There is much more to Home Alone. Much, much more. This film is part of my history – my childhood between ages 8-12. My brother and I watched this religiously. Every sequence, scene and line evokes memory of non-stop jokes my brother and I would make – “look what you did you little jerk!”. After another rewatch, considering how much we quoted, it is suprising how little talking there is – much more watching-Kevin-walking-to-the-shop or montages showing him set-up. Even the two ‘Wet Bandits’ often let out screams, noises or in the case of Harry (Pesci), mumbling to cover up expletives (“you little mummble mummble mummble”)rather than stating distinct lines of dialogue. Clearly, my perspective has changed and though I still love the film, there is much more to Home Alone than mere “family fun” …
You often hear 30-something reviewers endlessly quoting eighties films of John Hughes arguing that these are ‘retro’ movies that, through their nostalgia, are important to cinema. I believe that Home Alone (Jurassic Park et al) for all of the twenty-something bloggers will – in time – replace the obvious-eighties movies that so often claim the ‘retro’ tag. These films are equally iconic and memorable in their own ways.
The same set-up could be shot very differently to present the same frustrations Kevin feels and the mistakes parents make within a family (as busy as the McAllisters) but consequently becoming more sinister, deeply upsetting and traumatic. But we have John Hughes on the script and Chris Columbus directing a family film that deals with some deeper themes in a very subtle manner – but in a way that ensures everyone can access them.
I realised that the subplot regarding Kevin’s Mother (Catherine O’Hara) trying to get back to her son disects a very important aspect of parenting. At what point do you become a bad mother or father? I must admit that leaving your child at home is pretty bad – but then, look at Uncle Frank! This guy insults kids, he backs his chair into his own son – with only the Mother squeezing him out of the squash. Uncle Frank is the example of what a bad parent really is. Whilst Kevin’s Mother is doing literally everything she possibly can – even potentially selling off her wedding ring! – to get back. To get back to make sure he’s safe, to be near her son – to tell him she was sorry so he knows she loves him. That’s what makes a good parent – everyone gets into unwanted situations – its what you do about it that decides whether you are a good parent or not.
Economic Separation and Outlooks
This particular viewing made me also acknowledge the financial divide between the characters. The McAllister family are exceptionally wealthy – a huge house, with enough money to comfortably support a large group of children and even the financial wealth to afford a holiday in Europe in 1990. This appears to be an incredibly unique family within the top-bracket of earners in the US, so it begs the question as to whether the film subtly explores class and economic-separation.
I think if you consider the conversation between Old Man Marley and Kevin in the church within this context, it may answer the question. Marley says “You live down the street from me right?, You know anytime you see you can always say hello, you don’t have to be afraid. A lot of stuff has been said about me, none of it’s true.”. Is it possible that Marley, representing the economically-deprived area of society is trying to bridge that gap? He works on the street, almost on a par with public-servants, and looks dangerous as he looks dirty and dresses in black. This is a judgment of the family that dictates his status – Buzz is who “informs” us of his past. Crucially, this story is not true. Marley and Kevin discuss “being afraid”, Marley saying that “You can be too old for a lot of things, but you’re never too old to be afraid!”. Prejudice and discrimination is rooted in fear, and ultimately begun in a fear often during childhood and through your upbringing. Consider the misrepresentation and fear that middle/upper-class feel towards economically-deprived families – for example, crime is a product that is often associated with a lack of wealth and is easily attributed to the poorer areas of society. Marley “lives down the street” from Kevin, and the potentially huge divide between the two of them is purely through class and economic-advantage. The fear is unfounded and the reality is how both characters can learn from each other – and crucially, help each other. This same sentiment is highlighted in Home Alone 2, whereby a bird-loving tramp is who Kevin befriends.
This argument is supported further in the journey Kevin’s Mum takes. She is initially annoyed and frustrated about not easily achieving her goal – her money amounts to nothing as she is forced to travel alongside characters who, through their economic circumstance, don’t see their familes weeks at a time, as they tour across the country. Her realisation of the difficulties and challenges these Father’s face to support their own families, sharply changes her perspective. Finally, we have the “basement” – for some, unclear reason, scares Kevin. Through the parrallel between fear of the underclass and the under-house basement, it is only through understanding the basement – and the chores, jobs and expectations of a “citizen” in the household, does he realise he has nothing to fear.
The film still retains an iconic status too by inputting unique features that are memomrable in their own right. Kevin’s chequered shirt and white sneakers combo has a real iconic-ninties look – a credit to the costume department. This becomes so unique that, in the sequel, they expand upon this as Kevin’s unique puffy jacket and hat is easy to spot by Marv and Harry when they coincidentally end up together in potentially one of the busiest places in the USA; New York.
The Angels with Dirty Faces rip-off, Angels with Filthy Souls portrays an Edward G. Robinson-type character, with a tommy-gun to face off against a Humphrey Bogart-type character. He might charm, but he has nowhere near enough strength to save his skin. You simply need to read the script to appreciate how much fun the sequence is:
‘Johnny’: [hears knock at door] Who is it?
‘Snakes’: [Snakes comes in] It’s me, Snakes. I got the stuff.
‘Johnny’: Leave it on the doorstep and get the hell outta here.
‘Snakes’: All right, Johnny, but what about my money?
‘Johnny’: What money?
‘Snakes’: Acey said you had some dough for me.
‘Johnny’: That a fact? How much do I owe ya?
‘Snakes’: Acey said 10%.
‘Johnny’: [smirks] Too bad Acey ain’t in charge no more.
‘Snakes’: What do you mean?
‘Johnny’: He’s upstairs taking a bath. He’ll call you when he gets out.
‘Johnny’: Hey, I tell ya what I’m gonna give *you*, Snakes.
[Johnny pulls out machine gun]
‘Johnny’: I’m gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your lying, yellow, no-good keister off my property, before [shouts] I pump your guts full of lead!
‘Snakes’: [wide eyed and calm] All right, Johnny, I’m sorry. I’m goin!
‘Johnny’: 1… 2… 10!
[starts unloading bullets into Snakes while laughing maniacally]
‘Johnny’: Keep the change ya filthy animal.
Duality and Identity
Finally, we continue to expore the film by highlighting the regular duality of so many characters. Within the jam-packed introduction, we see Old Man Marley the man who murdered his family and hides out in Chicago whilst Harry-the-cop advises families on safety over Christmas. We all realise by the end that both people are not who we think they are – Harry is one of the theives whilst Old Man Marley is just that – an old man, with a family he cares about and loves. Ultimately, Kevin himself may look young and not the type to fend off two grown men, and even he changes expectations and turns out to be more capable then the thieves (and his Mother) realise. He looks after the shopping and looks after the house (except Buzz’s room) and proves how mature he is. Without dealing directly with race (are there any ethnic minorities in this film?), the film centres around judging people and, moreso, not judging people on how they look.
This was orginally published in Christmas 2009, but I have made some significant changes for this write-up, crucially the paragraph on the economic status of characters.