This Little World: “Fanny & Alexander” on Christmas

Kyle Turner
6 min readDec 24, 2023

One side effect of Lexapro I was not expecting was that, in the last year, I’ve become a little bit more woo woo. Formerly a committed secularist agnostic, with an upbringing adjacent to a number of religions and belief systems that takes five minutes to explain, I was perfectly content to decide not to decide and let people be attuned to whatever, while thinking somewhat condescending thoughts of relief that I didn’t have to manage my life around thoughts about my soul or God or whatever. That was for other people. That which could be more easily explained, or at least intellectualized, was my province.

But Christmas is, famously, a great time to consider ghosts, specters of the past, remnants of another time or part of one’s life, the shadow of expectation and disappointment making battle with the light of hope, resilience, love, joy, magic.

I have come to accept the divine in my life. Even if it’s not with a capital G or anything, the beauty and splendor I find in my friends and in my community of smart, passionate, empathetic, funny, and creative people is able to nourish my soul. My soul being that which is impressed upon and can be fueled by kindness and creativity and curiosity. And petty gossip. And talking about art and eating dumplings.

I also had two mildly supernatural adjacent experiences over the summer, one involving the house Eugene O’Neill grew up in and where he set Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and the other concerning my late father and my book. (The book showed up in the New York Times’ recommendations on the date of his birthday, June 2.)

I’ve been watching Fanny and Alexander, Ingmar Bergman’s final film from 1983, every Christmas since 2011. It is a film with a magisterial breadth of emotion, sumptuousness, and possibility. It is about reconciling the feeling of doomed materiality of existence, its pains and cruelties, with the sublime of interpersonal connection, play, and the otherworldly.

I will make time to watch it every single Christmas, even if it means starting the behemoth at 10pm. It’s my most valued Christmas tradition. Besides drinking hot cocoa and finding random children in the trash a la Tokyo Godfathers.

I’ve watched this spectacular epic about a wealthy Swedish family and their holiday celebrations and the fallout of the death of the Ekdahl patriarch every Christmas for over a decade. I watch the TV version, which is five and a half hours long, and make a Stouffer’s lasagna and graze the whole day. I don’t really remember how the tradition started other than the thought that the first 90 minutes of the first episode was basically a Christmas movie. I will always name it as my favorite Christmas film, next to The Christmas List starring Mimi Rogers.

Bergman’s film is comforting in its ability to encapsulate all the complex feelings one might have around the holidays. The excitement, the frivolity, the sadness, the camaraderie, the love, the hate, the resentment, the drunkenness, the real, the ghostly, the pain and pleasure, the childlike wonder, the adultlike disillusionment. It’s all there.

Oskar Ekdahl gives a speech on Christmas night, sweat beading his forehead, where he proclaims his love for the people around him.

My dear friends, for 22 years, in the capacity of theater manager, I’ve stood here and made a speech without really having any talent for that sort of thing. Especially if you think of my father who was brilliant at speeches. My only talent, if you can call it that in my case, is that I love this little world inside the thick walls of this playhouse, and I’m fond of the people who work in this little world. Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds in reflecting the big one so that we understand it better. Or perhaps, we give the people who come here a chance to forget for a while, for a few short moments, the harsh world outside. Our theater is a little room of orderliness, routine, care and love. I don’t know why I feel so comically solemn this evening. I can’t explain how I feel, so I’d best be brief. My wife and I, and the rest of the Ekdahl family, my brother Carl, -I think Carl is here- We wish you all a happy and joyous Christmas. I Hope we meet again on St. Stephen’s Day, strengthened in body and soul. Merry Christmas

This season has not felt particularly festive on my end. I’ve felt this looming existential dread. The loss of reproductive rights. Queer and trans people attacked legislatively. The collapse of electoral politics. The spread of misinformation like wildfire. Actual wildfires. Climate catastrophe. Genocide. It feels ceaseless.

Yet, Fanny and Alexander, in its ability to embody the contradiction of the holiday season, of more broadly humanity itself, grows in its ability to comfort. It strengthens itself as a form of solace, as a piece of reflective glass of the world, and its capacity to be an embodiment of contradiction.

It is about a boy that must grow up fast in the face of the death of his father, whose attunement to other realms of existing and telling stories is his armor against the harshness of life.

I’ve felt more grateful every year to have the people I do in my life. The ability to end up at someone’s place and lounge on the couch, have my doom spiral not only listened to but also attended to by thoughtful and caring people, and wake up the next day and do it again with my loved ones.

The deluge of everything happening and atrocious scales with horrific consequences, and information being shoveled down our throats at an alarming rate, and the very platforms of information sharing crumbling, is all quite stressful. It’s making me feel at once like a child and an old man, both rendered ineffectual and helpless, and disillusioned and keenly cynical on the macro.

But is has also made me recognize the grace in friendship, the tenderness of small gestures, the value of the moment.

What hope I have is within the divinity of my friends and community. I hope that means effective, real change in the future.

I was splayed on my friends’ couch last night, spacing out (remember when dissociating used to be called spacing out?), and, despite the gloom I was feeling, I was thankful to be around loved ones. The way they were chatting, the soft lights around the den, and the capacity to easily swing between silliness and sadness were special.

In one scene, the Jewish puppet-maker Aron tells Alexander, “Everything is alive. And everything is God, or God’s intention. Not only the good things, but the cruelest and worst.” In a way, I believe that.

Thus, the jokes and jibes and hand of my friend reaching to grab some beef jerky from my hand is God. I believe that.

Fanny and Alexander ends with Alexander resting his head upon his grandmother’s lap, listening to her read a Strindberg play. She says “time and space do not exist”. But the little boy, with all his fantasies and nightmares and all the moments of thrill and love, knows better. So do I. Because I love this little world.

Merry Christmas

xxoo

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Kyle Turner

Snarkoleptic. Queer monster. Amateur critic. Professional snob. Writer person. I am relieved to know that I am not a golem. Words in Slate, GQ, the NYTimes, etc