Let’s get one thing clear from the start.
This is NOT one of those “Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?” articles.
For one, this discussion has gone from ironic, to serious to irritating so many times there’s no more ground to cover regarding Die Hard’s Christmas bona fides. Second, after the year we’ve all had, if you find Christmas Spirit in ANYTHING, then I say have at it. Die Hard puts you in the Christmas spirt? Great! Gremlins? Sure! Boogie Nights? Why not? Now is not the year for gatekeeping Christmas cheer.
And yet, there may be some households still divided on this issue. So, in the interest of healing the divides this argument has made, I humbly present the following theory: Not only is Die Hard a Christmas movie, it’s also a secret A Christmas Carol remake in disguise.
Consider this: the basic framework of both the 1988 Action masterpiece and Charles Dickens’ pretty good book is largely the same. In both stories, the protagonist begins the story as a hard-hearted jerk who is neglectful to his family. John McClane arrives in L.A. on Christmas Eve to see his children and his estranged wife with a chip on his shoulder matched only in size by the teddy bear he brings as a gift (side note: he has two kids but only one bear? Someone’s laying the groundwork for daddy issues early). He is put off by his surroundings and almost immediately starts a fight with his wife. As for Ebenezer Scrooge, we see him early on doing pretty much the same, only his nephew Fred is the object of his scorn.
This evidence would seem circumstantial until we then move into the stories’ inciting incidents. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is awakened by the terrifying sounds created by the ghost of Jacob Marley. In Die Hard, John McClane is shaken by the sounds of screams and gunfire as terrorists seize the Nakatomi Plaza. While the method is different, both scenes disorient and alarm our protagonists, while both are in a state of undress.
Speaking of undress, here’s where Die Hard’s Dickensian influence is felt the most. As we all know, Scrooge is visited by 3 ghosts, while John McClane spends the rest of the story fighting off Hans Gruber’s gang. But the key to unlocking Die Hard’s Christmas (Carol) spirit lies in John McClane’s undershirt.
In Act I, McClane’s shirt is pure white, blemish-free. And what is he doing the first time we see him? Bringing up old arguments with his wife Holly. This is McClane’s “Christmas Past.” Much as in our memories that we view ourselves as pure, John has yet to see the error of his ways and doubles down on past grievances. It is only when his wife walks out the door that he considers he might be in the wrong. Scrooge, meanwhile, witnesses a similar exchange with the love of his life, and as he watches her walkout on him, begins to soften.
John’s entire first act is defensive. Even his first encounters with Gruber’s henchmen are hiding from them, calling the cops and only taking action when they engage with him. By the second act, McClane takes a more active approach. He seeks out bad guys, talks with Al, and banters with Hans. He hasn’t made a complete redemption, but it’s in the works. Much like Scrooge, who spends the second act of his story with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Like McClane, he sees all that is around him and makes the decision to fully engage with the world. And just as Scrooge is given a new Ghost to introduce him to these ideas, how is this change marked visually in Die Hard? By McClane’s previously pristine white shirt now a dirt and sweat-soaked brown. No longer living in the past, McClane is fully engaged in a muddled Christmas Present.
As both characters progress to the final acts of their stories, it’s clear that a change has already taken place. But to really drive the point home, our heroes must go through one final phase. Scrooge is faced with the Ghost of Christmas Future, who presents to him a world where he is dead, and no one is there to mourn him. The face of eternal damnation staring directly at him, Scrooge vows then and there to be a better person. By the third act of Die Hard, John McClane is a shell of a man. He’s has taken the beating of a lifetime and finds himself hold up in a bathroom pulling glass out of his foot. After confessing to Al that he’s starting to feel he may not make it out alive, he tells his new partner (who gets his own Tiny Tim-esque recovery in the final scene, albeit with gun violence) to pass along a message to his wife: that he should’ve been a better husband. He makes this realization while facing his own mortality. And whither his shirt? He’s not wearing it anymore, having fashioned it into a tourniquet for his injured foot. And as we all learned in Back to The Future Part III, your future hasn’t been written. So much like the paper held by Jennifer, John McClane’s torso is blank, signifying the uncertain future for him and his family.
As the climax arrives, Scrooge bounds through the town and gives Bob Crachit a raise, effectively saving Tim’s life. The story ends with Scrooge joyfully celebrating his new lease on life. In Die Hard, McClane kills Hans, saves his wife and wades through the parking lot of Nakatomi thankful of his own second chance. And when do these heartfelt scenes take place? We know for certain Scrooge’s epiphany happens on Christmas Morning. In Die Hard, it’s a little murkier, however the events of the movie happen on Christmas Eve, late enough for the Ten O’clock news to have already started. So while never explicitly stated, I’d like to think that Hans Gruber takes his plunge at the stroke of midnight, leaving John and Holly to ride off on Christmas Morning to a renewed romance and a long stay at a local medical facility.
So if you find yourself this Christmas with a loved one who insists on watching Die Hard as part of their holiday ritual, take comfort in knowing that what you’ll be watching is a story steeped in Dickensian lore and let the spirit of togetherness overtake one and all. God bless us everyone, and Yippie Kay-Yay mother******.