Discussing the Greatest Christmas Film of our Time
By Jacob Jewitt-Jalland
‘Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho’.
It is Christmas Eve at Nakatomi Plaza. At the office party, the lights twinkle off the tinsel hung around the trees and the champagne is flowing. John McClane has just flown in from New York to reconcile with his estranged wife and visit his young daughter. You can almost smell the mince pies and mulled wine wafting out of the screen. It truly is a tableau fit for a Christmas card, until, of course, machine-gun wielding terrorists burst into the building, start taking hostages and begin executing anyone who stands in the way of their six-hundred-million-dollar heist. This is certainly not how any Christmas parties I have ever been to have ended.
Action maestro John McTiernan unashamedly uses the magic of Christmas, and its traditional value of bringing families together, to heighten the emotional engagement of the film. Heart-wrenching backstories, a folding marriage, even cute kids exploited by media jackals, are just some of the ways we are encouraged to think of Die Hard as more than a bog-standard action flick. Not that this clever technique is immediately noticeable, so deafening are the gunshots and so blinding are the explosions in this surprisingly compact two-hour thrill ride, that it is not until we hear the calming vocals of Vaughn Monroe singing Let It Snow that we sit back, clutching our hearts in our heaving chests and realise to ourselves, ‘that was actually a Christmas film all along!’
Released as a summer blockbuster in the States, Die Hard is the perfect Christmas film because it does not purport to be exactly that; nobody sits down to watch John McClane mow terrorists down with a sub-machine gun with the same emotional expectation as they do gathering around to see James Stewart’s overtly heart-warming redemption in It’s a Wonderful Life (and yet that is exactly what we receive). Amazingly, Die Hard is perhaps the most moving Christmas film of them all because we do not look at it with the hope of such a happy ending. Of course, with most modern action pieces, the handsome actor (so wooden they had to wax his hair with a J-cloth) and the beautiful actress have their bland and passionless kiss, and Die Hard does not exactly shy away from that stereotype; however, the family dynamic established within the narrative and the relatable everyman Bruce Willis brings to the film, makes its emotive finale definitively encapsulate the ‘most wonderful time of the year’. Combined with some of the greatest set pieces of any action film (who else throws a bullet-riddled corpse from a skyscraper directly onto a police car just to make a point, other than John McClane?) and the most sinister and hilarious villain in any film, you have yourself a fantastic Christmas experience. Also, for anyone wondering, ‘is Die Hard not too violent to be a Christmas movie?’ Well, have you watched Home Alone?
I only allow myself the pleasure of watching Die Hard at Christmas, otherwise I would watch it every day. But this year will be a sadder affair, as I say a heartfelt goodbye to one of my favourite actors, Alan Rickman. With Hans Gruber he provided possibly the greatest on-screen villain of our time, combining his unending skills for performance, dry wit, and sinister eyebrow raising to add the most delicious spice to the rich mulled wine that is Die Hard.
Whilst hardly being the most relatable festival fable of our time, instead rather a superb amalgamation of pulse-raising action worthy of Bourne, one-liners straight out of Bond, and a mushy conclusion typical of any of the Santa Clause films, Die Hard cements itself as the greatest Christmas film ever made. Yippee-kay-ye Mother…err…Mary…
This article was published in our November 2016 issue.