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Bathed in the red of his own blood, he makes a list of bad guys and carries a bag of explosive goodies: which he sends down the chimney to help the good and punish the wicked. Is John McClane really a Communist insurgent Santa Claus?

There’s a school of thought that vehemently insists that Die Hard is not a Christmas film. This school of thought is incorrect. In fact, there are few films that are more about Christmas than Die Hard.

Strip away the constant flow of festive imagery, and music, and what you are left with is still an astoundingly self-conscious film about 1980s American consumerism and capitalistic gluttony hijacking Christmas.

When Die Hard was released, in 1988, both Reaganism and Communism were drawing their final breaths. The Soviet empire had opened up talks to discuss its dismantlement while the United States was beginning to ponder the horrific human cost of the Cold War, particularly in terms of Vietnam War revisionism.

It’s important, at this juncture, to note that the villains of the film, petty thieves masquerading as idealists, are West Germans; not East Germans. The distinction is important.

“I could talk about industrialisation and men’s fashion all day but I’m afraid work must intrude.”

Hans Gruber is not a product of Soviet socialism, he is a product of American consumerism. He is, by his own admission, classically educated and he’ll brag, to anyone who’ll listen, about his London tailored suits and his knowledge of all the latest trends from Forbes and Time magazines.

At Christmas, the Western world’s premiere celebration of life, he disregards the lives of even his own loyal men purely for material gain. In fact, the only symbolism more prominent than Christmas throughout the film is consumerist.

It’s full of corporate imagery (McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Evian, Hostess, Rolex), and the characters can’t shut up about the latest foods of the nouveau riche. The detestable TV news propagandist Richard Thornburg even namedrops Wolfgang Puck.

It’s Holly Gennaro-McClane’s Rolex that, in fact, becomes the focus of the film’s most pivotal moment. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Because the real, red, star of Die Hard is its hero, John McClane. Remember, this is 1988. This is the height of the machismo boom. Action movies are dominated by men like Schwarzenegger and Stallone and in steps a somewhat out of shape, balding, TV comedian to save the day.  

John McClane is more than just an action hero, more than just an everyman, he’s a people’s champion. The Nakatomi corporation sends him a limousine to pick him up from the airport and he simply doesn’t know what to do with it. He rides up front with Argyle, the working stiff who’s chauffeuring rich people around on Christmas Eve. The rest of the limousine, where the ridiculously huge teddy bear (another symbol of capitalistic excess) resides, is just wasted space to him.

He doesn’t care for the taste of the party’s champagne when he gets there and he instantly sees the slimeball exec Harry Ellis for what he is as he enjoys in his pre-party cocaine, an opiate indulgence enjoyed at the expense of the working class in Los Angeles.

“Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. A monkey in the wrench. A pain in the ass.”

The, literally, shoeless hero finds himself far more at home in his makeshift base of operations: the floors of the building still under construction. The place where the real working men would be.

It’s here where the dedicated, selfless, worker throws a wrench into the gears of the bourgeois villains. Waging one man guerrilla warfare against a better armed, better funded, and more numerous enemy; often via a system of tunnels. Creating a distinct echo of the tactics used by Communist fighters battling at that very moment in Asia and South America. It isn’t about the odds of success to John McClane, it’s about duty and the belief in the cause.

It’s a theme that carried over into Renny Harlin’s sequel also, in which John McClane takes on another Reaganomics inspired, American-backed fascist, villain (directly ripped from the Iran-Contra scandal). He’s not alone in his fight either. Patriarchal authority is another tool of capitalist oppression. Holly Gennaro-McClane is with John throughout his fight.

Don’t forget that John comes to accept that his wife’s, considerably more successful, career is something that he should support. Her value to the workforce is equal to, if not greater than, his own and that is more important than his pride.

“You didn’t do it for anything as noble as ‘The People’. The only time you see ‘The People’ is when you look down to see what it is you’re stepping on.”

The McClanes don’t just save Christmas, they don’t just stop the bad guys, they deal a blow to deceitful American media, to the military industrial complex and the long-time enemy of Communism – the FBI. (One of the Johnson’s even comments on how the situation reminds him of Vietnam as he rides out in his attack helicopter, prepared to sacrifice the lives of innocent workers for his own gain.)

Holly physically fights a representative of a selfish American media that carelessly tramples on the lives of the average citizen in its quest for profit. (Thornburg goes so far as to, directly, threaten an immigrant, working on Christmas Eve, with deportation if she does not acquiesce to his demands.)

Holly negotiates fair treatment for the hostages while John fights in the trenches. They are freedom fighters, liberators of the people. None more so than in the climax of Die Hard, as Hans Gruber (defeated) clings to Holly’s watch for dear life. Her rolex, a gift forced upon her by her employers, is a literal shackle of decadent capitalism. One she is freed from, sending Gruber plunging to his death. His reliance on the trappings of capitalism is what ultimately undoes him.

The McClane’s Christmas miracle is their newfound appreciation of the true meaning of the season in the face of material greed: togetherness, value of love and family.

Most Hollywood movies would have ended with the McClanes riding off into the sunset (like John Wayne and Grace Kelly, as Hans mistakenly puts it) with some of the stolen bearer bonds secretly tucked away to provide a cheeky monetary reward for their hard work. But not Die Hard. The two cling to each other, because the embrace of a true comrade is all they need.

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Posted on Dec 23, 2016

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