John McClane crawling in Die Hard

A Love Letter to ‘Die Hard’

1988 was a very rough year for me. It was a year in which I would begin a two summer long trauma that left me broken and depressed growing up. Knowing that at the end of each night, abuse was coming my way, I spent as many hours I could, living vicariously through the stories on the big screen cinema next door to where we lived. Already a massive fan of all things film-related, the summer of 1988 only solidified a budding love for getting lost within the best form of escape around. If I was going to have to be abused, night after night, then at least I would have my movie theatre escape days during sunlight.

One very warm Arizona afternoon in July, the then seven-year old me found himself standing in front of the next door theatre, looking at a poster that immediately stood out to me. On the said poster was the face of the silly guy from Moonlighting (Hey, I was seven, that’s all I knew of Bruce), looking concerned as hell and quite beaten up, with a large explosion on top of a massive skyscraper…the words “DIE HARD” almost leaping off the bottom of the page in bright red colour. I had no idea what the film was, but what it promised, was “40 Stories of Sheer Adventure,” and readers, to say I was down would be an understatement. 15 minutes later, with my daily permission slip, I found myself sitting down, ready to experience what I assumed would be a fun time…but what actually ended up being one of the most important films of all time to me.

When we talk about the perfection that is John McTiernan’s Die Hard, it’s impossible not to eventually lean into the “Yipee-kai-yay” or “Now I Have a Machine Gun,” quotes (look at the name of this very essay for an example of just that) and rightfully so. The film is endlessly quotable, the performances are priceless. We can talk about how Die Hard made Willis the star he needed to be (and the star we wish would come back, instead of sadly being half-asleep in his past dozen or so films) and we could talk about the film’s amazing action set pieces. All of those would be warranted, but there’s something so special to me about the film, something that brought a seven-year-old to tears: how, in spite of seemingly unbeatable odds, with the chips stacked so catastrophically high against Willis’s John McLane, one thing never changes: he refuses to give up.

From the very beginning of the film, McLane is like a fish out of water. In a city he doesn’t like or want to be in, trying to reconnect to his estranged wife and save what could very well be the crumbling remnants of his marriage, McLane is most definitely the action equivalent to Clerks’ Dante character in the sense of “I’m not even supposed to be here today” approach. Right from the bat, McLane is already knee-deep in get off my lawn territory that as viewers, when Hans Gruber and his thieves-pretending-to-be-terrorist- group invades the Nakatomi Building McLane is visiting his wife at, we already know John is destined for an even worse day, something that ADDS to Die Hard’s charm. We love McLane because from the smallest to the largest of situations in life, he represents feeling beaten down and bruised, but also perfectly captures the mentality of this could very well be it, so I’m going to do my best to do what’s right.

As a child, I saw John McLane and felt seen in a way that very few other films made me feel. While my stepfather at the time wasn’t Hans Gruber or wanting to steal millions of dollars in bonds, he very much was my unbeatable adversary, someone who tried and tried and tried to hurt me and take control of my life and story. What John McLane and Die Hard showed me, even at that age, is that there is something freeing in just continuing to fight and endure the pain and brutality that can be thrown at you. Die Hard is many things to many people, but to me, it’s a film that inspired me to keep going, a film that for a little kid, just wanting an escape for a few hours, it was solace and sanctuary and I love it for that. The explosions are cool too.

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