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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Movies’

homealoneThe reason the scenario of “Home Alone” is so funny is that it is a joke.

A joke, at root, is the juxtaposition of incongruous elements, often to humorous effect.  In this case, the joke is on the Wet Bandits, two full-grown, mean burglars who are outwitted and banged up by a little 8-year-old boy.

How, precisely, does this unlikely turn of affairs happen?  How is Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) able to outsmart his formidable burgling foes?

At the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll suggest that it’s because Kevin knows his own house.  Moreover, he knows how to use it against the intruders who want to plunder it.

Wet BanditsBurglars Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), on the other hand, are coming into this situation with a decided disadvantage.  Not only are they coming into what is not their own, they are also “zeroing in” on what they can use for their own purposes.  So their eyes are going to be on things like how to get into the house (Marv is an expert lock-picker) and on what they want to take with them when they leave (jewelry, etc).

Kevin at HomeKevin’s vantage point comes from being at home within the house, so his perspective is one of belonging, of “placed-ness.”

Use is not bad in itself — it’s even necessary in many cases.  It is when use becomes the governing principle of our lives and relations that we get into trouble, because then questions of right and wrong become subject to questions of usefulness.

Demons Torment S.t AnthonyAnd that’s where the spiritual analogy comes in.  The world and humanity have their own “Harry and Marv” — namely, the devil and his rebel angels (a.k.a. demons).  The Satanic attitude toward the world can only be one of use — of appropriating persons, places, and things for egotistical and power-hungry purposes.  This is even — perhaps especially — the case when use means destruction.

Simon_Bening_-_The_Temptation_of_ChristLucky, we also have a Kevin.  As the Eternal Word (Logos), Jesus Christ knows His own universe inside and out.  Yet He doesn’t stop there.  He comes to “pitch His tent among us” (John 1:14), becoming at-home with us.  He outsmarts the devil as a sort of small child (literally, upon first entering the world), turning him away as surely as Kevin McCallister turns away the Wet Bandits.

When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe.  But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. (Luke 11: 21-22)

Let’s walk briefly through Kevin’s creative uses of house materials against the Wet Bandits, some of which are foreshadowed early in the film.  At the beginning, Kevin’s dad tells him to “pick up those Micro Machines…Aunt Leslie slipped on one of them and almost broke her neck.”  Fans will recall that he later disperses these Micro Machines at the base of stairway, causing Harry and Marv to go flying.

Marv_Tarantula Kevin’s brother, Buzz, has a pet tarantula.  Kevin will later use him to scare off Marv when the latter gets a hold of his ankle.

I could go on and on, from Kevin’s use of irons, Christmas tree ornaments, paint cans, etc.  But I think you get the point.

Finally, how does Jesus Christ use His “household materials” to outwit the devil?  Again, we’ll just run through a few examples:

  • Water – used to take our children out of the devil’s hands in Baptism
  • Bread and wine — As a Catholic, I believe in the doctrine according to which He gives the priest power to turn these into His very Body and Blood in the Mass
  • Suffering — Christ can use this to bring us closer to Him

And of course there are many other things in our material world and everyday lives that He makes use of for our salvation, sanctification, and edification (this topic deserves a whole separate post; maybe I’ll do one in the future).  In all cases, we can afford to laugh a bit at the “burglars” who are flipped onto their heads and made fools of, and to smile at the Clever Child Who outsmarts them in defense of what is His own.

I didn’t realize until just now that it is one year to the day that I posted “‘Home Alone’ Redux.”  Time flies, doesn’t it?  Thanks for reading!

All “Home Alone” images obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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homealone

Many filmmakers throughout the years have seemed to labor under the impression that children are idiots.

Sorry … I guess that’s a little too harsh.  But there does seem to be a prevalent idea that kids are not “sophisticated” enough to appreciate the beauty of a good work of art — whether that be a story, painting, or any other art form.

Say what you will about “Home Alone,” it is surely not tailored to suit that generalization.

Granted, I am a little biased.  “Home Alone” was one of the first movies I saw in the theater, and it was constant fare for me and my siblings when we bought it on VHS (remember those?).  Needless to say, it is a childhood favorite.

Director Chris Columbus and writer/producer John Hughes worked not only to make this movie entertaining, but also to give it depth and a strong aesthetic quality that cinema buffs could appreciate — you know, the type of quality kids are supposedly unable to “get.”

In my opinion, not only does “Home Alone” operate on the assumption that children can appreciate the aesthetic value of a movie, it also presents it in ways that only children can fully appreciate.

Marley

When I say this, I am thinking, in particular, of the character named “Old Man Marley” (Roberts Blossom), Kevin McCallister’s (Macaulay Culkin) scary next-door neighbor.

At the beginning of the movie, Kevin’s older brother, Buzz (Devin Ratray), tells a story about how Marley murdered his entire family “and half the people on the block” many years earlier, and has since wandered the streets collecting salt to preserve his victims’ mummified bodies.

So we can understand Kevin’s terror at seeing Marley at a grocery store later on in the film, his bloodied fist clothed in a white rag.

Marley_Store

As we watch Kevin backing away from the store counter, his fear becomes ours.  The language of the camera as it very slowly pulls away from Marley’s austere face, the narrow space of the camera frame as Kevin backs away, the use of somewhat darker colors, John Williams’ haunting score…all of these make his fight-or-flight response palpable.

Now, I’m assuming all of my readers are adults, so let’s think about this a minute.  What are the chances that anyone, serial killer or not, would just kill a young child in broad daylight in a public store — and without the least disguise, at that?  As adults, we watch this scene with our sharpened rationality and realize that it requires some serious suspension of disbelief.

Furthermore, if anyone gives credence to Marley’s reputation as a serial killer, I have three simple words: Consider the source.

The only source the audience has is Buzz, an adolescent boy with the maturity of someone half his age … who numbers three items “A, two, and D” instead of “one, two, and three” … who has the unique opportunity to travel to Paris as a young man, yet whose foremost thought is that “the French babes don’t shave their pits.”

But when you’re a kid, you don’t necessarily think about that stuff.  For a child, the scene between Kevin and Marley in the store can be a moment of sheer terror and suspense in a way that it could never be for an adult.

So imagine how a kid might feel later on, when Marley approaches Kevin as he sits by himself in a near-empty church.  This menacing figure whose grasp Kevin has managed to elude successfully thus far is finally closing in.  And when he reaches Kevin, the first words that come out of his mouth are:

“Merry Christmas.  May I sit down?”

homealone_church

The austerity and fear this character has inspired up to this point make what follows all the more touching.  We learn that this is not a dangerous man, but a warmhearted gentleman and grandfather.  We learn that he has experienced pain in his life, and we kind of get the impression that until he met Kevin, he had no one to reach out to about it.

Can a scene like this move anyone of any age?  Sure — it still moves me when I watch it today.  But again, think of how much more striking it must be to someone whose sense of Marley’s dangerousness does not have the filter that we call “suspension of disbelief.”

For this and other reasons, I would name “Home Alone” not only my favorite Christmas movie, but one of my top five favorite films of all time.

May no filmmaker be afraid of being a child at heart, and may no child-at-heart fear to become a filmmaker.

All images obtained through a Google image search.

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