If Thou Gaze Long Into The Polar Express: A Review


by Xoe Amer

The logic is nightmarish. The animation achieves Freudian-levels of uncanny. They’ve got hot chocolate.

A Brief, Incredulous Summary:
A boy who has become disillusioned about Christmas is coerced by a train attendant to board a magical train that appears outside his house to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole.

This film has a joke in which a scream of pain is the punchline.

This is a film in which Tom Hanks talks to himself in different voices.

In order to make use of gratuitous 3D animation, a mama eagle feeds its baby eagle literal TRASH.

None of the characters even have names (except for Billy the “Lonely Boy” who my friend Brendan describes as “a sad Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle”).

The main facets of this film are a combination of arbitrarily overly-authoritarian yet neglectful adults and actual life endangerment. The way the adults on this train behave, alternating punishment and reward in a capricious manner, is exactly the kind of psychological tactics an actual kidnapper would use. They ARE the tactics abusers use!

An Analysis I Promise That I Am Qualified to Make:
Remember when Jean Baudrillard wrote about Disneyland and hyperreality? About how Disneyland is supposed to hide from adults the fact that we are children in some screwed-up postmodern way, shepherded by greater Authorities through a field trip of mirrored corridors where the fragmented images become our own fevered realities and we are-and-have-always-been agents of a schizophrenic consumerism of symbols that symbolize nothing (that’s a precise paraphrasing, right?) This movie is like THAT. By utilizing the new (at the time) motion capture technology and blending it with 3D CGI, the medium of lifelike animation is simultaneously more realistic than ever before and more simulated- more fake. The animators used adult actors with oversized props to capture the movements of the simulacra/children in the film. The novelty of the animation hides the ideological dead-zone across which the images move like hallucinations. “…The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

The reason this film is so fucked up is that it doesn’t notice it’s own undercurrent of psychological-existential horror; it thinks it’s a fun adventure. How could those good intentions come with such an utter lack of self-awareness? It’s hard to believe a team with such a pedigree- Director Robert Zemeckis (Back To the Future, Forrest Gump, Castaway) and Tom Hanks- could spawn such a monster, but maybe this is what happens when people play the part of the postmodern Dr. Frankenstein without noticing.

In Conclusion:
If we consider the Lead Boy (Tom Hanks) to be a child who has grown up with an insecure or ambivalent attachment style, which would be indicated with his lack of reluctance to follow strange adults and susceptibility to emotional manipulation, to be the past-self of the Train Conductor (also Tom Hanks) it would only make sense that the Train Conductor has grown up to be the kind of frighteningly volatile individual he is and go on in turn to treat children as he was treated. We can also see evidence of an utter need for control in his compulsive punctuality and ticket-punching style. So in conclusion, folks, Polar Express is not a Christmas movie but a movie about a time-travel paradox creating a self-perpetuating personality disorder.
There’s the other layer of the film which totally brings into question the nature of the sign and signified, the concept of the “modern human,” and the death of meaning which is ironically represented by Christmas and the nihilistic anti-hero figure of Santa Claus but we’ll save that for another day- provided there is one.

TL;DR: The only intended moral theme I can pull from this film is that the “spirit of Christmas is within those who believe” but I can’t figure out what that’s supposed to fucking mean and I don’t think Tom Hanks knows, either.

Xoe Amer is a writer, poet and longtime friend of Scarecrow Video. 

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