‘Die Hard’ Isn’t Just the Best Christmas Movie, It’s the Most American
Yippee-kai-yay and God bless us, everyone.
This Christmas, like many before it, you’ll have your choice of Die Hard think pieces. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie because it takes place on Christmas? (Yes. Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says so.) Is Die Hard the BEST Christmas movie? (According to some people and outlets, yes. But then some other people say no.) Is it not actually a Christmas movie at all, but an Easter allegory? (Whatever floats your boat!)
Instead of weighing into this already-overstuffed debate, I had a different question going in this year. While watching John McClane pick off Hans Gruber and his henchmen during his estranged wife’s holiday party, I wanted to know: Is Die Hard the most American Christmas movie of all time? And to take it a step further: regardless of its holiday association, is Die Hard the most American movie ever made?
Well, let’s break it down, the tune of Argyle the limo driver’s favorite Christmas diddy:
1. Inherent Distrust of German Accents
Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his motley team of faux-terrorists are a true melting pot of baddies. Sure, the faces of the operation were German: Gruber, the Aryan Wondertwins Tony and Karl Vreski, Alexander, Fritz, James, Kristoff and Heinrich. (Thanks, Die Hard Wikia!) But that forgets the just-as-important henchmen with even more egregious stereotypical attributes. Like French explosive experts, Franco. (Very original.) Or Marco, the Italian terrorist enlisted by Gruber who wears a GODDAMN CRUCIFIX. Eddie and Theo are the Americans, and—to give daps where they are due—good on Gruber for bucking the stereotype and employing a black man as a computer hacker.
But Gruber was smart to make sure that when pulling the Nakatomi Plaza heist, it was just him and his German compatriots in front of the hostages to create a cohesive dread of the Western Superpower. (Rocky III was only two years before Die Hard, so…). Clearly, these guys weren’t JUST robbers….listen to them talk!
The accents had another purpose besides just a diversionary tactic: it turns out a LACK of a German accent is all that’s needed to convince police that you are not, in fact, a gang of murderers. Think about Eddie sitting in the lobby, pretending to the be the security guard when Sgt. Powell first arrives. The second half of this movie almost didn’t happen because an LAPD officer trusted this guy’s claim that everything was copacetic over the VERY LOUD EXPLOSION NOISES going off in the building at the time.
Or how about the scene when McClane first meets Gruber, who smartly dons a (not-very-believable) Texan accent to pretend to be a hostage? Now, you can say that McClane always knew Gruber was bluffing, and that’s why he didn’t put any bullets in the gun. But watch that scene again closely and you’ll see that McClane does indeed think Gruber is an innocent bystander…until he messes up by pulling a Usual Suspects move and creates a fake name from a company directory right in front of McClane’s sightline.
If only Gruber had introduced himself as “John Smith.” That is a very American name.
2. Likewise, Distrust of Japanese Business
The important, if subtle, context for Die Hard (if there can be said to be anything “subtle” about this movie) is that in the 80s, people were convinced Japan was going to “buy” America, as many of the country’s corporations were buying out American industries, including our car manufacturing plants. (See also: Michael Keaton’s Gung Ho). As the noble martyr of Die Hard, Joe Takagi, of Nakatomi Trading, seems like a stand-up character who refuses to bow to the whims of common (or “exceptional,” depending on who you listen to,) criminals like Gruber.
BUT! Think about it: Nakatomi’s American flagship is vulnerable to Gruber’s attack specifically because it fit two purposes: it was an international corporation (to sell the terrorist logic) AND kept $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds down in the vault. (Which brings its own set of questions: why keep that much money in an unfinished building?) This was a sign of how we viewed the fast-rising tide of Japanese buying sprees in America during this time. Of course, Takagi wants his flagship trading company in Los Angeles instead of Japan. Right…because THAT makes sense.
IN FACT: If you go to Business Insider’s 2014 article, “The True Story Of The 1980s, When Everyone Was Convinced Japan Would Buy America,” there’s an interesting photo accompanying the piece:
One last thing: the present Holly is given for her time at Nakatomi? A Rolex watch that is almost her undoing. BUY AMERICAN!
3. Cocaine and Sexual Harassment = Fun Office Party!
Haha, f-ck you, Harry Ellis. Too bad you didn’t live long enough to make it to the #MeToo movement.
4. Even the Supposed Terrorists Have American Values
Gruber’s gang: They aren’t here to make friends or free political prisoners…though I’m sure those seven members of the semi-fictional Asian Dawn, New Provo Front and Liberte de Quebec were very grateful for their early release. At the end of the day, the scheme of getting the FBI involved and bringing helicopters for the terrorists and their hostages to charter to a plane somewhere was all a bluff: Gruber needed to buy time so he could get all the bonds and valuables from the vault and blow up the building. What could be more American than using an international threat as a diversion to line your pockets with cold, hard cash…amIright?
Also of note: Gruber used to be ofVolksfrei, a German terrorist organization but got kicked out for being too violent and aggressive. So of course, he’s a much better match for the yippee-kai-yay cowboy cops in the U.S.
5. Cops Are Superhuman Heroes (Who Should Also Run for President)
If you want to get real academic about it, McClane vs Vreskis is no less a battle between the all-American Superman and the Nazi-coopted concept of the Ubermensch; literally translated as “superman.” And in that matchup, guess ho-ho-who gets the machine gun?
Not only that, but the amount of times Gruber refers to McClane as some version of the all-American hero John Wayne? It may derogatory in his mind, but to American viewers in July of 1988, cinematic cowboy Ronald Reagan was still in office. Gruber is basically calling John McClane a hero and a president in every put-down he uses.
Plus, McClane can walk on glass, which I’m pretty sure even John Wayne and President Reagan couldn’t have done.
6. Child-Killing Cop RedeemED By Shooting Other People
Sorry Carl Winslow, we don’t buy your redemptive arc of “shooting Hans Gruber to make up for the kid you murdered for having a laser toy.” Even more disquieting in today’s climate is the fact Sgt. Al Powell (what a name, this guy) was only demoted to desk duty, instead of…you know…indicted by a grand jury. And he makes it seem like a choice he made to not use his weapon anymore! Shouldn’t the police take the gun away from you for shooting a child?
As Salon’s resident violent Christmas movie expert Erin Keane explained to me: Not to get too granular, but Die Hard is also a story celebrating a maverick cop aided by a cop who had shot and killed a kid carrying a toy gun, which makes it an an odd duck choice for universal praise in 2017. I’m surprised it’s not more divisive because of that; as symbols of that which staves off encroaching chaos go, that’s a conservative pick. But maybe Christmas movies are politics-proof.
To this point: we’re talking about the LAPD in 1988, years before Rodney King when the whole organization was run without regard for the lives of black or Latino residents. This assumes Sgt. Powell shot a black child instead of a white one, but that’s obviously the case…otherwise, John McClane’s BFF-in-arms would be behind bars, not a desk.
7. Journalists Are Story-Chasing Leeches Who Endanger Lives and Deserve to Be Punched in the Face
8. All Things Being Equal, Alan Rickman Has a Lot More Fun in Die Hard Than British Christmas Classic, Love Actually
I rest my case, your honor. Die Hard is the best Christmas movie for America, by America (that also wants you to buy American). And that’s coming straight from Mr. Cowboy.
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