I was watching Die Hard the other night – it’s one of Pixie’s favourite films. She owns the “Die Hard: Quadrilogy” DVD box set. I noticed, as if for the first time, that the subtext to the film seems to affirm differing viewpoints. I know, I know – it’s only a goofy action film, though a very good one at that. I’d say that it re-wrote the action film template for much of the 90s and even Noughties genre output.
Now, I suspect director John McTiernan and the scriptwriters (adapting the story from a novel called “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp) never intended any political subtext for the film – they were looking for a “fun” thrill-ride for the audience. As always, though, the viewer may end up adding their own “gloss” or reality-tunnel onto the finished work.
The most common view is that “Die Hard” is an affirmation of the conservative ideology of 1980s America. Nakatomi Plaza is symbolic of the dominant Japanese economy ‘invading’ the U.S. through financial methods. The “terrorists” are German, representing America’s old World War II foes. The F.B.I., represents the Federal Government, mucking up the situation and over-extending their authority….and on and on. There’s a blog which sums up the conservative subtext deftly – it can be found here.
I even found a blog post from a Christian viewpoint, which claims the film affirms a few gospel messages!!???!!! Granted, the post is mostly about the marital strife between John McClane and his estranged wife, Holly. You can read that post here.
Into this mix, I (only half-seriously) posit that there’s even a leftie/libertarian subtext to be gleaned in between the gunshots and blood-soaked feet. Firstly, the African-American characters are the calmest and most rational, even Argyle, the limo driver, pegs McClane’s situation within a few minutes. Al Powell, the beat cop who stays in contact with McClane while he’s trapped in the upper floors of the tower, provides good advice and encouragement. They’re also intergral to the ‘sides’ they’re on. Theo, the geeky hacker-whiz working for the terrorists, is the only one who can unlock the computerised vault to get at the cash bonds the gang wants. Also, it should be pointed out, none of these characters fall into the dreaded “Magic Negro” category (O.K., maybe Powell is a little bit). Sure, they may be a bit cliched – but they’re important to the story. That seems pretty libertarian to me.
The terrorists are meant to ‘the baddies’ and yes, they do some pretty reprehensible things (did the security guard at the reception desk really need to be shot? Couldn’t they just knock him out?) – but many of the American characters aren’t much better. The two F.B.I. agents, Johnson and Johnson (a sly dig at the corporation?…O.K., probably not), come off as arrogant know-it-alls. Dwayne Robinson, the LA. police chief, does his bureaucratic by-the-book schtick and attempts to keep McClane sidelined. The film wouldn’t be complete without the 80s slime-ball and “Die Hard”s is “Harry Ellis”, played to coked-up, lounge-lizard perfection by Hart Bochner. There’s a subtle hint that Harry’s trying to get into Holly’s pants, which makes him even more of a conniving twat. William Atherton’s reporter is unscrupulous and even threatens Holly’s housekeeper with deportation, so he can interview the McClane children. Against that crew of fuck-ups and cut-throats, does Hans Grueber and his co-horts seem to be really “evil”? It’s never mentioned how Nakatomi Corporation made it’s millions – maybe they’re weapons manufacturers? Now, I’m not a fan of theft, especially when it comes to the ordinary rank-and-file, but if Nakatomi got the cash from shady deals, well…it’s all a bit relative.
That’s about where I’ve got to in my perspective. To be honest, there’s not much more to the film other than explosions, smart-arse quips and lots of gunfire. Holly’s cop-out at the end, when she takes her husband’s surname again definitely leans in a conservative subtext – but I think that some of the other subtexts can be taken a number of ways. Or maybe I’m just daft?