Despite dropping out the Christmas Zeitgeist in recent years, Home Alone remains one of the most quintessential festive films of recent times. It’s simultaneous charm and subversive comedy belie the ˜Disneyfied’ veneer to produce a film that not only engenders the fabled ˜Christmas Spirit’, but one that spawned a decade-long infatuation with the genre of child-focused mischievousness. Somewhere between a coming-of-age film and a postmodern narrative of the disappearing youth of contemporary children, the film is a heart-warming tale of strong family values in suburban America.
Macaulay Culkin plays Kevin, the film’s main focus. Kevin, a 10-year-old is left at home, alone, in the family house in a Chicago suburb while the rest of his extended family leave on their Christmas holidays to Paris. In the rush and confusion to leave on time, the family mistakenly believe Kevin to be airport-bound when he is instead still asleep upstairs in the attic. Upon realisation of being alone, Kevin is initially tentative, but soon realises that he can fulfil an almost universal childhood desire of playing in the house without the fear of parental interference. He indulges in jumping on the bed, using BB guns and scaring off pizza delivery boys with gangster movies (nb: the film Kevin watches Angels with Filthy Souls is not a real film, (but perhaps a nod to Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938); it was made specifically for Home Alone “ Merry Christmas you filthy animal). Upon realising that he is not with them in Paris, Kevin’s mother Kate desperately tries to return to Chicago. After finally finding a flight back after a couple of days, she lands back in the United States, and hitches a ride with a travelling Polka band back to Chicago.
Meanwhile, back in the desolate suburbia, Kevin learns of a plot by two criminals, Harry and Merv (known as the Wet Bandits) to burgle the vacated houses along the street. In what is a brilliantly scripted and choreographed climatic finale, Kevin systematically booby-traps his home using every day items to scupper the plans of the two hapless perpetrators. In a moving epilogue, Kate returns to the house to be reunited with Kevin. The film’s subplot involves a scary next door neighbour, ˜Old Man’ Marley, who in fact turns out to be a loving father himself yearning to be reunited with his own child and grandchild. Marley also rescues Kevin from the Wet Bandits in the final showdown. Again, in the epilogue, we see Marley reunited with his son as Kevin watches on.
The film then, is fundamentally about the dichotomous and sometimes muddled division between childhood and adulthood/parents and children. After learning that he is fact home alone, Kevin embraces his newfound independence. He begins conducting all the household chores with the mundane banality of an adult. This is exemplified in his conversation with the supermarket clerk, when his adult behaviour initially perplexes the clerk. Kevin thumbs a magazine, proclaiming that a packet of plastic toys are for the kids when the clerk expresses surprise at their inclusion in the otherwise mundane collection of items. He also produces coupons that he found in the newspaper this morning. After this however, the clerk inquires as to the whereabouts of Kevin’s parents thereby highlighting his identity as a child one more. But, after he gives the excuses, he trumps the clerk with his refusal to tell her his address with the caveat that you’re a stranger. This conversation is a microcosm of the film’s strained, tumultuous and contested narration of the child/adult binary. Is he a child? Is he an adult? Yes and no to both in equal measure.
Another way the film portrays this is the personification of the basement furnace. In the opening scenes of the film, we see how Kevin is petrified of the furnace “ it howls and laughs at Kevin, taunting him. However, later on when Kevin is enacting the role of domestic goddess, he is the basement putting on the laundry. He catches the furnace in his glance, and it begins to bellow and laugh at him once more. Only this time, his flippant retort of shut up, stops the furnace in its tracks. Other scenes where he is singing into the mirror and applying aftershave promote the idea that Kevin is enacting his parents lifestyle. And of course, Kevin’s ingenious and creative ways of protecting his home against the burglars are evidence of his progression into adulthood. Of particular note is when he creates the illusion that the house is full of people by attaching full-size cardboard cut-outs to train sets, and animating others with his own body. It is a scene that lives long in the memory.
However, this contested identity is somewhat tempered by the constant reminder of the yearning of a parent for their child. In both Kate and Marley, we see how both mothers and fathers, old and young are distant (one geographically, one emotionally) from their offspring at Christmas, yet find reconciliation in the end. This reaffirms the ˜childness’ of Kevin, and his role as a son and brother (until of course, Home Alone 2).
Home Alone has some wonderful scenes, witty and warming dialogue and some standout performances (John Candy as the Polka band leader Gus is particularly brilliant). Joe Peschi and Daniel Stern put in one of the finest comic ˜baddie’ double act of all time (perhaps only topped by Pinky and the Brain). The soundtrack is John Williams at his incandescent best “ the opening theme has become synonymous with Christmas all by itself. Macaulay Culkin, on reflection is poor, wooden and clearly his remission into relative Hollywood obscurity is telling of his talent. However, having seen this film as a 10 year old, and then as an adult, I can vouch for the film’s longevity. Upon seeing it as a child, you cannot help but laugh and be in awe of the ˜funhouse’ style action “ and the parody gangster film scenes had me in hysterics (and reciting them in the playground ad infinitum).