Love, Actually is the Best Modern-Day Christmas Film

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(Universal/ Everett/ Rex Shutterstock, 2018)

First things first, Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year to you all!

So, Christmas, if anything, is a time of very personal and intimate traditions between family and friends. As Abed in Community said “the meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning and it can be whatever we want”. The meaning of Christmas for me is seeing the Christmas lights, drinking lots of Eggnog and, of course, being with my family. Although, if you would notice, Christmas is not exactly Christmas to most people without the traditional family Christmas film. You cannot deny that every family has their own personal Christmas film they watch religiously around the holiday season for which properly gets them in the mood to spread Christmas cheer and festivities. Now, I may love films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Elf, The Polar Express and It’s A Wonderful Life, but I do have a clear favourite Christmas flick – one that stands out and has continued to be that single heavily necessary film for my family to watch in the lead up to Christmas.

You see, whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, especially around the holiday season, I watch Richard Curtis’ Love, Actually. General opinion’s starting to make out we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see any of that when I watch Love, Actually. When I watch Love, Actually, it appears to me that love truly is everywhere. And often, the topic of love may not particularly be dignified or newsworthy, but is always there, especially at Christmas and highlighted specifically in Love, Actually through means of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends… When Christmas rolls around every year, as far as I know, none of the communication between people are messages of hatred or anger – they’re all messages of love. And if you look closely at Love, Actually – at Christmas – at the world – I have a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.

Love, Actually is not what you would call a precisely perfect film. Some of the various stories do not always work, some characters are a bit sidelined and numerous sequences would show, director, Richard Curtis’s obvious rookie status as a filmmaker. However, Love, Actually is not exactly a film I watch wearing the goggles of a real film buff – Love, Actually is a film I watch wearing the goggles of a kid still infatuated with Christmas, complete with a Santa Claus shirt, reindeer antlers and elf socks. Love, Actually is a film I watch as I decorate my Christmas tree or straight after I go look at the Christmas lights in the suburbs, two minutes away from my house. Love, Actually is a film I watch with my family to get into the Christmas spirit, and although the film is not what you would call a traditional Christmas film, it’s messages are exactly the same messages preached by the Christmas season annually, with a predominate focus on the most important element of the holiday: LOVE.

For decades filmmakers and genuine artists have sought out their own meaning for the word ‘love’ and how it so deeply entwines with the ambiguous mystery of the human condition. The Graduate could be interpreted as an assessment of how love is not always the answer to life’s greatest yearnings as (500) Days of Summer only extended on said idea but more optimistically retained the concept that love is compulsive and will continue to surprise you. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind summarized that no matter what, its truly better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all whilst the Before trilogy sold the idea that love ages with people and never truly stays the same. However, a recent 2013 film from Spike Jonze, Her, summarized love in one of the most affirming ways possible in a line of dialogue spoken by Amy Adams, being: “love is a form of socially acceptable insanity”. And you know what else is a form of socially acceptable insanity? Christmas.

At Christmas time people will purposely stress themselves out. People will ransack shopping centers, book last minute flights, express their true feelings for a person without a second thought and celebrate a holiday that many don’t even technically hold a religious attachment to – all for one single day. And we accept the insanity that occurs around Christmas, because it’s passionate insanity – and without passion, why would anything really mean anything? Christmas is meaningful because it inspires passion, and where else could passion come from then from true, unconditional love?

And that’s why I love Love, Actually. The film is insane with such a large ensemble cast, sprawling storylines and ambitions to be a romantic comedy made up of so many diverse relationships. And yet, despite its vastness and larger than life persona, Love, Actually never wavers from its passionate intentions; in fact, the complexity of all the characters and storylines are quite the point of the film – furtherly the point of Christmas and love. The holiday season is a messy, crazy and never quite settled, undeniable calamity, despite continuing to embody a certain sense of absolute unity that no other event can – very much like love. What Richard Curtis did with Love, Actually was personify love through Christmas.

Christmas is nothing without love. The holiday season rather shows the value of love in life – the unrequited virtue for which we’re all capable of feeling, but do not entirely succumb to until the holiday season when its socially acceptable to do so – as Natalie said in her letter to David, “if you can’t say it at Christmas, when can you, eh?”. Christmas is the socially acceptable time for everyone to embrace love for what it is – an insane devotion of passion to someone or something. And love can be seen through large expressions or small singular moments, all of which are translated beautifully in Love, Actually. And every moment, whether big or small, are all just as impactful as the other… and all just as insane. When Jamie learns Portuguese to spontaneously ask Aurelia to marry him and she reveals she also has been learning English to one day reunite with him, is an impactful moment of true insane love. When Sam runs through airport security to say goodbye to Joanna, is an impactful moment of true insane love. When David, the Prime Minister, goes from house to house on the longest street on the darkest of nights to tell Natalie how deeply he feels for her, is an impactful moment of true insane love. When Billy Mack ditches Elton John’s fab party to spend Christmas with his “fat” manager, is an impactful moment of true love. When Karen finds herself heartbroken at the prospect of her marriage failing, even that is an impactful moment of true insane love. When Mark silently approaches Juliet to reveal through cue card his unrequited love for her, is an impactful moment of true insane love. When Colin gets down and dirty with a group of American girls, is an impactful moment of true insane lo- oh wait, nah that’s actually just insane. But the point I’m trying to make here is that Christmas is as insane as love, because it’s the one time of year where globally people allow these spontaneous expressions of passion to blossom publicly. For the period of time Christmas is prominent, everybody accepts love for the powerful element of the human condition it is.

And funnily enough, you will find that all those moments from Love, Actually I listed were moments from Christmas Eve – the climax of the film. Yes, Love, Actually is a Christmas film that never actually features the day of Christmas and that’s because I feel the exact day is not predominately the point. Love, Actually is meant to be about the slow build and lead-up to unity – to the moment where everyone, over the course of 24 hours, relax into the same united feeling of love. Love, Actually paints Christmas as a place – a heavenly location – where all are welcomed to unite in a moment of euphoria and togetherness… much like an airport. The point of the matter is that, in the furthermost cliché of terms, through the most inexhaustible source of evolution, capable of both appearing cheesy and heartfelt – the destination does not matter; it’s the journey that counts.

So, returning to Abed’s statement from Community’s banger of a Christmas episode, Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas (to which everyone here must check out for next year’s Christmas), the central meaning of the holiday season is that Christmas has meaning and its up to us to choose what that meaning is. And what does Love, Actually suggest the meaning of Christmas is? Well, it’s the acceptance of insanity and great complexity in order to see past all the world’s pains and troubles to embrace love for what it truly is – and what love truly is, is passionate, messy and, above all else, a sense of unity. Love, Actually taught me at a very young age the strength of love and how, despite all the world’s hardships, love has the ability to relieve all your pain. It’s the driving force – the energy – that gets you out of bed everyday. Love is the reason we support our sick family members and why we stick by the ones who have gone astray. Love is the reason we enter relationships and the reason we may initially enter a state of overly cute nervousness and shyness before doing so. Love is the reason we act on passion even though the rest of the world may call us insane. Love is the reason I am who I am today – because I believe that love actually is all around.

My favourite moment from any song ever recorded is David Bowie’s outro to Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’, to which the artist sings:

“Love’s such an old-fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves. This is our last dance… this is ourselves under pressure.”

And I guess what Mr. Bowie preached so powerfully means something to what I’m trying to say here also. We all reside under the pressure of the world – of the human condition – but love manages to assist us to care for not only everyone else but ourselves. When Christmas rolls around each year, sure we may feel the pressure and the weight bare down on us, but its our ability to absorb love as a community that betters, not only society. but ourselves in general. And Love, Actually personifies all that, near perfectly (thank you, Ziggy Stardust).

So, I guess, to slightly again return to Abed’s phrase, as beautiful and meaningful as it is, there may just be enough room for a little rewiring. The meaning of Christmas may very well be the idea that Christmas has meaning, and we furtherly have the choice to decide what said meaning is, but it’s due to our ability to choose our own intimate, passionate meanings that Christmas is a holiday built off love – our love to make moments, whether big or small, between family and friends, special.

Our lives are meaningful because we give them meaning. Love, Actually gives us meaning by affirming that love truly is all around us, despite being hard to see at the darkest of times. However, come Christmas, the most powerfully unifying and insanely passionate time of the year, love, for a fleeting few weeks is, in fact, visible. It shines brighter than the star on top of the tree, tastes warmer than the mince pies we consume on the daily and beats stronger than a kid’s heart when unwrapping presents. Love may exist eternally, although it’s the brightness, the warmth and the beat of Christmas that reminds humanity of the very thing that God only knows to be true – that love, actually, is all around.

 

So again, I will say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Have a great Christmas with your family and friends, and if you’re having a rough time, try to remember to stay positive and find help if you need – as I said, love is never far away, especially around Christmas. And if you’re feeling really really gloomy, my advice would be to either watch a bit of Love, Actually, if you can get your hands on a copy, or, quite simply, just think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport… always works for me.

Merry Christmas, again, and a Happy New Year!

 

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