Hamlet’s Holiday Movie Countdown: Die Hard

by Michael B. Hock

The snow is gently falling. So is Hans Gruber. There’s a fire in the fireplace and on the top few floors of the Nakatomi building. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, but that does very little good for John McClane’s feet.

That’s right, everyone, it’s Die Hard Season.

It’s become popular to either 1) claim that Die Hard is a Christmas movie or 2) argue that Die Hard isn’t, in fact, a Christmas movie despite the fact that is’ basically Home Alone, but with explosions. I take the stand that it is a Christmas movie, as it doesn’t just use the Christmas setting as a backdrop, but rather it’s something that is incorporated into the action of the movie. A husband trying to reconcile with his wife on Christmas? An office Christmas party gone amok? A dead terrorist wearing a shirt that says “Ho Ho Ho Now I have a machine gun?” These are all in other Christmas movies. this one just happens to feature acting legend Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis, back before he was action star Bruce Willis.

I phrase it like that because I think what tends to get lost in the later Die Hards (and they lump this one in with it) is that John McClane is an everyman protagonist. He’s not a superman or “action star” at this point, and he has some really vulnerable moments, like when he is picking the pieces of glass out of his feet. He really is just a regular guy who’s stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But it’s his reasons for being there that makes this such a compelling Christmas movie. He’s there to reconnect with his wife, he’s there for a very Christmast-y reason, really. This is the time of year when a billion movies focus on lovers reconnecting in some way. Two of the movies on Hamlet’s Holiday Movie Countdown have featured estranged lovers finding a way to reconnect. Just in this case, part of the reconnecting involves throwing bank robbers posing as terrorists off a rooftop. But that doesn’t change the fact that this could have easily been a movie about a guy who wanted to reconnect with his estranged wife, then walk away when things got rough. He fought through literally the toughest enemies he could in an effort to be with her.

Which would all be undone in some of the later sequels, which is why I feel the first Die Hard stands so well on it’s own.

Speaking of enemies, this does feature one of the first roles of Alan Rickman, who would go on to be known for such roles as anything good and that you may love in your life. Seriously, the man was in Galaxy Quest, all 8 Harry Potters (going so far as to being J.K. Rowling’s first choice, AND the only know to know the twist at the very end that Snape was a good guy), Sweeny Todd, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves… he was even on an episode of King of the Hill. (Wow that show managed to get literally everyone on it, didn’t it?) But my point is, that Alan Rickman took a role that could have easily been “German bank robber #27” and instead transformed it into a career defining role. To me this is a clear example of elevating the material by simply being a part of it. Alan Rickman threw himself into the role, creating a truly frightening three dimensional character that could terrify by simply counting.

That’s sort of the metaphor for Die Hard, for me. It’s easily just another action movie if you boil it down. It’s a one-room play where that one room just happens to be a high-rise. Honestly we wouldn’t still be talking about it if it weren’t for the characters that were created, even if we’re on our fifth sequel in 30 years. (I’m still disappointed they didn’t do the rumored crossover that would have been titled 24 Hours to Die Hard.)

I get that Die Hard isn’t everyone’s ideal Christmas Movie. But it’s still mine, because it does have all the elements of a typical Christmas Movie and puts them in a brand new setting, one that is action based. But Hans and John… they’re just regular guys who want to go about their day, but they find themselves at odds with each other. John wants to do the right thing, an even has an angel on his shoulder in the form of Al Powell, who himself is seeking redemption on Christmas Eve. It’s an odd mix of what we might consider a Christmas Move, but it is just that. Because what is Christmas but a time when we all come together an try to find a way to get along. What is Christmas when sometimes we have to do the right and the difficult thing to make life a little better for everyone around you.

If that’s not what Christmas is about, then I don’t know what is.

Yippie Kay Yay, everybody. And to all, a Good Night.

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