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Star or angel? Turkey or goose? Real or fake tree? All common disputes associated with the festive season. At this time of year people disagree on many things, in my household, the most contentious of all – is Die Hard is truly a Christmas film?
Originally released on the 15th July 1988, Die Hard was never marketed as a Christmas film. However, since its release it has maintained a privileged spot amongst the festive classics: becoming the poster-child for Sky TV’s Christmas cinema campaign, ranking second place on IMDB’s Top 100 Christmas Movies of All-Time and only being screened during the holiday season. Star of the film Bruce Willis outwardly settled the debate at the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis, proclaiming that “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s a goddam Bruce Willis Movie!” As a long-time fan of the film, I am not convinced.
For a film to be categorised as a Christmas movie, it must adhere to the codes and conventions of the genre. Think of the Christmas classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and Home Alone. They all follow a very similar thematic and narrative structure, centering around themes of family, friendship, romance, hope, nostalgia, redemption, and the triumph over evil. Die Hard wholly conforms to this traditional Christmas film structure but in a very untraditional manner. Here are the reasons why Die Hard is in fact a Christmas film.
1. It looks like a Christmas film
If you’re going to make a Christmas film – it has to look the part. Amidst the explosive action, viewers are constantly reminded by the superb use of cinematography and mise-en-scène that it is Christmas Eve. Whether it is tinsel, lights, or a dead terrorist with “now I have a machine gun ho-ho-ho” written across his chest in blood – the festive colour of red remains a visual motif throughout the film. In combination with the red visuals, the significant amount of shots featuring Christmassy props in the background create an alternative Christmas aesthetic. The final scene consolidates this spectacular aesthetic, proving Die Hard to be a truly epic Christmas classic. After the destruction of the Nakatomi Plaza’s roof, bearer bonds fall from the sky resembling snowflakes, lights from the towering inferno flash red and white along with twinkling ambulance lights – creating one of the most picturesque Christmas scenes in all of cinema.
2. It sounds like a Christmas film
It also has to sound the part too. The proof is in the dialogue – take a sip of mulled wine every time a character makes a Christmas reference, no everyday film would mention Christmas this much. Interestingly, if a scene lacks a visual or verbal indication of it being Christmas Eve, the filmmakers make clever use of the diegetic sound, having characters sing and hum festive tunes to continually remind the audience of the Christmas setting. The Christmas soundtrack is also a big signifier of the film’s genre, featuring many songs like Let It Snow by Sammy Cahn. Furthermore, the film explicitly alludes to its non-conventionality when McClane’s limousine driver plays the rap song Christmas in Hollis by Run-D.M.C., whilst the song plays McClane asks him to “put on some Christmas music” to which he replies “this is Christmas music!”. Here, Die Hard is proving an interesting point, just because people don’t associate rap music with Christmas it doesn’t mean it’s any less of a Christmas song, in fact, it’s a more creative one. Yes, Die Hard is not a conventional Christmas film – but a Christmas film none the less.
3. Themes of Nostalgia
Nostalgia is conventionally used in Christmas films to evoke feelings of childhood sentimentality, placing the viewer in a state of fond reminiscence over past experiences and memories. In Die Hard, nostalgia is a central theme – presented in an unusual manner. Die Hard’s filmmakers were extremely conscious of their target audience’s past cinematic experiences, many of the cinema-goers at the time would have grown up idolising the masculine figures of the western genre, like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne – It is no accident John McClane sounds so similar to John Wayne. Die Hard repeatedly references westerns throughout the film, creating a sense of cinematic nostalgia for the audience of the time. Antagonist, Hans Gruber often refers to McClane as “Mr Cowboy”, labelling him as “just another American who saw too many movies as a child”, aligning the protagonist with the viewer. The film visually repurposes elements of the western, using contrasting black and white costumes of the protagonist and antagonist to symbolise good and bad. The final showdown between McClane and Gruber mimicking that of a classical western shootout, evoking childhood experience of cinema.
4. The Protagonists Redemption
Redemption and the unity of family are key themes within most Christmas narratives, the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge’s being a prime example. Fundamentally, Die Hard is a film about masculine redemption. McClane must redeem his own sense of masculinity in order to return home to his family for Christmas. At the start of the film, McClane is presented as an emasculated figure, scared of flying and estranged from his wife, following her decision to move to Los Angeles to further her career. In order to return home, John must triumph over the object of his emasculation, the place in which his wife works – the Nakatomi plaza. He does this by confronting his fear of heights, outsmarting the terrorists, asserting his male dominance with violence, and ultimately becoming the hero. This masculine triumph enables the unifying of his family at the end of the film.
If this article still didn’t convince you that Die Hard is definitely a Christmas film then the screenwriter of the film, Steven E. de Souza confirming it is should. To conclude, is Die Hard really a Christmas film? Yippee-Ki-Yes, it is motherf*cker.