I have quite an unusual choice of Christmas film; In Bruges. You could say that it’s not really a Christmas film at all, but if you can count Die Hard as one, you must include this for the same reasons.
It’s easy to forget that In Bruges is set at Christmas, but the festival plays a large part in the film’s plot as well as its location.
Briefly (with some minor spoilers), two hitmen played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are sent to Bruges to hide after Ray (Farrell) botches a hit in England when a child gets caught in the crossfire. It turns out that their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), is intending to have Ken (Gleeson) kill Ray, as is his policy for a child ending up dead, but wants Ray to enjoy Bruges at Christmas before the end, as this was his (Harry’s) happiest memory.
Themes of religion, sacrifice and damnation permeate the plot as well as the innocence of children. Ray brings up the fact that there are presents under a Christmas tree that the child he accidentally killed will never receive. He also becomes obsessed with the afterlife, hell and purgatory, (he decides that Bruges is his purgatory.) Ken takes pity on him and sacrifices himself to Harry, so that Ray can live. Harry is spoken about with such reverence by the two that he may as well be God as far as they’re concerned.
Other references include a heavily pregnant woman who runs the hotel where Ray and Ken are staying, a woman whom Ray falls in love with, and seems to be there to help him out throughout the film, like his guardian angel.
Overall the film uses Christmas as a backdrop to talk about morality, death and sacrifice all with a healthy dose of gallows humour. You can watch this film at any time of year as well, as the Christmas motifs aren’t overpowering, and the film doesn’t demand you share in the Christmas spirit, in fact the opposite, it encourages you to disregard it so that you can empathise with the characters and become part of their existential musings.
If you want a light-hearted, fun family film to watch this Christmas, then this sure as hell ain’t for you, but if you want a Christmas film with humour, action and emotional depth, I implore you to give In Bruges a chance.