The world would be much better off if certain leftists dared to stick their necks out and give full-throated resistance against imperialist aggression without prefacing it with umpteen excuses, extrications and disavowals designed to keep them in at least some of the good graces of ‘polite society’.
The Red Carpet is our film critique article series. Other articles in this series
Comrade Grinch is an anti-capitalist icon and we won’t have a bad word said about him. Specifically, in the 2000 film version. There’s a more recent (2018) version that could tease out the flaws of capitalism and create a more articulate and rich piece for The Red Carpet? We don’t care. We're here for the Jim Carey Grinch, his grand project of revolution and nothing else.
The Grinch (2000) is from the era where practical effects were at their peak, highly developed and often used in tandem with computer-generated images (CGI). These now nostalgic practical effects, along with the whimsically cartoony-esque set, are utterly charming. Carey’s Grinch portrayal is truly brilliant in terms of acting and visually. Hey, remember when movies weren’t entirely animated? What a throwback! There’s nothing like practical effects; even now the Grinch’s fingers are guaranteed to make me giggle on sight from their uncanny elongation, in a melding of cartoonish and realist visuals. Or his "Miss Whoville ‘70" cap that he wears in just one short scene. These small little details are lost in the clean, clinical world of animation. There is undoubtedly a wider political point here; animation is more efficient in churning out films, less risky and therefore ultimately more profitable than practical effects. Something for a future TRC, undoubtedly. But for now, we’ll stick with a less political but perhaps more seasonally salient point on practical effects vs CGI; practical effects simply have the potential to evoke more joy. There is one part of the film where the Grinch breaks the fourth wall and looks directly into the camera to say "kids today – so desensitised by TV, movies". Certainly a touch simplistic in analytical terms, but this comment now feels almost prophetic. Little did they know in 2000 how far things would go.
Now, enough of that. Get in the sleigh kids, we’re going Christmas shopping for some tenuous parallels!
Many critics falsely accuse Comrade Grinch of rampant consumerism, obtaining all the goods he can to presumably roll around in with glee. This slander entirely misses the point; the Grinch collects every crumb of Who consumerism (‘conwhomerism’?) and intends to throw it off Mount Crumpit, the mountain in which he resides that leers over the town. He understands his material conditions and that only absolute destruction of every corner of capitalism in Whoville will work to alleviate his suffering. The film really does capture the notion that it is his suffering that he is trying to resolve, not some pointless project to treat himself; he rails against greed throughout. And Whoville is squarely to blame, a capitalist hellscape. A business owner announces "99% off!" of his goods – who knows how much profit this is implying he is making when the sale is not on. The workers of the Postal service are in clear need of union action, with Cindy Loo Who being forced to work for free to help out her overwhelmed father in the face of grossly demanding bourgeois customers. Instead of women organising and fighting the patriarchal state of Whoville, they are forced to fight amongst each other for who has the best Christmas lights. Of course, the richer woman wins, showing that even in the core that is Whoville there is a working class that suffers. It is only in the face of Cindy Loo Who and the Grinch cascading down the mountain that these two women put aside their differences to save their revolutionary heroes. Comrade Grinch is bringing together the masses even when he doesn’t intend to.
There is not, like some critics suggest, a sense that Whoville was always in favour of the anti-consumerist message of the end of the film. They learn of their errors, primarily through Cindy Loo Who’s agitation and the Grinch’s revolutionary struggle. Cindy does initially lean toward social democracy, unfortunately; the election of the Grinch as the Holiday Cheermeister is her solution, and yet the Arthur Mayor Who (I presume this is his title and not his full name? Otherwise Whoville’s democratic credentials are looking pretty shocking) retains institutional power and utilises it to stop any progress that Comrade Grinch wanted to make, instead siphoning off gifts for his lover. For years before, the Grinch was right to criticise the festival as stupid, because it was about gifts. It only changed because of the revolutionary action of Comrade Grinch, and the admittedly fine theoretical work of Cindy Loo Who.
There are some truly dark political elements to this film. A young baby Grinch is bullied to the point that he flees, amounting to his effective banishment. His only means of re-entering Whoville is to disguise himself as a "normal" Who, which can be read as a legitimately heavy parallel to notions of passing and assimilation. He is not able to move freely without violence in Whoville – for any film, let alone a Christmas family-friendly film, this is a distressing subject matter. We sympathise with his attempts to undermine a society that, out of hatred, has forced him out; a revolutionary reading of this film is facilitated by these scenes that create empathy. We see that the Grinch is forged into a monster, an evil of social depiction instead of reality. His name being mentioned literally causes a car crash in the opening minutes; the propaganda department of Whoville is working overtime on our Grinch. When Cindy Loo Who visits the Grinch, he leans into the monstrous image that Whoville has created for him as a self-defence mechanism, trying to convince her that she is in fact scared of him. She sees through this and understands the Grinch for who he is. It is Cindy Loo Who that sees how Whoville has treated Comrade Grinch, and does the work in the core that is Whoville to identify and reject their excesses, in cooperation with the Grinch on the outside.
The site of Mount Crumpit is also interesting politically. Like backpackers on their "gap yahs", Whoville teens climb the mountain to go stare at the victim of their oppressive society, before inevitably being terrified when the Grinch scares them off with an antiquated machine even in the context of the film. The Mount is filled to the brim with the trash of Whoville. As the Grinch says, "You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me, in your garbage". In an analogy for imperialism, Whoville indulges itself in merriment and wealth, whilst the peripheral sites deal with the realities of producing such luxury. "The avarice never ends… 'I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue'"; here, Comrade Grinch articulates that greed is the cultural mode for a Whoville analogous of the imperial core, and the way capitalism takes anything, even animal life, and reforms it for profit (our Green friend is clearly on board with the animal liberation agenda). And yet even in the confides of Mount Crumpit we see the Grinch offering moments of anti-capitalist resistance. By launching hazardous waste at cop-loving Mister Mayor-Who, Comrade Grinch said "ACAB", using the literal trash that he’s been left with as a weapon. Of course, without his yuletide revolution, Whoville would have probably started to repurpose their trash for profit too, be it ponies for glue or recycling packaging into new goods for new profit. His innovation, with meticulous and ingenious technology in his cave, shows a remarkable ability to adapt and resist even in his circumstances. Underestimate Comrade Grinch at your peril.
And yet it is not just a film for us to observe; it teaches us plenty too. Learned Comrade Grinch demonstrates the success of revolutionary organising. Initially, he tries to drown out the sounds of capitalist merriment, trying to ignore the fundamental issues: "for year after year I’ve put up with it now", echoing the social democrat ignoring the sounds of their own defeat, over and over again. After the Whobilation, he burns down the Christmas tree and rampages across the town, thrilled with his success. This anarchic organising looks worthwhile in the immediate, but Whoville quickly reasserts its statehood with police presence and a new Christmas tree simply replacing the old; chaos was quickly counteracted by a reasserted capitalist class and progress was lost in a moment. Only in a meticulously planned approach could Comrades Grinch and Max successfully destroy the primary site of capitalism in Whoville. Going door to door, from person to person, to create his revolution is necessary – there are no shortcuts for Comrade Grinch. He crafts a sleigh that actually works, with fuel and fire, demonstrating a scientific model of revolution unlike that of Father Christmas, whose utopian methods of magical reindeer and time travel make him look like a real chump in comparison. The Grinch utilises both traditional and innovative techniques, from going down chimneys to cutting floorboards underneath houses to vacuum cleaners sucking up debris showing him to be at the forefront of revolutionary practice. Trotskyite newspaper-sellers, take note: Comrade Grinch knows that methods need to be updated to work.
Comrade Grinch may have had his excesses. Stealing every crumb of food from the Whos perhaps borders on ultra-leftism. We can, this holiday season, be thankful we have more than an intelligent but fundamentally mute dog for comrades, to set us on the right path when we might act a little (roast) beastly. His treatment of Max is deeply reactionary, forcing the poor dog to work far harder than his means as a dog allow him to. But by the end of the film, Comrade Grinch declares his love for Max, in a genuinely heart-warming moment: in the face of almost a successful revolution, the Grinch has had a moment of clarity about his dear canine comrade.
And this is the best part of the conclusion, which is by far the worst point in the film. The Grinch’s heart grows, he joins hands with his oppressors – it has all got a sickly glean of necessary Hollywood holiday cheer to it. In the words of Comrade Grinch himself: "Saving Christmas is a lousy ending. Way too commercial". It’s a brilliant film all the same, and ultimately could not remove itself too far from its source material, so perhaps we can forgive it. It does teach us one last, very genuine lesson: even in the midst of Christmas, a time so many of us find deeply difficult both personally and politically, we can find revolutionary inspiration in the most unlikely of places.
Happy holidays to all who celebrate, from Red Fightback.