Elf: A Story of Our Need for the Father

Thomas Griffin 12/23/22

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David Berenbaum was the screenwriter for the now Christmas classic, Elf, starring Will Ferrell as an elf named Buddy. Recently, a Netflix documentary “The Christmas Movies That Made Us” was released which captured amazing footage and backstories concerning the production of the film. Similar to so many mainstream cinematic masterpieces, Elf is really a story about our desire for God and his desire for us. The movie is completely concerned about a man’s search for his father. The Christian undertones and themes are indisputable.

We know this movie for its hilarious scenes with Ferrell and James Caan (playing Walter, the father of Buddy) along with its sentimental scenes regarding family and the complexities of life. The mixture and dance between comedy and seriousness makes it truly unique. This is truly a mission for Buddy to find his dad and the gap in his life without him. 

Breenbaum lost his father at a young age and always struggled with the pain of that loss.  He notes, “My father passed away when I was younger. So the emotional drive of the movie is really searching for the father, and I knew telling the story that I could connect to it on that level. I knew that’s the journey I wanted Buddy to go on.” Ultimately, that is the voyage we are all moving towards. 

The Christmas season is truly about the entrance of God in time and space who is born as a child. God is three in one and God the Father sends God the Son into the world on a rescue mission for our souls. We all have gone astray, like a sheep without a shepherd or children without a father. Christmas commemorates the celebration of our reunion with and renewal of our relationship with God the Father who stops at nothing to find us. The missing link in so many people’s lives is their relationship with God the Father which is personified in their relationship with their own dad.

So many families live on with the broken relationship of their father and mother or the difficulties that arise in the relationship’s between father’s and their children when a father and mother remain married. Most dad’s work tremendously long hours and become physically, emotionally, and spiritually absent from their children in their desire to provide for their families. During the holiday season, this is amplified because the family is made to be together, especially for this time of year. 

Elf serves as a challenge and a reminder for both parents and children to focus on what is most important in life: relationship with each other and with God. For better or worse, the relationship we have with our parents and especially our father’s impact us in profound ways that are often overlooked. Human fatherhood is always imperfect and flawed, but if we have neglected our relationship with God the Father, we will always be unsatisfied and experience a sense of loss. Our heavenly Father wants to wrap us up in his love.

For David Breenbaum, the final scene which has Buddy and Walter embracing each other summarized the entire goal of the film. He wanted to portray the search for the Father and the final coming to his side. However, he also desired to show that simply because we are with our human father’s or occasionally pray to God the Father does not mean that our relationship with them is where it is meant to be. 

Elf is a call to go deeper in our relationship’s. Let us accept the invitation and let us move towards a more profound encounter with our dad’s and with God this Christmas, and every day of our lives. 

Thomas Griffin is the chairperson of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and son. He has a masters degree in theology and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine. He writes for several media outlets.

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