Home of the brave?: an external threat shall make an American man of a boy

A children’s Christmas movie did not turn out to be as harmless a bit of fun as expected for either its youthful protagonist or, indeed, family audiences


CHRISTMAS IS COMING at the McAlister home in a wealthy district of Chicago, but the house is a scene of chaos as 15 individuals, most of them children, prepare to leave for Paris, France for the celebrations. Stress levels are soaring. And such is the antagonism between 8 year old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin in a star-making role), and his eldest teenage brother, Buzz (Devin Ratray, who, to all intents and purposes could have been the model for Sid from 1995’s Toy Story), that when it hits fever pitch, practically the entire kitchen comes – metaphorically – crumbling down. Kevin is given his marching orders up to the attic by Mom (Catherine O’Hara), and before being shut inside snaps at her: ‘I wish you all would just disappear!’ When he later emerges, he finds the lot of them gone, why, as if by magic. Meanwhile, en route to Europe, Mom, Kate has suddenly realised what that nagging sense that she had forgotten something is all about. Plus, a couple of burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) are intent on robbing every house in the street while the owners are holidaying elsewhere.

Chris Columbus’ Home Alone (1990) is essentially the tale of a young boy’s growing confidence and independence as he is forced to face his – very real – fears. Yet is also the tale of a mother’s desperation and ultimate fear of all parents that one of their children is lost and potentially in danger. Since Kevin is also the youngest of the family, he has never been given the opportunity to show his mettle. To date he is regarded as the ‘baby’ and useless and helpless in equal measure. The McAlister family will learn how much they mean to each other.

Open-Mouthed Shock At A Child’s Cruel Inventions

When Kevin first realizes his wish has come true, he is elated: ‘I made my family disappear!’ he exclaims to camera – so breaking the Fourth Wall. He has the freedom of the huge house. It is this section that provided the Macaulay open-mouthed look of shock and his running around that everyone felt was so cute. Almost 30 years later, there’s a tiredness about his behaviour, and Culkin simply is not that cute a child actor. The film was meant to look timeless but Home Alone has not dated well, though young families are likely to enjoy the film’s slapstick and pratfalls. Were it not that so many of those set pieces involve a cruelly inventive way with broken Christmas baubles and household tools including a blow torch, hot iron, and nails. You don’t have to think about Kevin too much to realise that for all the innocent kid coda, he is as brutal a little shit as the thuggish looking Buzz.

There is an attempt in John Hughes’ script to introduce some lightness and Christmas spirit. The seriously terrifying neighbour wielding a snow shovel turns out t be a sweet and concerned old man (Roberts Blossom), teaching Kevin not to judge by appearances. Fleeing the burglars, the boy will find refuge dressed as a lowly shepherd in the church ground’s nativity stable. Isolated and lonely, he shall later venture inside the church in the early evening and discover unexpected friendship and reassurance. (Hearing ‘The Carol of the Bells’ here redeems its later use as a soundtrack to a devil child’s Christmas massacre in 2007’s Whisper.)

More Than An Eye Out

Home Alone was released at the start of the decade in which the belief that movie violence encouraged real-life violence was at its height. Films such as Quentin Tarentino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994) were regularly cited as influencers of wicked behaviour. Yet little concern was voiced regarding what Kevin McAllister was up to. Personally, I found his behaviour more offensive since it was being passed off to viewers as amusing harmless fun. Like the cartoon series, ‘Tom and Jerry’, except of course they were a cat and a mouse at loggerheads, not a small boy attacking two grown men. Kevin’s role call of viciousness was examined by a doctor to determine the real damage he would have done [1]. The boy’s use of a BB gun had come a long way since young Ralphie was being warned ‘You’ll shoot your eye out!‘ in A Christmas Story (1983).

Nevertheless, there is no denying the sheer artistry of Troy James and Leon Delaney, stunt doubles to Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. The dynamism, inventiveness, and choreography of these two is worth celebrating. Whereas Gremlins (1984) initiated an entire new vocabulary of technical methods to puppetry, Home Alone is similarly notable for its innovative falls. Backside over head backward slips on ice and a wonderful mirrored duet of both James and Delaney skidding on a melee of Dinky-style vehicles in the hallway is downright impressive.

For all the intended Christmas spirit and renewal of family love, Home Alone all but reads as a children’s version of David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005). Kevin has learnt how to be an American man.

[1] http://www.designntrend.com/articles/9805/20131224/doctors-diagnosis-home-alone-injuries.htm