“Rare Exports: A Christmas Story” and Women, or the Lack of

I had a blast watching it. How can you not? It’s got a dead Santa, explosions, and Indiana Jones vibes. Sadly, the fun of this movie is exactly what makes it dangerous — its moral problems are shadowed by its fun.

Pietari (Onni Tommila) is a roughly 10 year old child obsessed with Santa Clause. The movie opens on a classic “dad shot” of the boy in his underwear. His father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) is a butcher. The two of them go to a rural Finnish annual where the males of the town gather and round up the reindeer traveling in their migratory herd. Except, all the reindeer are dead. It turns out that out-of-towners bring their big tools and dig up a Finnish-mythic Santa that kills more than eats cookies. Slowly, all the children disappear like the reindeer except for Pietari, who must convince the adults of what’s going on. 

Pietari is framed throughout in iconography similar to Westerns, notably, with a gun on his shoulder. Yep, apparently in Finland 10 year olds are allowed to carry rifles. (According to Slate, about 12% of Finnish own guns. This still feels a little out there though, personally.) 

The movie is largely about becoming a man. The child at its center carries a gun and makes moral decisions the adults fail to. At another point, he wears a full suit of hockey gear and sets up a bear trap in his house to catch the murderous Santa. The last words of the movie are even about manhood — spoken by Rauno to Pietari, are about “the man he has become.” It’s a male fantasy.

This isn’t a terrible theme on its own, but it’s gross when taken in the context of a movie without a single woman. The makers of this film, notably director Jalmari Helander, have an idea of masculinity divorced from femininity; personally, I find this distasteful and potentially harmful. 

And surprisingly, this slipped by most major critics? Of the survey I did on Rotten Tomatoes, I found zero critics who noted this. Roger Ebert gave the movie 3.5/4 stars and “women” are absent in his review—just like the movie. I suspect I’d be more willing to let the flaws of “Rare Exports” slide if critics had been more responsible.

Apparently, Helander had been asked about this at TIFF and he said that originally there was one woman on one day of shooting, but he “suddenly realized that there couldn’t be any in the story…  [because] when men have their own plans, it’s so much easier to do those plans when there’s no women around asking ‘what the hell are you doing?’”

No thanks.

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