It’s that time of year again: the annual debate over whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie!
My personal opinion is that this one’s easy: yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. But a friend on Facebook made an interesting argument against Die Hard‘s Christmas status the other day, and I want to tease it out a little more. Basically his view is that there is nothing intrinsically Christmas to Die Hard, at least not in the same way that Christmas is intrinsic to Miracle on 34th Street (his example). Basically, my friend argues that you can’t have Miracle on 34th Street take place any other time of year, where Die Hard actually can take any time of year.
Now, I’m honestly not sure about my friend’s argument. I mean, Miracle on 34th Street does seem to require Christmas, but I’m sure you could tell pretty much the same story at some other time of year, though it would definitely require quite a bit of heavy lifting in the writing department to make it work. And could Die Hard take place any other time? Sure. Obviously it could. Hans Gruber and friends could just take over the building on Easter Sunday, or July 4. As I noted to my friend, I’ve seen Die Hard set at another time of year. It’s called Die Hard With a Vengeance.
My problem with my friend’s argument is that it’s deeply limiting as to what constitutes a “Christmas movie”. Does a Christmas movie have to involve Christmas to such a degree that it literally can’t take place any other time? I don’t think so. Die Hard isn’t just set at Christmastime; it intrinsically involves a lot of emotions that come to the fore at that time. Family concerns. Redemption. Getting home for the holidays, safe and sound. Are those ideas unique to Christmas? No, but they are most certainly central to Christmas. So, could Die Hard take place at some other time? Sure. But the Christmastime setting gives it a subtext that engages the emotions, doesn’t it? Die Hard has a lot going for it as a movie: it’s extremely well-made, a virtual masterpiece in its genre, but a lot of action movies are well-made. It’s the emotions that keep it so re-watchable now, 35 years or so after it came out; the Christmas setting is part of how Die Hard gets us to care about its characters.
So I would argue that yes, Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie. I also argue that the first Lethal Weapon movie, also set at Christmas, is a Christmas movie, for similar reasons, even though LW doesn’t push the Christmas subtext quite as hard as Die Hard. Still, LW makes Martin Riggs’s redemption and his finding meaning after his wife’s death one of the major emotional subplots, and that is very much informed by Christmas.
Now, how about Die Hard 2? It also takes place at Christmas! It’s also about getting home, and all the other stuff, isn’t it? Well, that one I think has less of a claim as a Christmas movie than the original, but for me that’s more because in that respect it doesn’t do much new with the Christmas theme from the first film. And that’s interesting to me, given how inventive and fresh Die Hard 2 actually is. That movie does not get enough credit for not repeating the first movie.
There’s another way for a movie to be a Christmas movie, but it’s a more nebulous one: it’s our own associations. Ultimately it’s up to us to decide what’s a Christmas movie, isn’t it? The Sound of Music has become a Christmas tradition, even though its story has nothing to do with Christmas at all. (On a more limited note, “My Favorite Things” has become a staple of Christmas songs, and there’s nothing about it at all that’s intrinsic to Christmas.) For me, My Fair Lady is a Christmas movie, because I watched it the first time right around Christmas and that’s just the association I have with it. And my beloved On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which takes place at Christmas, is absolutely a Christmas movie. And I’ll bet there are a lot of families who always watch some completely non-Christmas movie every year at Christmas, because of one tradition or another, so for them, that movie is a Christmas movie.
There are many ways to be a Christmas movie, and I think that’s a good thing. So: in conclusion Your Honor, I insist that Die Hard most certainly is a Christmas movie, and that therefore the score to Die Hard, composed by the wonderful and dearly-missed Michael Kamen, is by extension Christmas music. That being the case, I close with this suite.