Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yippee-kai-yay, Father Christmas!

John confesses his faults to Al
As I prepare for my annual Christmas Eve viewing of Die Hard, I present a few stray and overdue thoughts on this holiday favorite. Die Hard has been to me the prototypical "action movie." It may not have been the first, but it was the first one I noticed influencing others of its time. It established — or at least brought to my attention — some conventions that would follow elsewhere: a tricky "caper" plot that belies the simple expectations of big action, an estranged heterosexual couple that passes through the trauma of said plot to emerge reconciled at film's end, and an implicit homosexual relationship between the male leads through which all interpersonal relationship issues are resolved.

Holly's watch comes undone
Die Hard places blame for the couple's troubles on the woman and on her attempted independence. It is suggested that despite John's stubborn phallocentrism, it is Holly's decision to pursue her own career that has put the pair's marriage in jeopardy. Further, the west coast company that Holly works for is shown to be ethically dubious, in opposition to John's east coast job in law enforcement: drug use and sex in the workplace are shown during the office party, with the company boss seemingly laughing off what John sees as obvious transgressions. To save Holly, and therefore their marriage, John must defeat not only Hans Gruber, but Holly's career. He puts an end to both, literally to the former, symbolically to the latter, by undoing the clasp on Holly's watch, a gift given to her by the company for a job well done.

Reunited: John and Holly, Al and his gun
The reconciliation of John and Holly is remarkably one-sided, with John doing most of the talking. He does this talking not to Holly, however, but to Al. Talking to Al over police radio, John confesses his faults and his feelings for Holly in an emotional highpoint. Al confesses his own inadequacies, in his case a symbolic impotence resulting from his accidental shooting of a child, an incident that has left him unable to draw his gun since. When the hostage crisis is over and John and Al meet in person for the first time, they are given a much more emotional and romantic reunion than John and Holly. After their tearful embrace, Al is able to pull out his phallus — his gun — and empty it into the body of a leggy long-haired blond, the last bad guy. Both men are restored to full potency, and Holly is reclaimed by her husband and their marriage. Indeed, given the importance placed on the relationship between John and Al, Holly's role — or the role of any woman in this scenario — is strictly token.


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