The year 1989 was an interesting one. It gave us Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Tim Burton’s Batman. Twenty-three years and two days to the day that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was released, I decided to watch it for what’s probably the twenty-third time. I was five years old at the time, and when I grew up all I wanted to be was a Thundercat. Tonight, I was hit with a sudden and surprising revelation that I grew up to become Clark Griswold.
All Clark wants is to give his family the perfect Christmas. A Christmas filled with with bright lights, a big tree, an even bigger family and his annual holiday bonus which he’s already spent (mentally) on an outdoor pool. Is that too much to ask for? Well, apparently, yes. Yes, it is.
His (mis)adventure begins with his attempt at cutting down a tree (he forgets to bring a saw). It continues with failed attempts at trying to suck up to his negligent boss, lighting the house and keeping the tree safe from harm. Halfway through the film we’re treated to a sledding mishap that results in a crash at Walmart. As the film progresses, Clark’s misfortune continues on that downward slope until he finds that his all-important bonus has been replace with a year’s membership to the “Jelly of the Month Club”. The events that follow result in the police breaking down the door’s of the Griswold home and this very Christmas tale ends with an explosion and our National Anthem.
In spite of what appears to be a cartoonish series of events, there’s a strong sense of realism in how he puts all his energy into giving his family the perfect Christmas and failing. I believe that this is where the film’s main appeal lies. “It’s funny ’cause it’s true”.
And this is also where I find myself relating to Clark. I happen to lack any and all skill when it comes to executing plans. Try as I might, life has a funny way of throwing a wrench into my cogs. But it’s Christmas. I wouldn’t know how to not try. And neither does Clark. In the end, he finds that no one cared about the tree, or the lights, or even the pool. They were all together on Christmas and that was all that mattered.