On the 1st Day of (The Nightmare Before) Christmas…
“Oh, somewhere deep inside of these bones
An emptiness began to grow
There’s something out there, far from my home
A longing that I’ve never known…”
Jack Skellington is sad. So sad. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, our skeletal main character is found depressed and lamenting, and why wouldn’t he be? He’s only… uh… the best he is at what he does, loved by all his peers and co-workers, adored by patchwork women, and almost everybody recognizes him as the guy in charge. Wait a minute: he’s the Pumpkin KING, he’s a rock star, he’s the king of the world, head-liner at what seems to have been their very best Halloween ever: so what’s wrong with this picture?
Jack surveys the crooked landscape of Halloween town, the murky borders of its grim circumference, and even the sum total of his own numerous achievements, and finds all of it wanting. Tim Burton’s warped whimsy provides the viewer with the all-too familiar holy discontent we all, when we’re honest, experience with the world. Jack might well have just sung Ecclesiastes 1:8-9:
All things are full of weariness;
a man (or skeleton?) cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there something more? What is this longing that Jack has never known? In one seemingly simple song near the film’s beginning, Jack is revealed as the embodiment of Sehnsucht. He’s the lamenting King Solomon, he’s Citizen Kane stripped down to Skellington King, he’s crying out with that intense sense of longing C.S. Lewis writes about in The Weight of Glory:
“In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence… The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Lewis’ poignant articulation captures Jack’s internal struggle and, of course, as the film progresses our bony protagonist will indeed journey to a “far-off country”. Before we join him, however, the question hangs in the air like the scent of Christmas cookies: do we resonate with this skinny, skinless, Elfman-voiced singer because this longing is something we also have known? Is this sense of a far-off country, a home we were meant to have, a place of warmth and respite, just a fantasy? These questions and longing were pivotal to Lewis’ conversion to Christianity, referred to as the argument from desire for the existence of God. The Nightmare Before Christmas captures this feeling in just a few well-tuned notes and phrases to create the story’s tension, a longing that we all have known, and a longing that Jesus offered (and Lewis agreed) could be satisfied in him, by way of reconciliation with God our Father in heaven.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11:28-29
Are you weary? Are you longing? When Jack’s song evokes that sense of “missing” in our own souls, it reveals our shared experience and need. And, of course… on the 2nd Day of (The Nightmare Before) Christmas…