Friday, December 26, 2014

Home Alone: A Reflection

The film Home Alone starring MacCauley Culkin, Catherine O’Hara, David Stern, and Joe Pesci and directed by Chris Columbus, was released in 1990, and it has been a popular staple of the pre-Christmas television season ever since. I cannot count the number of times I have viewed it or its 1994 sequel. Since it has been such a regular part of my childhood Christmas experience, albeit the secular piece, I ought to give it some attempt at review.

Home Alone begins with the McAllister family and their pre-holiday festivities before their trip to Paris to visit another member of the family at Christmas. Inevitably, Kevin, the principle character, and Buzzy, the spiteful elder brother, get into a fight, and Kevin, upset by this, is further punished by his mother. The youngest claims he does not wish to see his family over Christmas, and his mother, in the midst of yelling at him, is troubled by this and hopes it isn’t true.
This unfortunately resonates strongly with what I see as the contemporary experience of family. It is amazing that they spend time together as an extended family, with uncles, cousins, and aunts all together for the holidays. I know families where people have not been home for more than a day or two in years. On the other hand, the film’s family they do not treat each other well at all. Everyone from Kevin’s siblings to his cousins and even his uncle gang up on him and treat him viciously. That’s pathetic, to see even an adult sink to childish ways and to beat down Kevin, instead of building him up and at the same time raise himself up.

Kevin’s banishment to the attic leads to his being left behind, as the weird neighbor kid ruffling through the McAllister’s bags is mistaken for Kevin, and no one in the family notices this until they are over the Atlantic, and only by a mother’s instinct is this discovered. Kevin, having been left angry at his family, is quite pleased by this, and it is disturbing to see his excitement. Yes, he later realizes he actually misses his family, but that isn’t the point. We should try to love our families, and so we shouldn’t wish for their total absence as Kevin does. His desires are also saddening since he is a child, and I tend to associate such selfishness with adults who have much more knowledge of the world and of right and wrong than Kevin. On the other hand, no one meant to leave him behind, and it’s not as if Kevin hid from his parents in the attic. The moderation he shows fascinates me. He’s a picky eater, so one can’t count on him to eat particularly well; he even shouts out his brother saying that he’s eating junk food and that Buzzy ought to pound him. On the other hand, he does the shopping and his laundry, and the house is set up for Christmas.

Most interesting to me is Kevin’s shift in attitude through the film. The film gives a Christian-lite attitude towards Christmas, which is more à propos considering the church scenes are filmed inside an Episcopal church, though the apse and choir is beautiful indeed. Kevin attends a Christmas concert there, and he finally talks to his older neighbor who he has been afraid of for the film to this point. The man apparently has been estranged from his family, so Kevin suggests he reach out to his family at Christmas so he can do more than hear his granddaughter in the choir, in spite of the fear of rejection the man has. Kevin, in spite of his own selfishness and his previous fear of the old man, sees love for what it is, to come out of ourselves and conquer all fear, all inwardness, and it’s especially poignant considering that it is Christmas, the time of year where we mark the precious littleness in size and magnanimity in love of the Christ child. Does the film aim for this depth? Probably not in the way I have articulated it. But Kevin also shows us that we can still begin to love despite our flaws, and we will increase in love as we move away from our flaws and from our vices towards better things. This recurs in the sequel, though I’m more moved by the first film.

Kevin also loves his family and those around him. He’s a kind kid. In the films, I don’t think it’s always an act to fulfil selfish desires, which, when present, are never quite like Augustine’s theft of the pears. There is an element of relishing the wrongdoing but mostly of the sweetness in the forbidden fruit such as junk food or other nice things not normally within Kevin’s grasp. That being said, Kevin genuinely cares about people. What does he have to gain by hinting at his own love for his family and the pain of separation by telling the old man to come out of himself? Kevin even gives thanks to the Lord for his macaroni and cheese and for the people who sold it to him. He also wants to defend his house, which serves as an extension for his family in the first movie. Now, he trashes parts of the house in the process, and I am never comfortable with the pleasure he takes in hurting the Wet Bandits, played by David Stern and Joe Pesci. Sure, it’s a comedy, but should we laugh at people hurting each other? But I digress, and it’s important to note that Kevin, with no clue that his mother and then the rest of his family are on the way home from Paris in order to be with him on Christmas morning, prepares the decorations for Christmas, and only his brother’s room is an indication that Kevin was by himself.

The lesson I take away is that we ought not to be alone away from our families on Christmas, and if we are, it had better not be with any malice and ill-will towards each other, but instead in rejoicing in the presence in flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who became man so that men might become like gods. 

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