6.38 Die Hard: A Love Story

WARNING: this entry contains spoilers about the movie Die Hard. But come on, it’s been almost 30 years since the movie first premiered. If you haven’t seen it by now, there’s nothing I can do about that.

Two weeks after my car accident, I received the go ahead to travel on a business trip. I did have work to do on the plane, but instead decided that I should rest my brain while I had the chance.

There weren’t many movies to choose from - at least ones that I had any interest to watch. The Avengers: Age of Ultron? I’m not sure this is a necessary movie, but that argument is for another time.

I went through the ‘contemporary’ section of the menu and found Die Hard, the 1988 action movie starring Bruce Willis. If you haven’t heard of this movie, Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles. He meets her at Nakatomi Plaza when a terrorist group takes control of the building and everyone in it. This is the original movie, not Die Hard with a Vengeance or Live Free or Die Hard or Die Harder. Surely they must be running out of ideas?

When the language options appeared, I had the choice to watch Bruce Willis fight terrorists in English, French or Japanese. I’ve seen this movie many times, so figured that watching it in a different language might make me interpret it differently. And interpret it differently, I did.

While watching it in Japanese, I re-imagined Die Hard as a - for its time - progressive film about two men falling in love. In the 1980s, the gay male community was decimated by the AIDS epidemic and there was a desperate need for compassion and medical funding. Enormous marches on Washington drew as many as one million gay rights supporters in 1987 and again in 1993. Now, I’m not saying that the movie Die Hard contributed to the gay rights movement. However, the subconscious elements that are at play in a film such as this could have made some form of small difference in showing mainstream audiences two men in a romantic relationship.

Through the use of embedded imagery and metaphor, the movie, at its core, is an art film that explores how two men meet, become emotionally reliant on each other and even have a sexual relationship. All this surrounded by a bunch of incompetent alpha males shooting off their guns with only disastrous results. I realized that the movie’s real message is that love is more powerful than violence.

Let’s start with the most obvious images. There is phallic imagery throughout the movie. The Nokatomi Plaza emerges from the Los Angeles landscape like an erect penis. Except for McClane’s estranged wife, there are no other women in this movie, except a pregnant woman who has a handful of lines. No, it is the men who are fighting over the erect building and its valuable contents.

Twinkies are arguably a phallic dessert. This is what first connects the two lovers together and which they bond over. The police officer that is courting McClane throughout the movie is named Sargent Al Powell (played by Reginald Veljohnson of Family Matters fame) and becomes involved in the story after a routine call. We are first introduced to Powell when he is buying two handfuls of Twinkies. He receives the call to check out the Nokatomi building, throws his bag of Twinkies in his car and looks at the giant throbbing building in the distance with awe. Later in the film, McClane is talking to Powell as he stalks through the building. McClane finds an old Twinkie, but it has gone bad. You could say that both of these men let each other know that they were interested in ‘Twinkies’ and what they represent. They have found each other.

This relationship between McClane and Powell is the emotional core of the movie. Powell quickly becomes McClane’s lifeline and their relationship fast-tracks as they discuss their lives, reveal their fears, explain their mistakes and share their hopes. The other men around McClane and Powell - Deputy Chief of Police, the FBI agents - force them into the outsider position and can be regarded as homophobic. This only strengthens their relationship and growing love for each other.

The scene where they fully express their feelings comes after McClane - in bare feet - crosses through a path of broken glass. As he picks shards of glass from his bloody feet, he reveals his fear that he isn’t going to make it out alive. From what I recall, McClane’s speech is about the regrets he has over his estranged wife. But in Japanese, this scene becomes a beautiful exchange between two men who obviously are connecting on a very deep level, a level that can only be interpreted as love.

The end of the movie is where this imagery and character behaviour comes together. McClane extinguishes the terrorists and saves his wife. They kiss, but there is something emotionally empty about their embrace. Outside, Powell emerges from the surrounding chaos. When McClane sees him, the shot could have been out of any other romantic movie. The joy they have in finally meeting far outweighs McClane’s reaction to seeing his wife. When the persistent terrorist Karl appears and points his gun at McClane, it is the bullets from Powell’s gun - another phallic image - that saves him. There was a fight going on for McClane’s heart. A fight between the violent Karl and the love-infused Powell. Love wins out.

This was just a brief overview and I’m sure by watching this again in English with this new perspective, there would be even more evidence through dialogue. Arguably, Die Hard is one of the most incredible love stories ever told.