creature called a Mogwai in a Chinese junk store. The owner, a wise old man, won't sell it, but the old man's grandson sneaks it to him in an alley behind the shop. The inventor wants to give it to his son Billy, an aspiring artist whose job at the bank supports the family. Gizmo, the Mogwai, comes with some very specific rules, and breaking them leads to the rise of a swarm of Gremlins.
The titular monsters of this film teach us a lesson in vice. The Gremlins are balls of manic destruction but can also be understood as metaphors for Sin. I'd even suggest that they represent the Seven Deadly Sins. Consider this: once the Gremlins have taken over Kingston Falls, what do they do? They gamble (Greed); they eat everything in sight (Gluttony); they “flash” Kate, the barmaid Billy is sweet on (Lust); they sabotage traffic lights and kill people (Wrath); they sing their own movie's theme song as a Christmas carol (Pride); they spitefully torture Gizmo (Envy); and they loaf around in bars and theaters instead of doing anything good or productive (Sloth).
And they are adorable!
Who's innocent in all of this? Gizmo, of course. He's the only “good” Mogwai. Technically, the bad ones all came from Gizmo, but they were only created because Billy didn't do his due diligence and follow the three rules:
1) No water, not even to drink. 2) No bright lights, especially sunshine.
3) No eating after midnight.
These rules are pretty straightforward, and it's worth noting that Billy didn't break any of them on purpose. Like most of us, his “sins” were just the result of a fundamental lack of vigilance. Billy knew that Gizmo wasn't supposed to get wet but let him have run of the bedroom, where the glass of water he used to wash his art brushes could spill.
Gizmo gets wet and the bad Mogwai pop out. Sin is born, just as our passage in James describes, but Sin wants to grow up. It's hungry, and only an after-midnight snack will do. Does Billy, having already shirked, double down on his efforts to be in control of the situation? Of course not! He lazily assumes that because his clock radio reads 11:40 that it's early enough and doesn't question it. Granted, any of us with a hungry, whiny cat could probably relate. Even so, he doesn't know what will happen if they eat after midnight. So far as Billy knows, eating after midnight could give them the sort of slow, painful death that Mrs. Deagle had in mind for Barney, the family dog. But no, rather than avoiding the risk by letting them go hungry, he feeds the Mogwai and offers food to Gizmo, who turns up his nose at the offer. Having eaten, the Mogwai metamorphose into Gremlins; the small sins become big ones – rampaging through town, murdering old ladies and Santa Clauses, and multiplying their way to the town movie theater to watch Snow White.
I'd still take this over watching all my movies on streaming.
Kingston Falls is so Main Street USA that The Blob could have taken place there.* It's the kind of neighborhood that our grandparents reminisce about when thinking of a simpler time that likely wasn't as good as they remember. It's idyllic. The town drunk is a harmless old veteran filled with stories about WWII. The town landlord is straight out of Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (which they will show you clips from in case you forget). Kingston Falls is paradise. But is it? Slowly, the veneer pulls away. We see a hungry family who Mrs. Deagle refuses to help. We learn with horror about how Kate discovered her father, pretending to be Santa, dead in a chimney. There are those who suggest that this scene is out of place, but it isn't. It's consistent with the tone of a movie which leads you behind the silver curtain, where at once you realize that what appears to be a screen of dancing, cartoon dwarfs on one side is a horde of ravening evil from a slightly different vantage point. And whether the shadows win or the dancing lights of our idealized youth depends not only on our choices, but the vigilance we exercise to maintain them.
- What are the “mogwai” of your life? What “rules” can you put in place to manage them?
- Have there been times when neglecting your responsibility led to bigger problems?
* = that joke is a lot funnier if you read the whole book. You can get your copy here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.