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The False Hope – Christmas Vacation

I figured it’s that time of year, so why not break out an old holiday classic to take a look at an extremely well written and performed scene. Below is the scene from Christmas Vacation (1989) where, after thinking Christmas was doomed, Clark finally receives his bonus cheque from the company. It is worth mentioning this is one of the single finest performances you will ever see from comedy legend Chevy Chase. You only need to watch up until the 4:10 mark.

This is one of the most beautifully executed false hopes in film. Finally, all the things that have gone wrong for Clark are about to turn around. The audience knows better, but Clark believes it with his entire character. Believing he is out of the woodwork, Clark begins to make promises above and beyond what his original plan for the check was. Generosity is abundant with the cheque in hand!

But this moment of triumph turns into the ultimate moment of despair when Clark opens the envelope to discover his Jelly of the Month Club certificate. This sends Clark to his lowest low of the film and he loses it, setting up Eddie to eventually become the hero of the film.

Pain, need and want are the things that drive a script forward. If a character is devoid of those things, you should seriously question why they are in your screenplay. If they don’t need anything, don’t want anything and aren’t experiencing or giving one kind of pain or another, how are they driving the story forward and how is the audience relating to them?

Eddie’s hero turn at the end of Christmas Vacation would have been far less impactful if he hadn’t seemed like a dimwitted loser for most of the movie. If he had been a normal member of the family, then his kidnapping Clark’s boss would have seemed odd, out of character and, most importantly, as if the writer’s had simply written themselves into a corner and needed out. The way the film is, Eddie, who can’t afford to buy even his own children presents, is given a way to give something back to the man who has so graciously hosted his family this Christmas. He isn’t smart enough to realize Clark wasn’t being literal. All he knows is this gift is what Clark wants, and it won’t cost him anything to get it.

So, in one seen we see Clark go from on top of the world to down in the dumps, and Eddie go from just a loser who can’t afford anything to the hero of the film. All this comes from the internal pain, need and want in the characters. Eddie wants to pay Clark back for his hospitality, while Clark is in pain from his newfound inability to afford Christmas.

Hopefully you found this insightful, please leave your thoughts in the comments!

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