If there’s something most of us can agree on in this divisive age, it’s that Home Alone is one of the all-time great Christmas movies. Released 30 years ago this month, director Chris Columbus’ box office record-breaking effort isn’t just a heart-warming festive family comedy – it’s also the ultimate wish fulfilment fantasy for any pre-teen kid.
That last bit is probably why those of us who grew up in the 90s have such deep-rooted affection for Home Alone. Macaulay Culkin’s eight year-old Kevin McAllister getting the run of the house and then going head-to-head with pair of hapless burglars isn’t just the story that helped define our childhoods – it’s the story that defined what we wished our childhoods were, too.
But has anyone else actually watched Home Alone lately? If you haven’t, I’ll let you in on a little secret: if you look past its nostalgia value, this Yuletide classic is a lot more messed up than you remember it!
Comedic pratfalls that make you wince
Take Home Alone’s slapstick violence. As a kid, it’s side-splittingly hilarious to watch Kevin spring his ingenious booby traps on Joe Pesci’s Harry and Daniel Stern’s Marv. As an adult, the sight of somebody’s head being set ablaze by a blowtorch or whacked with a paint can is enough to make you queasy.
I’m not saying that Harry and Marv don’t deserve what’s coming to them. On the contrary, they’re opportunistic lowlifes who not only terrorise a small child but also rob people’s houses at Christmas – they’re ideal candidates for this sort of treatment.
All the same, it’s incredibly difficult to switch off the part of your grown-up brain that’s trained to calculate your own chances of surviving a similar predicament (I’ll save you the effort: you would die).
Toss in the gnawing feeling that young Kevin’s juvenile glee borders on downright sadism – not to mention that his knack for crafting elaborate torture devices would make a serial killer blush – and Home Alone starts to seem like a decidedly darker affair than it was when you were eight.
Questionable moral messages
The violence in Home Alone isn’t the only aspect of the film likely to give older viewers pause, though.
There’s also a subplot that revolves around Old Man Marley, Kevin’s scary neighbour and rumoured serial killer, who – after revealing himself to be a sensitive, thoughtful, kind and loving individual – comes to epitomise the old idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.
And look, I’m not saying this isn’t a valuable lesson for kids to learn, or that it’s not in keeping with the spirit of good will and charity that characterises the season. However, it’s also a tad… simplistic.
Let’s be honest: sometimes it is a good idea to tread carefully around the shady, anti-social, elderly neighbour. At the risk of indulging my inner cynic here, Kevin got lucky that Marley was the kind of intimidating old bloke poised to come to the rescue of a young kid, and not the kind prone to stuffing them in his freezer alongside his Christmas leftovers!
Family – who needs ‘em?
But perhaps my biggest gripe with Home Alone now that I’m older and wiser is his family.
I don’t mean his obnoxious older siblings – although eldest brother Buzz is truly a douche bag for the ages – or his shit heel Uncle Frank, either. If you take a closer look, his loving parents Kate and Peter are kinda the worst, too!
Now, Columbus wants us to accept that Kevin’s folks deserve a free pass for failing to notice he was missing, simply because they were in a mad rush to get the family to the airport on time for the flight to Paris. But being a good parent is like being a good soldier: you don’t leave anybody behind, ever!
What’s worse, they don’t even realise poor Kevin is absent until they’re halfway to Europe! Seriously: there’s no buddy system between older and younger siblings at the airport, no (proper) head count of the kids prior to take off – nothing!
Sure, Peter and Kate are suitably horrified when they realise their mistake and try unsuccessfully to get everybody back home to Chicago the moment the plane lands.
Kate in particularly goes above and beyond to get home to Kevin as soon as possible, but let’s face it: this all smacks of justifiable guilt rather than parental devotion – and they weren’t so ashamed that they didn’t make the exact same mistake again two years later…
A movie better remembered than revisited
In their iconic, Academy Award-nominated original song written for Home Alone, John Williams and Leslie Bricusse employ the phrase “Somewhere in my memory” as a recurring lyric.
Perhaps that’s also the best place for Home Alone to live on for older viewers like me, now that we’ve outgrown this bonafide Christmas classic’s simple charms. It’s either that or we accept that this flick is way less wholesome now than it was when we were kids dreaming about running wild and outsmarting robbers – and really, who wants to do that?