A few years ago I had a roommate who admitted that she had never seen Die Hard. As someone who tries in vain to work "come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs" into any casual conversation, I was baffled and a little bit outraged.
"What? Not even at Christmas?" I asked, incredulous. It was her turn to be baffled. "What's Die Hard got to do with Christmas?"
Here's what. On its face, the 1988 film might seem like just another action hero flick in which a no-nonsense protagonist single-handedly defeats evil terrorists while flashing his biceps and dropping one-liners. The fact that it — and the Roderick Thorp book that inspired it, 1979's Nothing Lasts Forever — is set during an office party on Christmas Eve could be incidental. However, the stakes would certainly not be as high if all this mayhem was going down during Ellis' going-away blowout or some generic cocktail party. It's not just about saving these office workers — it's about saving Christmas.
The film takes pains to remind us that it's that special time of year. It may be sunny Los Angeles, but twinkling lights and Christmas decorations are everywhere. John McClane wants to hear Christmas music; Argyle gives him Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," a.k.a. the Die Hard of Christmas carols. Sergeant Al Powell hums carols to himself before ending up in a Twinkie sandwich. Flashes of red infiltrate just about every shot, giving even the most violent scenes a festive touch. Don't tell me you've never noticed the persistent Santa-on-his-sleigh jingling that scores several scenes.
Even the terrorists are feeling festive. Hans Gruber says it's the time of miracles. Theo quotes "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Then there's Tony, the ill-fated terrorist who winds up with a broken neck, a Santa hat, and a sweatshirt scrawled with "Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho."
No, it's not It's a Wonderful Life — the most beloved film about a botched suicide attempt to date. Santa isn't the hero, nor are there any cute elves or reindeer or other holiday film tropes. But, is it not festive? Is it not heartwarming? (I still well up every time Bruce Willis hugs Al and emits that guttural cry-laugh.) Does it not make you believe that extraordinary things can happen at Christmas — and that everything will be alright in the end? Is it not more or less Home Alone for adults, only bloodier and with better-looking criminals?
Traditionalists can have their "Teacher says, 'Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.'" I'll keep my "Yippee-ki-yay muthafucka." Santa gets it.
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