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Breck, guns, and Christmas movies – oh my!

So I might have made a mistake in my conversations with Breck the other day. We were talking about Christmas movies, and I happened to have a brain flash about one of my favorite Christmas movies – Die Hard.

[Don’t believe me, that Die Hard is a real Christmas movie? Read the rest of the story below, after the tale of today.]

Now, you might think, “Even if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, why tell your kid about it?” Good question, one to which I have no answer.

In any case, Breck was asking what made it a Christmas movie and I was explaining it to him – you know, the lights, the music, the Christmas trees, all that good stuff – when I happened to mention that there was a guy in a Santa suit. Certainly you remember: Bruce Willis sends one of the bad guys down in an elevator with a Santa cap on and wearing a sign that says ‘Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.’

Admittedly another pretty questionable call according to the “What you should tell your kids as a father” handbook.

Well, I got my comeuppance. With all of the beefed up security at our school, guess what the guards are now carrying around? That’s right.

And guess what Breck shouted out in front of all the teachers and parents as we were coming into school today: “Hey dad, it is just like your favorite Christmas movie – Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho!”

Yes, I got some looks from people. Ah, the joys of parenthood.

(that’s the end of the main post; if you’re not interested in Die Hard (an action movie) then you can quit here)

Now for what makes Die Hard a Christmas classic. I’ve had the thought before, but this blog put it much more eloquently than I could ever hope to to do. Enjoy:

Here it is, the single greatest Christmas movie of all time — no joke, no doubt, no question, it’s Die Hard. And before any quibbling begins, can we agree, in general, that it’s a good movie? Seriously. Step back from the Christmas assertion for just a moment and consider the film as a whole. Die Hard is a classic.

Die Hard ranks 39th on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Thrills list. Die Hard turned Bruce Willis from a television star into an A-list movie star. Die Hard spawned three sequels. Die Hard spawned countless imitators and wannabes.  And, Die Hard takes place during Christmas.

Sure, it’s not a “traditional” Christmas movie. But it takes place during Christmas, has Christmas carols, and has a number of standard defining characteristics of Christmas films.

First, let’s look at John McClane (Bruce Willis’s character) and who he is. To start with, there’s his name, John McClane. In Irish the prefix “Mc” means “son of,” making him John son of Clane, or J son of C, or, to shorten it further, JC. McClane is therefore a stand-in for Jesus Christ, something the “son of” portion only aids in, as he, Jesus, is the son of God.

And, certainly, McClane is a Christ-like figure. Where do we find him at the beginning of the movie?  In an airplane, returning to Earth. It’s as though he were descending from the Heavens, being sent, as it were, by God back to Earth. And, in Die Hard, it’s on Christmas that John McClane is reborn.

Additionally, this night also represents McClane’s walk in the wilderness, which was a crucially important time in the life of Jesus. Nakatomi Plaza (the building in which the movie takes place) is a perfect stand-in for the wilderness, and it is only after McClane leaves Nakatomi, exiting the wilderness, that he is a changed man. McClane has faced his nightmarish opposite in the form of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Gruber is everything that McClane is not; he is the anti-McClane, much as the Devil is often referred to as the anti-Christ. McClane, like Jesus, has been tempted, and has passed his trials.

One could say that JC has been ‘baptized in blood,’ and then comes back to life. In fact, when the ‘resurrection’ scene begins, John is shown bloody and backlit with radiant light. As he confronts Hans, who is holding his wife hostage, her response on seeing him appear is “Jesus.” Of course, as he gives himself up to Hans, McClane has an ace up his sleeve, but then so too did the son of God.

Putting aside this blatant analogy, the plot of the film as a whole is unquestionably Christmas movie-themed. Outside of their ornamentation, Christmas movies are all notable for having several common principles. Often there is a love story element to these movies (It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol serve as two perfect examples); these love stories always have the couple overcome their difficulties to be stronger in the end.  Check. McClane and his wife are estranged when the film starts, but by the end are together again.

Another similarity that the truly great Christmas movies all share is that they create phrases that enter our popular culture. Examples include “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings;” “God bless us, every one;” and “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Die Hard actually contains one of the most well-known entries into this category: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf***er.”

It is also essential to note that the film itself is quite clearly trying to be a Christmas movie. It understands that it is not a typical Christmas movie, but it still wishes to be counted in the genre. Remember McClane’s discussion with his limo driver, Argyle, once he gets in the car? Upon hearing the up-beat rap music Argyle has on the radio, McClane asks Argyle about Christmas music, and if there are no carols on. Argyle laughs at McClane and says they are listening to Christmas music and turns up the volume. Sure enough, once the lyrics to the song start, they’re all about Christmas. True, it’s not your traditional Christmas carol, it’s updated, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing

So, to recap, Die Hard is a great movie and Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Is there anything then that separates a great movie that happens to take place during Christmas from being a great Christmas movie? Any number of criteria would push a movie from the former to the latter; chief among these criteria is that the movie should promote the spirit of Christmas and the holidays.

Die Hard, as a film, does just this. It is a movie about the triumph of good over evil; more importantly however, it is a movie the throws into stark relief the importance of family, particularly during the holidays. McClane makes his family, during the holidays, the most important thing in the world. He goes through hell in order to rebuild his family and strengthen those bonds. And McClane certainly makes Christmas morning one of the happiest days ever for those he saves.

It’s not easy to believe, but it’s undeniable. Die Hard just may be one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made.

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