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Posts Tagged ‘Macaulay Culkin’

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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Home Alone DVD

Those of you who read the first part of this pair-o’-posts remember that it dealt with “Home Alone’s” portrayal of both family tension (traceable to the Fall in Eden) and the goodness and importance of the human family, the latter being shown by what happens to Kevin McCallister when he is separated from his own family.

What about redemption?  Is the rift that opens up between Kevin and the rest of his family healed?  If so, how?

As I said in the first post, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on both sides.  Let’s look at how this works for each in turn.

Kate McCallister

Any parent could relate to Kate McCallister’s anguish as, while flying over international waters, she learns that she and her family mistakenly left her 8-year-old son home by himself.  Furthermore, any parent could feel Kate and her husband’s (John Heard) frustration when the family repeatedly attempts to contact the neighbors to inform them of their emergency, only to find that they have all left for the holidays.

As the movie progresses, we follow Kate’s frantic and seemingly hopeless quest to get back home to Kevin.  She is looking for a flight to Chicago right in the middle of the Christmas rush, when there are very nearly no flights available to…well, anywhere.

The rest of the family, in the words of Megan McCallister (Hillary Wolf), is “rotting” in a Parisian apartment worried about the helpless little brother they left behind.  Certainly, a situation like this would be enough to change one’s mind about even the brattiest younger sibling.

Kate McCallister 2

But it is Kate’s journey that should intrigue us most.  In the mother’s search for her son, we see the breadth and depth of human love…particularly within the family.  We cannot help but feel the extent of her motherly devotion when we see her travelling from Europe back to America and then all over the States, bartering her way from airport to airport, tirelessly and adamantly arguing with anyone who tries to tell her she cannot catch a flight home, and going without sleep for nearly sixty hours in the process.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that this level of dedication and self-exertion is necessary (even if not always to that extent) whenever there has been a major falling-out between two parties (family, close friends, a romantically involved couple, etc).  Whenever something has happened to upset the relationship, someone must go out of his or her way to restore harmony.

We could think of it as being like a substance that has been stretched too far in a certain direction.  Sometimes, the only way to put it back to normal is to stretch it a bit farther than normal in the opposite direction.

Kevin Alone

As for Kevin, we notice that the redemptive process works quite a bit more slowly in him.  At first, he is feverishly excited over his newfound “freedom” and wowed that he “made (his) family disappear.”

But before long, he starts to realize that fundamental truth of human existence:

It is not good for … man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

Kevin learns about the value of belonging through aloneness, of interdependence through isolation, of family through solitude.

In his childhood innocence, Kevin even connects his separation from the rest of the family with his own guilt.  Fans will recall the heartbreaking scene in which, lying in his parents’ master bed, he looks at a family portrait and says: “If you come back, I’ll never be a pain in the butt again.  I promise.”

homealone_church

Almost immediately afterwards, he experiences what I would call “mutual metanoia*” in an encounter with his neighbor, “old man Marley” (see my December 5 post at https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/home-alone-a-great-work-of-art/ for more information on that).  Upon learning that Marley has long been estranged from his son – and, by extension, from his young granddaughter – because of a heated argument they had years before, Kevin strongly encourages him to give his son a call and see if reconciliation might be possible.

Through the encouragement of an 8-year-old, Marley overcomes his fear of the possibility that his son won’t speak to him, and reconciliation does indeed ensue.

Kevin vs Burglars

Finally, I think it’s fair to say that Kevin’s appreciation of his home and the family to whom it belongs sharpens when he has to defend it against the invasion of Harry and Marv, the “wet bandits.” Bravely and ingeniously confronting the burglars from whom he had fled in terror earlier, Kevin learns selfless love through the exercise of courage.

It is interesting that this stage of Kevin’s journey comes immediately after the conversation with Marley.  It’s as if the hope he gains (namely, for family reconciliation) from this exchange strengthens his resolve.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the events of “Home Alone” were factual.  All things considered, the accidental separation of Kevin and his family could be seen as providential.  Through this unhappy circumstance, God brought about healing for a family in need of it.

Christ Crucified by Velazquez

Such things are reflections of the ultimate Unhappy Circumstance – the immolation of God’s only Son upon the Cross – whereby the rift between God and man (and, by extension, the rift within each human person and among the whole human family) was healed.  That is what Christ’s Coming (Christ’s Mass) was all about.

And I think it is fundamentally for that reason that “Home Alone” is such an endearing Christmas movie.

*”Metanoia” means “repentance.”  This signifies a change of direction – we could think of it also as a change of heart and mind.

All images obtained through a Google image search.

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homealone

I’d like to return to my favorite holiday film, “Home Alone” — this time to unpack some of the things we can learn from it about the human condition.

To start, let me share something I learned from my good friend Captain Obvious: “Home Alone” is about family.

Yes, it is also about a clever and devious 8-year-old who outwits two bumbling burglars in a parade of hilarious booby traps.  But let’s be honest, isn’t that just a small slice of the movie?

For our purposes, the film could be divided into three major sections:

A. We meet Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) and his family, who have a falling out.
B. Kevin and his family are separated, and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on both sides.
C. Kevin and his family are reunited on Christmas Day.

Here we see the familiar narrative pattern of original harmony, fall, and redemption.   And it’s all about the family.

Home Alone Redemption

I don’t think too many people would disagree about the paradoxical nature of family.  It is the fundamental unit of society, the seed of community, the place where we first become aware of ourselves as individuals, where we gain a sense of identity and responsibility, and from which we draw a sense of security that allows us to explore our world…however big or small that world might be.

But it can also be the place of greatest tension.  Of the number of “explosive” situations that occur among mankind, an appreciable percentage seem to occur within the household.

If we look at the last several decades in Western culture, we can’t help but notice that the institution of the family has taken some major hits, much to the detriment of the rest of society.  No doubt, this owes itself to external forces and in no way undermines the reality of the family’s importance.  Yet there are volatile elements within the family unit that these forces can use as “ammunition.”

kevinmad

“Home Alone” does a great job at portraying family tension and family redemption.  The tension builds up gradually at the beginning, culminating in an incident in the kitchen that gets Kevin sentenced to a night alone in the attic bedroom, sent on his way by the fiercely unfriendly stares of his siblings, cousins, aunt, and uncle… not to mention the un-sugarcoated chastisement of his parents.

I am learning more about my faith all the time, but from what I know and have studied, the Catholic understanding of the human family cannot be looked at apart from two of its core doctrines: Imago Dei and Original Sin.

Michaelangelos-creation-of-Adam

The meaning of Imago Dei is clear enough:

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

The “image of God” is personal, but also communal, for God Himself is a family.  As St. John says:

God is love (1 John 4:8).

Holy Trinity

If “God is love,” this entails an eternal communion of Lover (the Father), Beloved (the Son), and the Love they share (the Holy Spirit), and there you have it — the eternal family of the Holy Trinity.

Since human beings are made in the image and likeness of God,

It is not good for … man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)

Adam and Eve

If we are made in the image and likeness of the Thrice-Holy God, then we are made for fellowship.  In Genesis, we read that marriage is mankind’s first covenantal relationship.  The husband and wife image their Creator by their love for one another, but in the begetting of children they share in two other Divine traits as well: creativity and parental care.

So we begin to see how the family becomes the fundamental unit of all community, and why it is in itself such a good thing.

Holy Family

This native goodness is elevated to a whole new level in the Holy Family — that is, St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the Child Jesus.  In the Holy Family, which we see depicted in many a nativity scene at this time of year, the world sees the human family confirmed in its God-given dignity and importance.

And then there’s Original Sin, which we are taught has tarnished God’s image in man.  This impacts not only the divine image each of us bears as a person, but also the divine image in its familial aspects.

We see the consequences of Original Sin for the human family immediately in the Bible:

…the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination (see Genesis 3:7-16) (CCC 400).

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him (Genesis 4:8).

Hence the tension families throughout history have experienced.

As we watch “Home Alone,” we see how good and important the family unit is by virtue of what happens when Kevin is removed from its midst.  All alone in a nearly deserted suburban neighborhood, he becomes vulnerable to the intrusion of the “wet bandits” (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), a pair of avaricious burglars determined to raid Kevin’s house…with or without him in it.

Wet Bandits

Indeed, the breakdown of the family opens the individual up to many dangers.  Whether these entail immediate threats to a child’s safety, bad influences, or otherwise, no one can deny that the burglars in “Home Alone” point to this fundamental truth.

Fans of “Home Alone” will recall the dramatic tension of the scene in which the wet bandits follow Kevin in their van.  Not one to take chances with strangers, Kevin runs…and we root for his safety.

Luckily, he finds a hiding spot in front of a nearby church and loses the burglars.  I confess that I may be reading too much into the scene in question, but I can’t help but raise an eyebrow when I reflect that Kevin takes refuge in a Nativity scene with…who?

That’s right: The Holy Family.

I will deal with the subject of family redemption as portrayed in “Home Alone” in a second post (and yes, there will only be two this time, rather than the five posts that my review of “The Grey” and “Big Miracle” ended up being).

All “Home Alone” images and image of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” obtained through a Google image search; remaining images obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org.

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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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