Christmas movies are often marked by their celebration of community, generosity, and happiness that seem to have emerge as emotional mainstays of this exciting Holiday era. Despite being a commercialized shell of its former self, Christmas remains the yearly anticipated era of gifts, stockings, family get-togethers, Santa legends, and good food which it was originally envisioned as. While back in the Middle-Ages when Christmas found its origins, it was more so a celebration of the year's harvest succeeding and therefore an ode to not dying, nowadays we treasure Christmas for the special cheer it brings unto our existences once a month. Santa's gift-giving bonanzas can only happen at a special, snow-covered time, once a year. Are you noticing a motif? Christmas is only a series of "once"es, and that's the same with Christmas movies. Sure, you can watch 'The Grinch' or 'It's a Wonderful Life' any time of year, but it's only around Christmas when such films explode in their meaning, as they remind us at the special endpoint of each year to fill our hearts with kindness and love, rather than selfish greed and cold-hearted spite. But this year, I decided to take a detour from the expected route of feel-good movies, instead opting for a rather unconventional one I was told is more than worthy to remain in the hallowed ranks of immortalized stories watched only at Christmas.
John McClane, a New York cop, faces off against an elite squadron of twelve terrorists; commanded by the ruthless Hans Gruber. Taking a corporation's end-of-the-year celebration attendants hostage, these apparent fanatics demand the release of extremist allies globally, but in reality, Hans and his team seek a rather simplistic goal: Seizing 600 Million dollars in corporate Bank Bonds and becoming the most legendary thieves of the 20th Century. John soon becomes the sole individual who can prevent them, evidenced by a series of police and Federal blunders in making the terrorists give up their hostages and surrender.
Die Hard's greatness stems from its simplicity. There isn't any midway twists that have the potential to torpedo the linear plot, no subplot regarding the corporation's vault of collective evils, or even a proper explanation of Hans's backstory aside from a news reel that hints towards his origination. The movie's focus is set entirely through the emotional, mental, and physical tumult John endures for hours on end as he faces off against an elite crew of radicals and mercenaries intent on walking away from this tense skyscraper with their money. However, this linear plot structure by no means makes the film a predictable bore. You remain tensely engaged despite knowing only snippets of context that have come together to build up this film, wondering whether the main protagonist shall emerge unscathed when hailstorms of bullets zoom right above his head or narrowly dodge his body. John McClane's personality embodies the 80s Action Hero. Arrogant, zealous, confident, and lovable, yet also a genuinely loving man with a soft heart that is becoming overwhelmingly pressured by the odds stacked against him. Each echelon of screentime with McClane is another immortalized scene with a brilliant quote that usually sums up his entire character (ie; Yippie Kai Yay, Motherf*cker!) But alongside his macho persona comes a believable internal conflict with his dear wife, Holly. This tense separation is the expert lead-up towards the film's final encounter, in which John and Hans face off one last time, with the stakes raised higher for our lovable action hero than they've ever been throughout the film. Before this moive, Bruce Willis was primarily known for his comedic stints in acting, but afterwards, he was a bonafide action celebrity forged through explosions and looking masculine as possible when bad guys try to riddle you fill of bullet-holes.
On the other hand, you have Hans Gruber (played by the exorbitantly talented Alan Rickman, rest in peace), whom utterly steals the show. If you've followed my Blog long enough, you'll know I adore a proper antagonist that could become the protagonist of his own story given the chance, and this is what Gruber embodies. Like the greatest of movie villains, enough about Hans is kept shadowy so that a possible spin-off of his name could exist, but there's enough present to ensure us that he is ruthless, badass, professional, and scarily calm for a man in such a blood-boiling situation. It seems no matter how chaotic or hazy the story becomes, Hans is always in control, having formed a contingency plan to counter every avenue of approach the police and Federal authorities alike attempt to initiate with him. It's only the presence of John internally damaging his ambitions which he could've never accounted for, which makes this entire film so great. It's truly the Christmas story of an underdog rising to an occasion. This crack group of European and American mercenaries could never have expected their highly coordinated, thought-out glorified bank robbery to become interrupted by a modern cowboy clad in the battle-armor of a dirtied undershirt and armed with the bloodlust of a thousand expert soldiers.
But what makes Die Hard truly WORK? Aside from the obvious elements of good production quality, superb acting, well-written characters, and a linear, cohesive story, there's that 'Christmas charm' about it. Christening Die Hard your new yearly Christmas viewing signifies a sort of step-up unto your tumultuous adulthood. When previously, your favorite Christmas carols revolved around squishy; happy characters or Scrooges learning the meaning of friendship, now they're about explosions, guns, and people in stressful situations learning the meaning of brotherhood and love. John forges an unmistakably beautiful friendship with Sergeant Powell, a former field cop that became a relegated desk police office after a traumatic experience years prior. However, by the movie's end, he overcomes his trauma to save John's life from a terrorist that emerges from the dead for one final bout of vengeance. While Die Hard's vessel of delivering it may be unconventional and uncouth for some, it still delivers the pillar themes that constitute a timeless Christmas movie. I mean, who can forget the eternal lesson of 'don't be a bloodthirsty bank robber', or 'remember to wear boots at your next corporate gathering'.
But in all seriousness, this movie, for all its 80s flair and distinctive machoness forged through explosions and gunfire, still contains lessons individuals can learn from. It still contains numerous Christmas references and fixations on the Holiday spirit through festive songs that are intertwined with the engaging musical score that marks each death-defying moment McClane experiences against these villains. The sequels it inevitable spawned from its commercial success could never reach the height and majesty of their original predecessor, simply because the first Die Hard got so many elements right that any continuation could never hope. It's because it was so closely aligned with the Christmas season, contained so many unconventional methods of spreading Santa's truth of international peace, justice, and generosity, and yet retained an independent identity and practically created its own sub-culture of movie that Die Hard will remain the favored Christmas story of many. And it can add me to that list.