Movie Review: Hogfather

16 Dec

To watch this film I’m asking you to ignore a bunch of things that normally would be red flags to any discerning cinephile.  Ignore the cover–I don’t know who made it, but whoever did the cover art never apparently watched the movie.   Ignore the title, which will give you the wrong impressions.  Ignore that it probably is described as a children’s movie–because it most definitely not.

The Hogfather is the best vision of Terry Pratchett’s work on film that I have yet seen.  For those who don’t know, Terry Pratchett writes a series of books called Discworld.    Discworld is very hard to describe to people who know nothing of it.  Humorous fantasy is a starting point, but it’s oh so much more—philosophical, astute observations as to what it means to be human, characters that move you suddenly and quite surprisingly.

Many stories, especially in movies, work very carefully to separate characters into two simple piles, good and bad.  Sometimes characters switch piles, but for the most part we know who we’re for and who we’re against.  Terry Pratchett is not like that.

For instance, the biggest enemies are a group of bureaucratic called the Auditors of Reality.  What they dislike is disorder and messiness.  They are basically personification of  that bureaucratic impulse that people have, that wants everything ordered and tagged and predictable.  An impulse that comes out of me, mostly when things seem chaotic around me, so I want the world around me to be simpler.  This isn’t a bad impulse, until it gets out of control, because it sucks the humanity of things.  Ever be in a place that discourages people to act less human so they can be more predictable?  That’s the Auditors of Reality.

The thing is, the time that they’re on the screen is relatively tiny, and they’re amusing when you’re watching them, however they hold up to critical thought, and all the thinking later really pays off.

Like Teatime, Pratchett’s  most frightening character, an assassin–but it’s not that which makes him frightening.  I think this is why marketers for Hogfather get confused–the movie is about childhood, but it’s not for children.  It’s a story where Death has to take the place of the Hogfather (the book’s version of Santa Claus), which starts out with a quote that sooner or later all stories are about blood.

Teatime is frightening because he’s connected to his childhood, he’s the dark side of that.  For all the talk in pop-psychology that connecting to your inner child will bring happiness, that is not always true.  Susan describes him as the sort of kid who doesn’t understand the difference between throwing a can at a stray dog and setting one on fire.  There are people in this world, that never grew up, whose tantrums as a small child were harmless, but now that they have an adult body and adult reasoning, makes them awfully dangerous.   That’s Teatime.  He keeps people around to be useful, and kills them when he’s done with them, just like a child with toys.

I also have to comment on the wonderful ludicrousness of death having to step in for the Hogfather–a skeleton with a wired on beard and a pillow stuffed in his clothes, who does not understand that you cannot give children real swords, who knows that with a lack of belief that the sun will not rise, who convinces a thinking machine to believe in him.  And yes, you’ve seen all these talks about hope and belief in a million Hallmark Christmas specials, what makes it different here, is that hope and belief in a world with no darkness is meaningless.  Pratchett’s world is not like that, it sees the world as having darkness, and despair, and misfortune, and violence, and hate, and broken people, it looks it square in the eye, and chooses to have hope and belief.

Is it any wonder that Pratchett’s protagonist here is Death, and that Death has the most sympathy for humans of anybody?

As I’ve said, this is difficult to describe–for all I’ve already said the show is incredibly funny, and very quirky, and yes it ends happily.  Watch it this season for something different.  You’ll be all the better for it.

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