Film Reviews

Are You Thirsty For More?

An analysis on Home Alone, a timeless, quintessential Christmas classic for all ages.

Chris Columbus’ Home Alone (1990), is the snowy suburban Chicago interpretation of the formidable event of being left home alone as a child. Accompanied by traits such as unexplained noises that ring throughout the house and the doing of all the things you wouldn’t when grownups are present, such as eating junk food at ungodly hours, paired with gangster films from your older brothers’ top shelf VHS collection. However, it isn’t all fun and games, when you’re forced to ‘man up’ and defend your house from ‘wanna-be’ bandits.

The movie’s screenplay is by John Hughes, a writer who indicates through his work a continuous ability to freshly align himself with what it’s like to be young. It comes as no surprise that the screenplay came from Hughes after his previous success in the 80’s, from teen and family films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987). Accompanied by the directorial lead of Chris Columbus, who produced such greats as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and Adventures in Babysitting (1987), and allowing for the intertwining of thought process and rationality of a child, whilst mixing elements of precocious self-awareness with childlike wonderment.

Our first encounter with Kevin, played by MacAulay Culkin, whose career was arguably born thanks to Hughes and his role in Uncle Buck (1989), introduces him complaining to his parents (Catherine O’Hara and John Heard) about his siblings and the hectic state of the family home.

The opening sequence introduces us to a large, affluent family of which Kevin is the youngest, all harboured under the biggest house on Lincoln Avenue. Kevin is given the typical youngest child treatment, such as being labelled ‘too dumb to understand’ and ‘incapable’. Of course, this leads to retaliation from Kevin, resulting in being sent, to the deemed ‘scary’ attic. This scene between Kevin and ‘Mom’ supplies the line that the whole movie bases itself off, as we witness Kevin wishing ‘…they would all just disappear’.

The reason for the rapid success of this film is that kids in the 90’s found Kevin relatable, feeling cast out due to the size of his family and yearning for a freedom that is hard to gain in larger families. Younger audiences may also align due to deploying the same traits to get out of trouble, and storming off in a tantrum if unsuccessful just as Kevin does. However older generations may align with the parental perspective and humour with the attitudes taken by Kevin.

To Kevin’s surprise after surviving the night in the ‘scary’ attic, completely unaware of a winter storm that had knocked out the power leading his family to mistakenly abandon him, he wakes to an empty house. Columbus has Kevin frantically searching the house, like any child would, to seek for his parents. It appears Kevin’s manifest destiny has come true, his family left, en masse to Paris without him. Kevin’s delight is displayed through Columbus positioning him looking straight into the camera, wiggling his eyebrows, and giving us the MacAulay Culkin cheeky smile ‘I made my family disappear!’. Queue a swinging jazz montage of childhood fantasies; jumping on beds, eating junk food, running throughout the house screaming, and delving into your brothers ‘keep out’ chest to peak at his Playboys ‘no clothes on anybody, sickening’ and, importantly, foreshadowing what’s to come by borrowing from a secret supply of firecrackers. The ideal of being left alone as a child is a daydream that everyone has possessed at least once.

A defining element of Home Alone is, arguably, the score composed by John Williams of Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977) and Indiana Jones (1981), who creates the timeless festive sentiment which is integral to the film. The real sentimental moments within the film relate to Kevin’s exploration of childhood fantasy and loneliness on Christmas Eve, underscored effectively by Williams’ contribution. It doesn’t make the slapstick so much, as it makes the human moments in the film what they are. Williams manages to compose a score filled with festivity, which in itself has stand-alone power as a musical piece; the movie is no doubt the reason for its fame. Similar to that of Williams’ Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark before it, Home Alone follows Williams’ ability to produce work that can effectively stand alone, or make the film.

As we follow Kevin wholeheartedly believing his wish has come true, the thrill comes to an end when we are introduced to the ‘wet bandits’. Marv and Harry (Daniel Stern, Joe Pesci): a pair of oafish burglars who underestimate an eight year olds ability to defend his home. Kevin’s suspicion of Harry is alerted in the opening sequence of the movie, with Harry as a pseudo Police officer to recon the houses for goods. Fittingly, the face of Joe Pesci in the 90’s was recognisable for trouble following his previous work on Scorsese’s gangster portfolio. Distinctly recognisable due to his criminality-tinged gold tooth, and Marv’s trademark of leaving the water running, the two are responsible for a spate of burglaries in the middle-class Chicago area. Caught up in their self-proclaimed ‘genius’ crime spree, the ‘wet bandits’ are blissfully unaware of what awaits them as Kevin fills the house with a gauntlet of traps, micro machines and trip wires that only a child’s imagination could conjure, foiling Marv and Harry numerous times. Though this produces a series of hyperbolic injuries and mishaps, the slapstick comedy of falling irons and swinging paint cans creates a multitude of different humours for all generations.

As the film progresses, it becomes evident that the narrative of Home Alone abides by the conventions of the Christmas film genre, and is an effort promote the importance of family unity and togetherness.

This is evident in a range of films that were produced in the 90’s, including The Santa Claus (1994), Jingle All The Way (1996) and Jack Frost (1998). Hollywood was used as a vessel for social commentary throughout the 80’s and 90’s’, which in Home Alone’s case was to promote family cohesion. This is predominantly evident in the church scene in which Kevin and his neighbour discuss the importance of forgiveness and togetherness whilst accompanied by ‘O Holy Night’ echoing throughout the church.

Therefore, Home Alone provides us with the collaboration between Hughes, Columbus and Williams, creating a quintessential American festive cracker of comedy and cartoon violence. Coinciding with a Hollywood theme that runs strong throughout in the 80’s and 90’s of the reiteration of unity and importance of family.