Trailer for A Christmas Carol by Disney Pictures
I’VE always enjoyed A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy but cantankerous old man who looks upon Christmas with disdain and is only challenged to change when visited by ghosts. This classic Dickensian tale so resonates with human nature that it has been translated for radio, screen and stage many a time, from as far back as the 1840s. New versions of this enchanting, if occasionally terrifying, story continue to be frequently produced. Moviegoers were only recently treated to a feature-length version of the tale of Scrooge, courtesy of Disney Pictures, in full animated and optional 3-D glory.
I was also part of a production of A Christmas Carol that the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre produced last year. The script was by the late UK writer John Mortimer, and it was the first ever full-scale performance of the material on stage to a Malaysian audience.
This Christmas, looking at developments in the country that affect us all, I sometimes wonder if we are living in a Victorian tale of gloom — A Malaysian Carol, if you will.
The story of Scrooge
Scrooge’s story is really one about transformation. But that transformation does not take place without some jolts and self-reflection.
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge puts his own miserly interests above those in his employ, and the needy — or both, in the case of his overworked and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit, who is forced to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Scrooge figuratively spits in the eye of carollers; he yells at innocent, wide-eyed children playing on the streets; he grunts, “Bah! Humbug!” — his well-known, disgruntled expletive.
Then Scrooge is visited by four ghosts. The first is that of his former business partner Jacob Marley, who warns him that he will be visited by three other ghosts. “Nonsense!” Scrooge proclaims. “Balderdash and fiddlesticks!” But then the spectres arrive — the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and To Come — and Scrooge is taken on a journey through time, one that teaches him the meaning of generosity, kindness and forgiveness. Scrooge becomes a different person — the person he once was, only better.
In the Malaysian production of A Christmas Carol, Darius Taraporvala brought Scrooge to life, from the cranky fuddy-duddy in scene one, to the exuberant, almost youthful, heel-clicking philanthropist in the finale.
What about Malaysia’s own past, present and future ghosts?
I’m told that once upon a time, our country didn’t have so much turbulence broiling on and under the surface. People generally got along, smiled, greeted each other and were courteous. Folks accepted and embraced diversity, or, at the very least, were neighbourly. Our nation’s leaders were once a more inclusive lot. Sure, there were one or two untoward incidents, but for the most part, the story goes, we were as a nation more understanding, tolerant, compassionate… youthful.
Today, things seem to be headed down a darker road. Parties bicker with each other; decisions are made that disregard the rights of others. We quarrel about money, about religion, about justice, about equality. People seem to be spitting in the eye of fellow Malaysians; putting their own interests first; looking down upon the less fortunate. Parents no longer feel safe letting their wide-eyed, innocent children play on the streets. “Bah! Humbug!” rings forth from many disgruntled quarters.
While we’re fortunate that many of us don’t have to work on Christmas Day — or any other festive holiday, for that matter — we seem to be morphing, collectively, into a national Scrooge.
But Scrooge wasn’t a bad person, not really. Deep down inside him, there was good; there was humanity. He just forgot himself, and needed a good wake-up call in the form of spirits past, present and future. Scrooge understood, thanks to these ghouls, that every decision he made could positively or adversely impact the lives of those around him. Learning from history, and changing in the moment, could make a difference in time to come.
And so, again, we have a case of real life imitating art. This Christmas, I wish for a more compassionate and united country to call home. May we not need the Ghosts of Malaysia Past, Present and To Come to make us better citizens, better leaders, and a better nation. Like Scrooge, may we also understand that while it’s not too late for change, it can only come out of a will to change. And this desire is born of mutual acceptance, forgiveness and respect for one and all.
Merry Christmas, and God bless us everyone.
Nick Choo also wishes everyone a Happy New Year. See you in 2010!
Read previous Merely Playing columns
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