“There’s more gravy than of grave about you.”
Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) dismisses Christmas as a humbug. Though his nephew, Fred (Steven Mackintosh) tries to convince his uncle otherwise, Scrooge will not be persuaded to join in the holiday cheer. With the help of The Muppets, Scrooge receives a visit from his former business partners and learns about Christmas through song, reflection, and magic.
Ebenezer Scrooge is emulated with Muppet mayhem in his classic form. Though there is more puppetry than Dickens may have first pictured, this version of A Christmas Carol honors the original text. We took a look at Erik Erikson’s stages of development for our Scrooges through the ages. This time, we will up the ante by looking at the physical characteristics of Scrooge.
An actor with a penchant for comedy and drama alike, it is safe to assume that Michael Caine, here playing Ebenezer Scrooge, makes deliberate choices as an actor. Indeed, the mark of a great actor is that they make great choices for their character; these choices allow us to believe what we see!
Other versions of A Christmas Carol show Ebenezer Scrooge walking with a cane; this one is no exception. It is worth mentioning that during his visits from the spirits, Scrooge is not using his cane (a deliberate choice by an accomplished actor, perhaps). This leads one to believe that Scrooge only uses the cane when he needs it. Of course, that begs the question…why does Scrooge need a cane in the first place?
In the context of A Christmas Carol, which was published in 1843, there were a few reasons why someone might walk with a cane. Scrooge may suffer from a disease called gout, something well-known to Brits back in the day. In fact, dietary triggers for gout may be the reason that Scrooge first attributes his visit from Jacob Marley to something he ate.
Characterized by excruciating pain, gout causes swelling of the joints. This swelling is due to a buildup of uric acid in the blood and can manifest over time as arthritis. Gout usually begins in the big toe, but pain can travel to ankles, knees, and wrists. Furthermore, gout can cause kidney stones – hardened calcium deposits that must “pass” (delicate medical way of saying you have to pee them out, notably more challenging for a male urethra than a female one). Passing a kidney stone is about as pleasant as Scrooge himself at the start of The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Is it possible that Scrooge’s cane is used to navigate during gout episodes? Not only would this account for the use of the assistive device, it might account for Scrooge’s irritability. Whether it’s a headache or a muscle spasm, people are not themselves when they are in pain. Gout may be humbugging Scrooge so badly that he is chronically stressed and exhausted. Work is a dull activity for most, but it may serve as a needed distraction during flare-ups of his illness.
Called “The Disease of Kings,” gout is triggered by indulging in alcohol and rich foods such as cheeses and organ meats. Christmas of course is a time of year when everyone indulges in fancy feasting and plenty of drinking. In other words, Scrooge may despise Christmas on a subconscious level: It triggers his gout. With year after year of the celebrated day bringing out painful, persistent symptoms, it is no wonder that Ebenezer Scrooge does not make much of making merry.
Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim
In Tim, Scrooge sees a child with an open heart and a lovely attitude, in spite of his illness. Though it is not clear from what Tiny Tim suffers, The Muppet version of Tiny Tim also walks with a cane. Our first glimpse of compassion from Scrooge comes when he watches the Cratchit family, especially Tim.
Though gout has its trials – even more so before the days of Allopurinol, ER visits and telemedicine – Scrooge absorbs through Tiny Tim the notion that pain and suffering do not have to be contagious. It is this understanding that truly awakens within Scrooge the spirit of Christmas; he knows that with love and joy extended to others, any individual physical hardship is a lot easier to endure.