I know that many of you have read the beloved story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as children, and you think you know what the Dr. Seuss classic is all about. You think this is a movie about a curmudgeon who learns the true meaning of Christmas after finally being accepted as part of happy, family-oriented community. You would think that, as many have in the 60 years since the book’s release, and it’s only natural, since the book’s central characters are a Christmas-obsessed species (which seems to be the result of splicing human and pig DNA, and infusing the product with the personalities of both a 1980s hair dresser and annoying only child) being “terrorized” by a Christmas-hating misanthrope. But in thinking this, you would only be half-right. It took becoming an adult, and watching these characters onscreen in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas for me to realize that the central issue in this story is both much more simple and complicated: toxic masculinity.
The Grinch (Jim Carrey), who looks more or less exactly like the strange, Christmas-worshiping Whos of Whoville (with the exception of being green and hairy), was adopted as an infant by two kindly older ladies. Though shy and exhibiting sociopathic tendencies, he was quite well-mannered… until consistent bullying from an insecure, jealous classmate climaxed in an outburst which caused the Grinch to leave both school and his home to live in seclusion. The Grinch would occasionally play pranks on the people of Whoville, but otherwise kept to himself, but during one of these pranks, he meets and inadvertently saves the life of little Cindy Lou (Taylor Momsen). From that moment on, Cindy Lou becomes driven to find out the real meaning of Christmas, as well as the Grinch’s disdain for the holiday.
What Cindy discovers is that Mayor Augustus May Who (Jeffrey Tambor) is a delusional hater. As a child, Augustus had been inspired by a crush that was definitely not mutual to shame and embarrass the Grinch, and although he later achieved much success in their small village, Augustus simply could not let go of the fact that Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski) didn’t want him. This story may be fictional, but seriously, we’d run out of paper to write their names before we run out of men who are so bitter and entitled that they cause suffering to those around them, simply because they can’t get laid.
Meanwhile, the Grinch is definitely not exempt from this toxic behaviour. Yea, Augustus was an asshole, but the other citizens of Whoville (a group which included his adoptive mothers) had never never done him wrong. Prior to his abrupt departure, the Grinch had already been accepted as part of the community, and he’d always hated Christmas. Yet, because one person was a jerk to him, he made everyone around him suffer, including Martha (who had been openly flirting with him since their childhood), and Cindy (whose only “crime” was trying to be his friend). And he blamed the people of Whoville for his pre-existing hatred of Christmas to boot. Bullying sucks. It’s terrible, and I am definitely #TeamRetribution when it comes to dealing with people who refuse to give you respect. But it’s not and will never be okay to use how someone else treated you as an excuse to be cruel to an innocent person.
Like other characters displaying such toxic masculinity with propensity for violence (see: Beast of Beauty and the Beast), the Grinch is embraced in the end as a kind, changed person, and audiences never speak of the invisible contract that the women in his life have now unwittingly signed to keep him that way. You see, like the Beast, the Grinch wasn’t swayed to become a better person through any real empathy, but from having the very people he’d hurt and pushed away essentially fight his nature until they could win a place in his heart and life. But what happens if Cindy doesn’t want to be his friend anymore? What happens if Martha ever dumps him? We never really talk about how being the person to tame the beast now makes you their handler.
Despite all these issues, and the fact that Carrey’s Grinch voice is a combination of a British accent and Ace Ventura’s voice (read: migraine-inducing), Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is surprisingly fun and pleasant to watch, as is hearing a pre-Pretty Reckless Momsen’s under-developed singing voice. At the end of the day, this is a really great movie if you don’t think about it too hard, and if nothing else, serves as a gratitude-enhancer for children who complain about their haircuts.
I give this one 3.75 stars.