Ricky Church on why Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas movie…
The Christmas season is well upon us and there is no shortage of movies to get you in that jolly old mood. From classics such as How The Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol to modern films like Jingle All The Way or Home Alone, there is plenty of entertainment to choose from for the holiday season.
However, there is one movie that is always on my list to watch and should be on everybody else’s essential Christmas viewing: Die Hard.
Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, is one of the greatest action films ever. New York cop John McClane travels across the country to spend time with his children and estranged wife, but his wife’s office Christmas party is ruined when Hans Gruber and a group of criminals take them hostage.
Its full of some great action as McClane takes on a dozen armed and dangerous men with little support from the outside LAPD and FBI. More than that, though, its full of some nice character moments that gives depth to McClane, Gruber and the other characters while its a Christmas movie disguised as an action movie. A lot of people say the only thing that makes Die Hard a Christmas film is the fact it takes place on Christmas Eve, but there’s much more to it than that in the character arcs.
When we meet McClane, he’s almost a Scrooge-like figure. He’s coming out to LA rather reluctantly, even if he wants to see his wife Holly and his kids. One of the reasons for John and Holly’s separation prior to the film is because he didn’t believe she had what it took to move out to LA for her company and be successful. As his driver Argyle deduces, he let her move fully expecting she’d fail and come crawling back. His trip out to LA essentially amounts to eating crow as he has to face facts.
For the first act of the film, he’s in a pretty ill mood because of this. It doesn’t help when he discovers Holly has taken her maiden name at work rather than keep his during their separation. He’s a downright Grinch himself as he’s forced to smile, shake hands with people, gets jealous at Holly’s success and how well others know her, all the while pretending to have the Christmas spirit. It’s what leads to their first argument just as Hans and his group attack.
You’d expect once the hostage situation begins, the Christmas theme would lessen, but it’s quite the opposite in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Aside from McClane’s great use of “ho-ho-ho”, he undergoes a Scrooge-like change himself. Throughout the ordeal, he becomes less of a self-centered jerk as he grows increasingly more worried about Holly and the other hostages. He even tries to safe the life of Harry Ellis, Holly’s colleague, and forms a friendship with the Christmas-loving Sgt. Powell.
McClane gains humility through this experience as he fights for his wife’s safety and learns not everything is about what he wants. This realization fully hits him in his goodbye and apology message to Powell to give Holly. McClane learns family is what is most important, not his ego or being right. What is more Christmas themed than that?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Hans Gruber playing the real Scrooge of the movie. Much like the eponymous Dickens character, Gruber only believes in money and profit. He uses terrorist ideology as a cover, demanding the freedom of his ‘brothers and sisters’ across the world to distract the FBI from his real intentions of robbing Nakatomi of their money. His selfish desire for riches endangers a great many people and acts very callously with their lives, executing two people while planning to sacrifice all the hostages in a double-cross. As Scrooge might say, Gruber is helping decrease the surplus population.
Ironically enough, though, Gruber maintains more of a Christmas spirit than McClane does, joyfully telling Theo “It’s Christmas. It’s the time for miracles”. Either that, or he’s merely exploiting that Christmasy feeling for his own ends, much like the Grinch did to the little Who girl.
The contrast between McClane and Gruber’s Christmas spirit becomes more apparent as the film goes on. McClane realizes the error of his ways while Gruber remains unrepentant right up to his last moments. In the end, McClane reunites with Holly after his struggles and realizes the true meaning of family. It’s a cathartic moment for both of them when they stroll out of Nakatomi Plaza with renewed confidence their marriage can work. McClane is at least a changed man as he no longer will take Holly or his family for granted again.
Die Hard may not be a traditional Christmas film, but it qualifies as one nonetheless. McClane’s development from a cynical, Scrooge-like jerk husband to a devoted one follows a typical pattern in many feel-good Christmas films; there’s just much more shooting, swearing, blood and broken glass involved in this one. If that wasn’t enough, the film even contains several pieces of classic Christmas music, from the sleigh bells motif to ‘Let It Snow’, ‘Winter Wonderland’ and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, a composition largely used during the holidays and year-end celebrations.
So forget It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol and, to quote John McClane, get together and have a few laughs by popping in Die Hard for some joyful and action packed Christmas entertainment. Yipee-ki-yay indeed.