by Dennis Oh
Few Christmas movies since A Christmas Story have been watched and re-watched annually with the same amount of glee and enjoyment than the 1990 classic Home Alone. Scenes of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern being pummeled relentlessly like cartoon characters but never truly hurt are etched in my mind and still manage to evoke a chuckle whenever I remember them. The snow, the décor, and the timeless music of the movie all leave me deeply nostalgic for the Christmases I experienced when young.
Looking back, what made those holidays so memorable was a sense of togetherness and shared tradition. In those days, as a kid, life seemed simpler with fewer places to be and schedules to keep. During the holidays, everyone seemed to be around. Far from being the burden that Kevin perceives it to be, the feeling of intensified community during Christmas was, quite simply, magical.
Kevin McCallister’s goofy separation and reunion with his family speaks with remarkable perceptivity to loneliness and its antidote in meaningful community.
If you’re like me, Christmas is very different in 2013 than it was in 1990. Separation from family during the holidays is no longer as tragic as it was; now, it’s the norm. The tight network of friends and community in my hometown has dissolved as people have taken jobs in other cities, started their own families, or moved abroad. We have only come to know those we’re spending Christmas with this year in the past couple of years. Home Alone, the Christmas tale I watched as a kid, brings to my attention how independent I’ve become and the continuing need I have for the presence of others.
In the movie, eight-year-old Kevin McCallister experiences frustration with his family in the midst of a hectic bout of preparation for a major Christmas trip to Paris. After wishing to never see them again, he finds the house empty the next morning; everyone has departed for Paris, leaving him home alone.
Meanwhile, two petty house thieves (Pesci, Stern) are staking out the posh neighborhood and lay claim to Kevin’s house. After a few attempts to convince the men that he is not alone in the house, Kevin must devise a battle plan to defend his home against the thieves who are determined to break in despite his presence. Kevin’s parents, in a panic for having left their child behind, begin their long journey home.
Home Alone begins with a focus on Kevin’s strong independence and willfulness. He insists that everyone in the family hates him and resents that he is being “dumped on” as the expendable grunt that no one has time for. Whether justified or not, the alienation he experiences brings him to one conclusion as he storms up the attic: “I hope I never see any of you jerks again!”
Our common reality is nicely mirrored in Kevin’s situation. The desire to break free from people and societal boundaries seldom comes out of nowhere. Social disappointments and minor episodes of alienation often build on each other and lead us to pre-emptively and passively lash out against others by isolating ourselves.
At first, freedom from others is grand. Kevin indulges in every possible scenario which his prudish family members would have forbade – watching filth, eating rubbish, performing dangerous stunts, and helping himself to his brother’s financial resources. Soon, the lonely self-rule gets old and Kevin longs to have his family back, admittedly only as a solution to his boredom and fear. Kevin’s pride and independence is not easily swayed. Even with the impending danger of the greedy burglars and their confirmed plan of breaking in, Kevin seeks the help of no one except a lame Santa Claus impersonator to bring back his family. In the meantime, as the ‘man of the house,’ he’s determined to defend his homestead alone.
In the end, Kevin (and I!) realize that we are more dependent than we care to admit. Even his initial tactics of pretending not to be alone with the help of partying mannequins and old mobster movies anticipate the presence of others which he so desperately needs. These come to their tangible expressions in the form of Old Man Marley and the police officers, who do the really hard work of saving Kevin and dealing with ‘Wet Bandits’ forever.
During Christmas, we tend to spend extended time with more people in closer spaces. This does not guarantee authentic community; to accomplish these goals, vulnerability and dependence are key. We see this power in weakness when both Kevin and Marley open up and share their family struggles and fears with each other (in a church, appropriately enough). Perhaps as a residue from his indwelling pride, Kevin does not reveal the imminent burglary set to happen that night. But had he not made his peace with Marley, Kevin might not have found salvation at the end of the old man’s shovel at his most desperate hour. Likewise without an eight-year-old to lecture him on courage, Marley might not have bothered to reconcile with his long-estranged son. Though they were both lonely in their own ways, the relationship forged between Kevin and Marley when they realized their need of each other was redemptive. Home Alone reveals the reality of true loneliness, all to often the result of an independent spirit that goes beyond merely being home alone.
Dennis Oh is a Canadian serving as a youth pastor in Singapore. He is also pursuing his doctorate in theology in the area of theology and film.