Only upon re-watching this children’s tale of parental neglect and home invasion for the 500th time, I noticed something that previously, I had just glossed over. Mostly, when I watched Home Alone before, I did so like it was another kid’s movie, it just happened to take place during Christmas. Personally, I watched it all year round, as kids tend to do. Only when I put it in the specific frame of a Christmas movie, did I realise just how subversive it is.
Let’s start with the music. John Williams’ score begins with a magical chiming sound, the kind you would use to send an infant to sleep. Then it starts to slink and squirm, like The Grinch as he sneaks into your house and steals your presents. Then there’s The Carol of The Bells, a Christmas song with festive, celebratory lyrics, but with a rhythm that ticks like a dreadful clock, ominously counting down to a terrible tragedy. Listen to it in the church scene and how it seems to chase Kevin out of God’s house and onto the street.
But my realisation of how this film turns Christmas upside down and drops it on its head is the Santa scene. Thirteen years before Billy Bob Thornton was drinking and sodomising his way into our hearts as Bad Santa, Home Alone was the first movie to show me the reality behind the store-front Father Christmas. Quickly throwing out a cigarette, desperately fanning away the tell-tale smoke and on his way to a social soiree (i.e. get drunk), this was the first time in my childhood that I snuck a look behind the curtain to the man who played Kris Kringle. Hell, it was the first time I was forced to acknowledge that the guy at my local shopping centre might not have been entirely on the level.
Then you begin meditating on the crux of the plot itself. A child, abandoned by his family for the holidays, instead of welcoming a chubby visitor bearing gifts, he must fend off a fat crook looking to make a score. Joe Pesci is the film’s Krampus, a twisted parody of St Nick dripping in conniving sleaze like Dudley Do-Right’s Snidely Whiplash. He doesn’t deliver gifts, he takes them. He keeps an eye on you, but not to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. Even his little helper isn’t so little, but a tall and lanky sod.
The greatest joy of this film – and it’s most iconic moments – all come from watching these two get put through hell. They are burned, concussed, impaled and traumatised, and each is shockingly and hilariously convincing. Merry Christmas. Only Jackass has created more realistic pratfalls in cinema and that’s only because they do them for real.
Home Alone is way ahead of the curve when it comes to taking the tropes of Christmas and bouncing them off the ceiling and it’s time all the pretenders recognised as such.