It's a Christmas movie!


It’s Christmas Eve, and one of our American traditions is “arguing” about whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.  I put arguing in quotes, hoping that these aren’t real arguments, but at this point, somebody will argue about anything, no matter how ridiculous.  Writing a post about that is ridiculous, too, but I have a point.

I used to write an online column about conflict resolution.  The platform folded and my column disappeared, and my perspective on conflict resolution has changed.  These days, I’m much more interested in conflict prevention.  It’s easier to do and it makes more sense.

Here’s what I mean.  Let’s say that you ask me to do something and I agree, but neither of us says when.  I don’t offer and you don’t ask, or worse, one of us says something uselessly vague, like “soon” or “as soon as Brendan can.”  I know what soon means to me in that context, know what I can do by when, but it’s unlikely that we share a perception of those terms.  If my understanding is that it will take longer than think then you’re going to be angry with me, because we agreed that I would do this thing “soon.”  I will be upset, too, because I’m feeling unfairly pressured.  Sure, the job isn’t done yet, but it’s also not “soon” yet.

It’s much better to express and manage expectations.  This prevents many problems.  Another way to do this is with rules.

Here’s where my take on rules is different from the general understanding.  I don’t expect you to agree but I hope that you will consider it.  To me, rules don’t control people.  Instead, rules create freedom.

Here’s what I mean.  Let’s say that I am driving on a highway and I see a sign that says, “Speed limit 65 MPH.”  That sign doesn’t mean that I can’t exceed 65 MPH.  It means that I can drive as fast as 65 MPH without adverse consequences, which I knowingly risk if I drive faster than 65.  It’s my choice, and there is no caprice in it, no opinion.  If the facts, the accurate measurement of my speed, is 65 or lower then I am safe from a fine and points on my license.  If not then I am at risk of a fine and points.  I’m not being controlled.  I’m free to make a decision.

Yeah, that’s a lot of heavy stuff over Die Hard.  Sometimes you have to hide the pill in the applesauce.  Let’s focus on this stupid hope-it’s-not-really-an-argument.  If we really wanted to decide if Die Hard is a Christmas movie then we would agree on a definition of Christmas movies, preferably not on Christmas Eve but when we could really ponder it.  Here’s how that could look:

A Christmas movie is one which

1.       Is set in the general Christmas season, around Thanksgiving to around New Years, and

2.       Includes as important to the plot events of a Christmas nature, like parties, gathering with friends or family, and the like, and

3.       Includes as important to the plot characters who resemble those of a Christmas nature, like Jesus, Santa Claus, and the like, who

4.       Act on or embody essential Christmas values, like generosity, charity, or redemption

I doubt that anything in there is controversial.  I love the classic Philadelphia movie, “Trading Places” and it fits the definition.  “It’s a Wonderful Life”?  Definitely.  What about “A Christmas Story”?  Oh, I love this movie.  I laugh the whole time.  I’m not going to argue about this, but for all of the obvious setting, based on the definition above, it may not really be a Christmas movie.  I’m not seeing the embodied values in there.  “Reindeer Games”?  Not even close.

What about “Die Hard”?  We know the time of year and the setting, Nakatomi Corporation’s holiday/Christmas party.  John McClane is there to visit and try to reunite with his family.  He’s looking for reconciliation and redemption.  Let’s grab the third rail, though.

Is John McClane a Christ figure?  Wow, yeah, that feels pretty close to blasphemy, so I won’t go further than a safely vague “maybe,” 😊 but he risks his life to save others.  He takes on a series of dangerous and generous and selfless tasks.  He was trapped on the top floors of a building that was under assault by organized and trained and armed criminals.  He would be right to hide and take care of himself rather than get involved.  Oh, and those punctured and bloody feet?  Nice touch.  There were other ways to hobble him.

Rules increase freedom.  Explicit and managed expectations prevent conflict.  Die Hard is a Christmas movie while A Christmas Story might not be.  I don’t need anyone to agree with me.  Thanks for reading.  I hope that whatever you celebrate, or don’t, that you get some time with your favorite heartbeats and you get to rest in the coming days.