On a dark November evening I found myself enjoying an early dose of Christmas, courtesy of Disney’s 2009 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Despite its groundbreaking ‘performance capture’ animation doing its level best to mesmerise me, it was the story’s ageless message of redemption which really struck a chord. This is hardly surprising. Dickens’ portrayal of one man’s journey from the edge of a greed-inspired oblivion to the very bosom of human fellowship is nigh-on definitive.
Perhaps this is the reason why Dickens’ 1843 novella is the subject of a veritable industry of adaptations, spanning more than a century of film-making. The examples are manifold. Faithful interpretations include the 1951 classic Scrooge, starring the acclaimed Scottish actor Alistair Sim, the similarly-titled 1970 musical film version with Albert Finney, and Patrick Stewart’s 1999 television rendering. Modern retellings are equally numerous, with Bill Murray’s Scrooged (1988) being perhaps the best of the pick, whilst a somewhat more loosely-associated version formed the basis of Matthew
McConaughey’s 2009 film Ghosts of Girlfriends.
Certainly, Dickens’ tale of the rekindling of the human spirit is ideal fare for the season of goodwill to all men, revealing, as it does, how even the most insensitive and miserly of souls is not beyond all hope. Yet, it also raises a rather thorny point, which may become lost amidst the joy of Scrooge’s redemptive transformation. Put simply, why ought Ebenezer Scrooge, or any one of us for that matter, forego his own self-interests for the sake of the welfare of others?
This question, which may be more concisely framed as ‘Why should I be moral?’ has caught the attention of moral philosophers for centuries. It is preceded by two further inquiries: ‘What is the good life?’ and ‘How ought we to live the good life?’. If these latter questions are answered, we may at the very least establish an agreed upon definition of moral behaviour, and the means by which it may be demonstrated. But, most crucially, we are still left with the conundrum of why we should be good. And this is where I find myself returning to the story of Ebenezer Scrooge.