To understand my love of the movie Polar Express, you need to know about the first time I watched it. It happened one Christmas several years back while visiting family in South Carolina. On the very last day of our stay, time was winding down and the dread of saying goodbye began to seep into my brain. My niece decided to put it on to keep the holiday spirit going. Of course I loved the movie right from the start. But, the thing which really got me hooked was being with the family while watching. I felt like as long as the movie was still on, Christmas was not going to be over and we would not have to part ways.
This idea fits so perfectly with the movie itself. Almost the entire film happens within a single tick of the clock. It’s all about time…and travel…and time travel. And why not? You might recall that Robert Zemeckis has a bit of a thing for those subjects. Be sure to keep an eye out for the flux capacitor in that scene where they’re trying to catch the pin and stop the runaway train.
It has been speculated by some, that the conductor and the hobo are both adult versions of the Hero Boy. The theory being that each one is trying to convince their younger self to do the right thing. The conductor is the end result of his learning to believe, while the hobo is his unsuccessful future possibility. I’ve seen others suggest that those two, plus Santa make up the three ghosts from A Christmas Carol. This is backed up by the fact that Hero Boy falls asleep at precisely the same time that Scrooge’s first ghost arrived. How about Santa as the Father, conductor as the Son, and hobo as the Holy Spirit? In any case, this trinity is a guiding influence for the doubtful boy.
He and his companions make up their own interesting group of three. They have a leader (Hero Girl), a prospective pupil (Hero Boy), and spiritual influence (Billy). Yes, I am convinced that Billy is not real. You recall the “know it all” kid remarking on how picking up Billy was an unscheduled stop? He apparently never received a gift from Santa before this year…how could that be if he were a real kid? At the end, Santa doesn’t even seem to be too sure about his name. Everything about this child is mysterious. But, his appearance and raw innocence are a key to Hero Boy’s path to hearing the bell.
The scene where the three kids spy on the elves making last minute changes before heading to the square is one I’ve been fascinated with for awhile now. At first, it seemed obvious that the additional present they’re asked to get ready is Billy’s. We know it’s wrapped with candy-striped red paper and a number-seven holly-green bow. We know it’s going to Billy’s hometown. Shortly after this, we find out that his present is wrapped exactly as described. I really want to know what he got, by the way.
The more I think about it though, the more I believe the present they are discussing is actually the proverbial first gift of Christmas. Does Santa know that Hero Boy will ask for the bell as a present and lose it in his sleigh? Even better…does Santa have the ability to travel back in time to make sure the bell is properly wrapped and ready for his Christmas Eve ride? Of course he can, he’s Santa. 🎅 Recall that Billy and Hero Boy are from the same home town. Also, when the bell is discovered on Christmas morning it is wrapped in the very same candy-striped paper and green bow. Upon closer look, it is definitely a number seven holly bow.
These things, and others in the movie are really cool and fun to think about. However, they are not what motivates me to watch the movie over and over again. The way I see it, as long as I’m watching and riding that train it will always be 5 minutes to midnight on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day will never come and thus, will never end. My oldest daughter complains from time to time that Christmas will never get here. What I tell her is that “Christmas Time” is way better than Christmas Day. Christmas Time lasts for much longer. The anticipation and preparation is where most of the fun is. When Christmas Day comes it’s all nearly over and it’s almost time to say goodbye.
I want my own Polar Express train
Every time I put Polar Express on it’s another chance to get lost in time. One more chance to sit with family and not think about work and stress and all the mundane details of life. One more opportunity to rage against the ticking of the clock (sorry Dylan).