Defending “Die Hard” at Christmas
Every year, someone will claim their favourite Christmas film is Bruce Willis’ magnum opus “Die Hard”, and every year some Christmas purist will wave their arms and throw a fit. “Die Hard isn’t a Christmas film!” They’ll shout, sweat pouring into their gingerbread hot chocolate.
Sure the move takes places on Christmas Eve, but is it really true to the holidays or is it just a flimsy attempt at elitism?
I strongly believe that not only is “Die Hard” a Christmas film, but it is in fact one of the best. Note people don’t claim Lethal Weapon as their favourite holiday viewing, even though that too is set during the festive period. Simply put, Christmas and what that represents is intrinsic to the film, and no holiday is complete with at least one helping of the greatest action film ever made.
The film is littered with Yule time references, but at no point does it try and force the season on us. It handles it Christmas setting with grace, so it transcends being another cheesy attempt at manufacturing warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s realistic, more like the holidays really are for many of us. When it imparts a message, it connects with us. We don’t feel preached to, or disillusioned that we don’t live in some snow-edged wonderland where brotherly love is dripping, sometimes we have to encounter difficulties during the season, whether that be a dry turkey, a poorly timed work phone call or a gang of international terrorists.
Near the beginning, this idea is set in place as John McClane’s limo driver Argyle plays Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis. While it’s great music, it’s not traditional Christmas fare, in fact McClane even asks him to play Christmas music. “This is Christmas music” replies Argyle. While “Die Hard” is not traditional fare, it’s still just as valid as anything else, it’s just different, just like Christmas in Hollis.
Christmas acts a central hinge to the film, as McClane only steps outside his comfort zone, heading to Los Angeles, in an attempt to use the spirit of the season as a way of reconnecting with his estranged wife and his kids. Instead of a warm, tight knit group, we see a family unit in the process of being divided, however John McClane (In the role of an overworked mother figure) brings them together again. McClane undergoes a transformation through the film, and by the end of it he is unrecognisable to his wife, a new man recommitted to being a better husband and father.
Consider McClane’s journey to reconnecting with his wife. He travels through a ventilation system (representing a chimney), sets covered in soot, tricks the Grinch (Hans Gruber played by Alan Rickman) into saying “Ho-Ho-Ho”, and ensures everyone in the Nakatomi building has the best Christmas possible.
“Die Hard” is full of Christmas imagery, from the trees around the building, to the Santa hat McClane places on the corpse he send to Gruber (“Now I have a machine gun”) but all these things can be ignored, or they can be appreciated as elements of the Christmas tradition. “Die Hard” is a Christmas film for those who don’t appreciate the saccharine, heavy handedness of normal Christmas viewing. No other time of year would a reasonable person appreciate the schmaltzy cheer or clumsy morals of a Christmas movie, but “Die Hard” eschews all of that and creates an experience people want to relive all year round.
One argument cited in denying ““Die Hard”” its rightful place on the television at Christmas is that a Christmas film should be ABOUT Christmas, not merely set at Christmas time. Well, “A Christmas Carol” is undeniably Christmas viewing, but isn’t it really a time travel film, as Scrooge hops between the past, present and future learning his lesson? The classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” features very little about the holidays, it’s merely set on Christmas Eve. “Love, Actually” is a Rom-Com. Gremlins is a comedy/horror. Home Alone is the PG version of “Die Hard”. Christmas movies are not a genre unto themselves, they’re films of a genre linked to the holidays.
When all is said and done, Christmas is what you make of it. Maybe it’s too forced upon people, maybe there’s a “War on Christmas”. It’s about the traditions, and observations you choose to embrace, and if you think “Die Hard” is a Christmas film well…Yipee-Ki-Yay Motherfucker!
Defending “Die Hard” at Christmas