the movie cover of The Holdovers

The Holdovers Is All About Grace

Okay, The Holdovers was just nominated for Best Picture by the Oscars. I want to submit that it is a deeply Christian film about disruptive grace that I think is meant to point directly back toward Jesus.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s a film set in the 1970s at a Massachusetts boarding school. It takes place during the Christmas break, where one student is a “holdover” who doesn’t leave school because his negligent mother leaves him there with a curmudgeonly teacher and the school cook. On the surface, there is very little that suggests this film has anything to do with Christianity. Various characters lie and get drunk and no one seems particularly devout. But there are also clues that the writers want to push viewers to consider whether the holiday that creates the backdrop for the whole film is a celebration of something real and good and true and even life changing.

Here are some clues:

One, it’s set at Christmas time, and so we hear them singing all sorts of Christian Christmas hymns. This isn’t Holly Jolly Christmas. It’s O Little Town of Bethlehem, where “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” and Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, where the lyrics tell us Christ “saved us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.”

Two, the cook is named Mary. Mary is a mother who has just lost her only son to an unjust war.

Three, Mr. Hunham, the curmudgeonly teacher, is an atheist who extols the philosophies of Marcus Aurelius. But his way of life, even though he says it is wise, is actually quite foolish. It does not hold up, for him or for his students.

And, finally, there’s the snow globe. The snow globe is really an important part of the film. It involves Santa Claus and the baby Jesus. I won’t say more, but if you’ve seen this, I want to know—what do you think?

Is The Holdovers a Christian movie about the power of disruptive grace entering in to save us?


When I posted this on social media, I received a great question asking about “disruptive grace.” Here’s how I answered:

I think disruptive grace is a couple of things. One, grace when we aren’t looking for it or expecting it or even wanting it. In this film, we see that when various characters (trying not to give away the plot here!) do kind/sacrificial things for each other very unexpectedly. And it takes humility for the other character to receive the act of grace. I think that’s also true on a more cosmic level for us–that we don’t want to need grace. We want to just earn it. (And yet it is also so beautiful and freeing when we do, but it means admitting some measure of helplessness to rescue ourselves.) And two, grace that literally disrupts our lives in ways we don’t want. I think of Penny’s birth as a moment of disruptive grace for us–it totally upended our value system and way of being. It honestly seemed destructive and negative. But it was such a gift. The birth of every human is an act of disruptive grace, or at least has been in my life!

the movie cover of The Holdovers and text in white letters at the bottom of the graphic beneath a thin, white line: “THE HOLDOVERS AND THE DISRUPTIVE GRACE OF CHRIST”

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