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Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

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In a year that cannot be described in words, but rather with a desperate endless scream, the last thing we need is a polarizing debate. With the less detestable time of the year 2020 being upon us, one of humanity’s oldest questions has once again resurfaced: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Many before us have had passionate discussions regarding this issue but never got anywhere. I am here to change that.

The definition of a Christmas movie

The debate surrounding this classic is rooted in a common problem within our society: subjectivity. So, before we can classify McClane’s story, we must first have a clear and universal idea of what makes a Christmas movie, a Christmas movie.

This is no easy task. After searching the wide web, I was able to determine that a Christmas film must have the Christmas season and its associated values as a central part of its story. More specifically, it must include the following key features: 

1. A significant Christmas setting

To be a Christmas film, the Christmas season must be significant and hence shown in the story. The film must be set around this holiday season, and although the extent to which this must be done could be debated, that’s a problem for another time.

2. Emotions and values

A common idea is that Christmas films should demonstrate or evoke certain feelings or values associated with this holiday season. These include the importance of family, love, kindness, or nostalgia. Additionally, one cannot forget loneliness or cynicism.

3. A sensory journey:

Whether through Christmas trees or the use of the never-ending 12 days of Christmas song, the presence of visual, verbal, and/or auditory references to Christmas are also a must. This further emphasizes the importance of the holiday to the film and inevitably changes its tone.

Before proceeding, it’s important to consider a common argument against Die Hard’s Christmas label: The action genre. Many have denied considering Die Hard as a December classic due to the action genre that it embraces; however, the genre will not be a factor in this analysis. This is simply because established Christmas films exist in the world in various combinations of genres, including romances or even musicals for example. Just because a film involves action, does not immediately exclude it from fulfilling the key elements above. Now that that’s settled, let’s put Die Hard to the test.

Putting Die Hard to the test

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when NYPD officer, John McClane, made his way to L.A., to be with his family for Christmas day. After making a stop at his wife’s office Holiday party, McClane found himself in a tricky situation: Twelve not so jolly men took over the building and everyone hostage, except for our hero, of course. Chaos, death, and explosions ensued, but as always, evil did not prevail, and our hero saved the day and realized the importance of family. Now the hero is put to another test: Is his story Christmassy enough to be considered a Christmas classic?

Technically, Hans and his buddies could have taken over Nakatomi Plaza at any other time.

The first question to ask is simple: Is Christmas an integral part of the story? Well, John McClane travels to see his family for Christmas, and ends up in an intense battle against 12 German criminals, at a Christmas party. Technically, Hans and his buddies could have taken over Nakatomi Plaza at any other time, but that would have resulted in an entirely different movie.

Firstly, McClane has a full-time job in a different state so visits to his kids are probably not incredibly frequent, making holidays like Christmas a rational time for McClane to travel. Secondly, had it not been Christmas time, there would not be a Christmas office party to begin with, and offices tend to only have so many large events for the entire company.

[…] the violent scenes are emphasized and more heartbreaking due to the juxtapositions of the “jolliness” of Christmas.

Finally, the entire perception of the film would have been different without the emotive implications of Christmas. The loneliness of McClane, his dysfunctional relationship with his wife, and even the violent scenes are all emphasized and more heartbreaking due to the juxtapositions of the “jolliness” of Christmas. Not only that but the fact that if McClane does not succeed, his children could be spending Christmas without their parents, which only raises the stakes for our hero.

In terms of Christmassy emotions and values, Die Hard is not far behind any other Christmas classics. A man makes a long journey to reunite with his family and along the way, realizes his failings and how important it is to support the ones we love. Not only that, but McClane’s and Powell’s relationship reflects the importance of friendship, kindness, and faith in others, and as we know from every Christmas ad ever, that’s what Christmas is all about.

Finally, where does Die Hard stand when it comes to Christmas references? In terms of verbal references, the word Christmas can be heard from the time of McClane’s arrival. Similarly, the Christmas cheer is present all around through a variety of Christmas songs, from whistling renditions of Jingle bells to the classic use of Let it snow at the very end. Equally frequent are the visual references to the season, including Christmas lights, trees, hats, and the memorable “Now I have a Machine gun Ho-Ho-Ho” threat, which would not make any sense at any other time of year.

The final answer

Maybe Die Hard doesn’t portray the Christmas tale in ways some want (and considering all the death and chaos, understandably so) but it is a Christmas story nonetheless. Yes, it is the tale of German terrorists attempting to steal 640 million dollars, and being slowly killed by a badass cop from New York. But it is also the tale of a man trying to do right by his family and saving the day before Christmas morning. It’s a tale of love, friendship, and family. And if that isn’t what Christmas is about, I’m not sure what is.

So, that’s the debate settled. Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Yippee ki yay.

 

Cover: IMDB 

Rita Alves
Rita Alves was born in Portugal but is currently living in the Netherlands, where she studies Communication Science.

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