Why We Want “Die Hard” to Be a Christmas Movie
It might have started as a joke. Some guy got fed up with having to watch made-for-the-ladies Hallmark films about snuggling, egg-nog, and snow. (Hallmark is my girlfriend’s favorite network, so I feel his pain.) He noticed that the rip-roaring fun action movie Die Hard was also set at Christmas.
And he drew a theological inference. Namely, that wholesome winter romance is no more intrinsically linked than is killing terrorists in a skyscraper to the Incarnation of Christ. So he started making the claim. “Die Hard is a Christmas movie!” Or even, “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever.”
That of course is silly. There are many, many better claimants to that title. I’ll offer my favorite. By Frank Capra, of course: Meet John Doe, with Gary Cooper. It’s a funny, dark, unsettling look at how cynical media figures and politicians can exploit the common man, and take away his liberty. It hinges on what “John Doe,” a washed-up baseball-player-turned-hobo will do on Christmas Eve. Will he make good on his widely-publicized promised to jump off the top of New York’s City Hall as a protest against the state of the world? Or will he find forgiveness, love, and hope? Go stream it on Amazon Prime. You won’t regret it.
Wholesome winter romance is no more intrinsically linked than is killing terrorists in a skyscraper to the Incarnation of Christ.
The Best Christmas Movies
I’m sure you have other candidates. My list of favorites would include The Ref with Dennis Leary, and (especially for kids) Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
And obviously, It’s a Wonderful Life, a powerful film that explores despair and suicide, and originally flopped at the box office. It only became a Christmas classic by a quirk of copyright law. The studio forgot to renew its rights, hence the show was free to broadcast without any royalties. So small, local TV stations not connected to networks began to air it, wall to wall, at Christmastime. Then and only then did viewers discover what a great piece of art it is.
It might have been even better, had the studio kept its original ending. Instead of singing “Auld Lang Syne,” the Baileys and friends originally bowed their heads and prayed the Our Father! That’s right, that’s the how ending was shot. But British censors bizarrely considered the use of a prayer in a commercial film potentially blasphemous, and threatened to ban it. So the deeply Catholic Frank Capra shot another ending — the one we know.
Die Hard Holds Up Really Well
Okay, back to Die Hard. I saw it when it came out back in 1988. But then, I went to see every movie that played at the dollar theater near my apartment in Baton Rouge. (The cinema’s air conditioning was much better than mine.) I didn’t notice the Christmas theme, and didn’t remember much about the film. It was only when Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas threw a Christmas party last year featuring the film that I saw it again, on Christmas Eve.
And I loved it. The film holds up really well, unlike so many movies from three decades back. The action scenes were gripping. The jokes are still pretty funny. And Alan Rickman’s villain stands as a character for the ages, with his bored, blasé sadism, and unflappable self-assurance.
But why call this a Christmas movie? Why insist on that?
The Religion of Humanity
I think there’s a deeper reason than simply trolling anti-gun activists and irritating pacifists. Or even teasing the girls. Linking Christmas with a movie like this is a way of expressing something much more profound, if unspoken. We’re sick to the very bone of emasculated, sappy, smarmy social justice religion. I won’t say “Christianity,” because this world view isn’t Christian, however many lesbians in Roman collars or campy Jesuits in cashmere say otherwise from pulpits.
No, the new religion that dominates Mainline churches (both Protestant and Catholic) is the “religion of humanity.” As Daniel Mahoney notes in his brilliant new book which I’m still reading, The Idol of Our Age, that creed isn’t even a Christian heresy. The sentimental humanism which dominates the UN, global elites, the European Union, and nowadays the Vatican, was consciously created by non-believers like August Comte to replace Christianity. Unlike ancient paganism, it claims to be perfectly rational and to value human dignity. It appropriates from Christian doctrine certain slogan and sentiments. Sometimes it takes over major Christian institutions. But in fact such humanism is just a kind of minstrel show, which lets unbelievers craft a parody of Christian ethics, which degrades the genuine article and insults our intelligence.
We’re watching worldwide a virtual blackface act that doesn’t deploy our faith but insults it. I could multiply examples almost endlessly. I could track down actresses who favor partial birth abortion but loudly object to deer-hunting. Or ethics professors who promote both veganism and euthanasia. But let me stay closer to home.
Pope Francis, Vicar of Comte
You’ll remember that last week, the Vatican endorsed the Global Pact for Immigration, which called for UN control over the flow of people. That is, de facto open borders enforced by a burgeoning world government. And the same week, it rejected the desperate plea of persecuted Catholic mom Asia Bibi for political asylum. That was a matter of internal Pakistani sovereignty, a cardinal said.
No, don’t punch your laptop screen or hurl your phone across the room. I can do even better. Let me reach back just a little. Read this Reuters report. On June 21, 2015, Pope Francis denounced
“people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit a distrust, doesn’t it?” he said to applause.
He also criticized those who invest in weapons industries, saying “duplicity is the currency of today … they say one thing and do another.”
Then in the very same speech, the pope spoke of the Holocaust. He said:
The great powers had the pictures of the railway lines that brought the trains to the concentration camps like Auschwitz to kill Jews, Christians, homosexuals, everybody. Why didn’t they bomb (the railway lines)?
So is it Christian to make weapons and use them, or not? If not, then where do we get the bombs and planes and pilots to take out railway lines that lead to death camps? To take down regimes like Hitler’s that run such camps? Should Christians keep our hands “clean” by avoiding all acts of violence? Count on the lowly pagans among us to keep the peace and keep out tyrants’ armies?
When Christian discourse is constantly, everywhere, degraded and made ridiculous, it just feels good to reach out to Bruce Willis and embrace his action movie as a feel-good Christian classic. It shows a good man risking his life again and again to save the life of his estranged wife and a bunch of total strangers. Die Hard doesn’t mince words in depicting villains as evil. It doesn’t remake Jesus as the love child of Gandhi and Barney the Purple dinosaur. The film shows us that part of being good, and being a man, and being a good man, is the willingness to use violence under the right circumstances. It reminds us of the saints who preached and even fought on Crusades.
And that’s why Die Hard is both more human and more Christian than much of what’s coming from our pulpits. Christmas blessings on my readers and their families, and Yippee ki-yay to all.