We all know the States unburdened itself of class systems when it shrugged off the British yoke but our man McClane is nonetheless a working-class stiff. He doesn’t have fancy words or a tailored suit, instead he’s got something better and more essential: integrity. Along with that goes a 12-month backlog of New York scumbags and he can’t just up and leave when the love of his life gets a great job in the most liberal snowflake part of God’s green Earth.
California ruins everything. Comedian Andy Zaltzman called Los Angeles “the logical conclusion to western civilisation” and Die Hard agrees. Holly Gennaro got a great job at a Japanese corporation and took the kids with her when she moved. Back in New York, a working man could bring home the bacon to his stable nuclear family. His wife might work — hey, it’s the 80’s, not the 50’s — but she doesn’t earn more than her husband.
Not in L.A., though. In L.A. it’s like someone else won WW2 and the wrong side won the culture war. Holly is a hotshot making six figures at a Japanese company. Bonuses, Rolexes, a corner office. Coked-up wannabe alpha-male executive Ellis defers to her. Powerhouse businessman Takagi respects her. When machine-gun-wielding terrorists come calling she stands up to the worst of them: even Gruber respects her.
John McClane resents her. She didn’t just take the kids and herself when she left, she took his idea of what men are supposed to do and be. She loves him, sure, but she doesn’t need him.
I guess? I dunno. I got into a discussion on twitter a few years back with someone who thought of Die Hard as a feminist parable. I don’t think it is. To me the film is about a crisis of masculine identity, an idea specifically of straight white masculine identity that deserves to fade and vanish. The climax has Gruber grabbing Holly’s Rolex so he doesn’t fall off the side of Nakatomi Plaza. McClane loosens the band from her wrist and Gruber falls thirty odd storeys to his death… she embraces John and in my mind embraces New York over L.A., status quo over change, the traditional nuclear family over being an independent woman, patriarchy over equality.
Just to be clear, I do not approve of this message!
But it is the message. And it’s also part of what makes Die Hard so great. The craft of the film — the perfectly devised action sequences, the idea of one resourceful person taking on an army, the commonsense of the working class over the pretense of the ruling class, the scene where Gruber orders his goons to shoot the glass because he knows that McClane has no shoes — amazing. And most of all, McClane’s vulnerability. He’s not Rambo or Conan or Luke Skywalker born to greatness. He’s just some guy whose bare feet are as delicate as the next person’s.
It’s got the best and smartest action sequences, it’s beautifully shot, the script is elegant and efficient and clever, and while its message is not something laudable its message is perfectly expressed.
As an aside I also really like Burton’s Batman, the Alex Garland/Pete Travis Dredd, and all of the Star Treks. Good gravy do they have their problems. It took until 2018 to get a gay man in space with Star Trek: Discovery? Please.