A propulsive heist-like film with a smoking hot cast, flashback-driven storytelling structure, and radical leftist politics that meet climate-destroying capitalism with violence? How To Blow Up a Pipeline is my queer cinema catnip. And upon my recent first viewing, I also made an important discovery: This is a Christmas movie.
Autostraddle’s Drew Burnett Gregory has already made a compelling argument for why you should watch this film, and I agree with everything she writes about it! I am here to convince you it’s not just a great film but a great Christmas film, a holiday classic in the making for those of us who felt underwhelmed and undercharmed by Happiest Season. A gay Christmas film that has nothing to do with Christmas and everything to do with fighting the consumerism that drives much of how Americans celebrate Christmas. A gay Christmas film for the loud homos who aren’t afraid to fight with relatives about politics at the Christmas table.
But no really, it is literally a Christmas movie! The film jumps around in time and place throughout its narrative, but the present day storytelling that revolves around this group of soon-to-be ecoterrorists (complimentary) executing their long-planned scheme to, well, blow up a pipeline unfolds in the days leading up to Christmas. The establishment of this timeline is subtle at first, a little holiday gift for morbid gays like myself who gravitate toward the specific brand of sincerity How To Blow Up a Pipeline brings to the table, which is far different from the saccharine sincerity of most traditional Christmas movies. We first get clued into the plotline taking place around Christmas when we meet Dwayne and his family at the beginning of the film, during the “team assembles” montage. A stocking hangs behind Dwayne at the dinner table, and his wife tells him she just wants him home safe and alive in time for Christmas.
Then, about an hour into the movie, we get a more explicit acknowledgement of the Christmas timeline when Dwayne says to Xochitl “merry Christmas” just after they’ve placed the two bombs. Dwayne then heads to his alibi location, a local bar where he’s clearly a regular. The bar is decorated for Christmas, complete with a tree and colored lights, and playing Christmas country music.
Dwayne is here in the decked out bar when the explosions happen, the culmination of a lot of hard, sweaty work for something he strongly believes in. It isn’t exactly a normal Christmas celebration; hell, it’s not even a celebration really. But it’s a huge accomplishment, one each of these characters have their own personal reasons for getting involved in. And even though this isn’t textually addressed, planning to blow up the pipeline around Christmas does seem like an intentional tactic. Hitting the economy during a time of mass consumerism would have a significant impact. It’s a similar strategy to the targeted boycotts and global strikes happening this month in response to Israel’s genocidal violence in Palestine. Starbucks sales are down during a time when they’re usually way up (which Vox claims isn’t solely to do with boycotts, but it seems like there has to be some correlation there). The machine of capitalism is indeed powerful during this time of year, and acts of resistance like the one staged by these characters fighting for the planet are bound to hit hard around the holidays.
And it’s with that in mind that I am confidently declaring How To Blow Up a Pipeline a Christmas movie even if it doesn’t look like one on the surface. It’s an anti-Christmas Christmas movie. It’s a story about community, protecting the earth, and fighting systems of oppression. And then it has a queer love story nestled inside it, too. That all sounds like queer Christmas spirit to me!