In It’s a Wonderful Life, James Stewart learns that, despite all of his economic woes, he is both loved and needed in his community. By the end of the film, Stewart finds that his life really does have meaning and importance by virtue of his worth to the community around him. Although he faces some personal trials, Stewart realizes that it’s the intangible things – love, friendship, and faith – which are truly important.
In Die Hard, John McClane faces his own trials by virtue of his fear of flying. A nearby passenger with a dim grasp on foot anatomy advises McClane to toss away his shoes in favor of “making fists with his toes” as an antidote to the fear, and our protagonist reluctantly takes the advice. After callously abandoning all footwear, McClane suddenly learns that what he’s taken for granted all his life is what he needs most…when he has to run barefoot across glass!
Both It’s A Wonderful Life and Die Hard espouse the same philosophy: you shouldn’t take things – yourself, your value to the community, shoes – for granted; yet Die Hard does it in a much more effective way: with extravagant torture.
All notions of giving and receiving aside, many movies hold that the real purpose of Christmas is to emphasize togetherness and family. In Die Hard, the giant blond terrorist, Karl, learns that all the untraceable bearer bonds in the world are not nearly as important as his dear brother. Unfortunately, he learns this after John McClane casually murders his sibling. Karl is so overcome by vengeance and grief at this realization that he abandons all thoughts of self-preservation and dies futilely while trying to kill Bruce Willis. He was so torn apart by the loss of his family that he wasn’t thinking logically, and was thus killed easily. So you see, John McClane also knows family is important; that’s why he makes sure to take them out first.
Christmas is, by and large, a celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is a day to give all acknowledgement and glory to the Lord. Bruce Willis screams “Jesus Christ!” like eighty times in Die Hard. That counts. Mark it.
Die Hard, likewise, is absolutely riddled with Christmas Miracles: Hans Gruber has absolute faith that the FBI will cut the electricity to Nakatomi Plaza and they do it right on schedule, Argyle has faith that he’ll be the first jive-talkin’ black sidekick in cinematic history not to die a horrible, disposable death, and he is still alive as the credits roll, while John McClane regularly demonstrates remarkable faith that the laws of physics will temporarily suspend themselves every time he manages to survive his reality-bending acrobatics.
So when you finally arrange for your close ones to gather in the living room by the familiar warmth of the fireplace with a copy of John McTiernan’s Die Hard, try to look beyond the mindless violence and machismo and surely you will discover the true values of the Holidays deeply imbedded in the fabric of Bruce Willis’ action-flick.