As Christmas approaches, each family consults a certain selection of Christmas movies to anticipate Santa’s arrival. And these films are versatile, not only engaging for children, but also reminding adults to be patient during this inevitably stressful time. In my house, we consider Home Alone with John Hughes (1990) the reference for Christmas movies – seeing actor Daniel Stern (who plays half of the Wet Bandits, Marv) screaming like a woman after having a tarantula put on his forehead makes it ridiculous to spend three days with his maternal grandfather calling his food preferences vegan.
I think it’s a great tradition, but what about the days after the arrival of Sinterklaas? These are the days when you need to remember that it is not acceptable to hit your twin sister, even if she insists that you make out with your boyfriend too often. That’s why I think every family should have a cinematic staple to bring them back to life after Christmas: a movie they watch to influence their behavior and actions, not just at Christmas, but throughout the coming year.
For my family, the staple food after Christmas should be Castle (Rob Sitch, 1997), an Australian dramatic comedy that downplays the value of monetary wealth in favor of relatively unknown success factors like humility and compassion. Despite the preference for analog TVs and landlines, Castle is as important today as it was in 1997. After a year in the volatility of our jobs, we must remember that the support of our loved ones can provide a kind of comfort that no paycheck ever can.
It’s centered on the Kerrigan family, a working-class family from the suburbs of Melbourne, in particular a modest, wood-paneled house connected by power lines and an airport. At the head of the Kerrigan family is Darryl (Michael Caton), a tow truck driver whose favorite pastime is exploring a trading post with his second-oldest son Steve (Anthony Simcoe); he laments the ingenuity of his wife Sal (Ann Tenney), who seems to bake regularly (including whipped cream and sponge cakes) and expand his estate with cheap and clumsy additions like a fireplace that goes nowhere. Although Darryl doesn’t meet the traditional criteria for success – such as luxury real estate, glamorous careers, or children who are leaders in their fields – he leads a happy and gracious life, that is, until a large development company tries to forcefully acquire Darryl’s current mansion for the expansion of a nearby airport. Darryl first calls on Dennis Denuto (Tyriel Mora), a family acquaintance and small-town lawyer who makes the mistake of confronting the power of the federal court. But Darryl’s penchant for friendly chatter soon attracts the fine talents of Lawrence Hammill (Charles Bud Tingwell), a retired lawyer and member of the King’s Council. Together, the three men applied to the High Court to challenge the validity of the expropriation of the Kerrigan House on equitable terms, as provided for in the Australian Constitution.
Then why is the castle so beautiful? And, more importantly, why look at it in preparation for the new year? First, it contains phrases and symbols that are part of the Australian idiom – phrases and symbols that your elders have spoken or invoked over the years. If you watch Castle, I can guarantee there is at least one scene that evokes a sense of deja vu. My déjà vu moment is when Darryl is fishing in a lake at Bonny Doon and his reel starts to wobble at the prospect of a carp. My dad echoes Darryl’s keen observation – snacking – on each of our fishing trips. These moments encourage us to think of our own family as fascinating rather than boring, which is important when your family has been playing boring professional sports for the last few days.
But these are only superficial things – if we get to the bottom of the theory, Le Château teaches us to ignore the usual measures of success and focus instead on the people, places and hobbies that bring us joy. Darryl’s job doesn’t pay well, but he takes care of his truck and takes pride in fixing pole and rear-end collisions. And although his house is outfitted with plastic screens and a six-foot antenna, he shows it off to the local real estate expert as if it were the Taj Mahal.
Neither of his children has reached a higher level than vocational education, but Darryl considers them the brightest minds to come out of Coolaroo. He even patted Dale (Stephen Curry), his youngest son, on the back for digging a hole. Darryl does not regard anyone, including those from different economic backgrounds (Lawrence) and ethnic backgrounds (his Arab neighbor Farouk (Costas Kilias)) as objects of jealousy or resentment. He removes jealousy and resentment from the equation, leaving only compassion and sincerity, both for himself and for those he loves. This is made possible by an endless series of pats on the back which, when given by the right people, are the true measures of success.
Take a look at the Château in these first months of 2021. And while you’re at it, congratulate yourself on reaching the 2020 target.
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