There’s been an ongoing, endless argument on the internet over the past few years as to whether or not Die Hard should be classified as a “Christmas movie.” Proponents argue that since it takes place during the Christmas season (and explicitly during a company Christmas party) and one of its most iconic moments is the “NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN HO HO HO” corpse, it should be considered a holiday film alongside It’s A Wonderful Life and Christmas Vacation. Opponents contend that just being set DURING Christmas doesn’t mean it’s ABOUT Christmas.
But both groups are missing the point – Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie…it’s an Easter movie.
1. The main theme is rebirth
Okay – Die Hard doesn’t seem too Easter-y, since (again) it takes place during Christmas. But still, Die Hard is really ABOUT Easter. The holiday is defined entirely by the moment of Jesus Christ’s resurrection – which aligns nicely with Die Hard’s primary theme of “rebirth.”
The marriage between John McClane and his wife has fallen apart, as they’re barely speaking and no longer even living on the same coast. Sgt. Al Powell has been directionless and unable to feel confident in his police work since he inadvertently shot a child holding a toy gun. Core elements that define our two protagonists are – for lack of a better word – dead. John McClane’s marriage is dead, and Al Powell’s career is dead…but by the end of the film, both have been reborn: McClane and Holly reconcile after the harrowing terrorist takeover of Nakatomi Plaza, and Al Powell finds the will to fire his gun again, to save McClane’s life when Karl emerges from the building looking to exact revenge on John.
And while Al Powell’s rebirth as a gun-toting policeman is important – let’s focus on John McClane, aka Action Jesus. Because Die Hard is an Easter movie. Bet you thought I was being ironic or something originally, huh? Nope. I’m dead serious.
2. John McClane is forced to suffer to act as savior
Much like, uh, the eternal souls of all of mankind in the Bible, the employees at Nakatomi Plaza are in grave danger. And also like in the Bible, there is only one person who has what it takes to save them – John McClane. Sure, he’s a little balder and whiter than Jesus, but the story is the same – someone is given a friendly welcome, things turn sour, and that person is forced to suffer and endure incredible hardship to save the innocent souls at stake. Except John McClane uses more bullets than Jesus did.
And John McClane suffers greatly – he’s threatened, beaten, shot, and forced to walk barefoot across a floor covered in shards of glass. And while this sort of thing isn’t uncommon for action heroes to endure, John McClane is stands out – as we actually see the effects of all of the cuts and contusions on him. He’s bleeding, he’s exhausted, and he’s weary – he’s not an unstoppable killing machine like Schwarzenegger or Van Damme. No, McClane is special: he is a savior, but he is still human – and seeing what he went through is the closest action movie equivalent we’ll see to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, prior to his resurrection. And despite their very human suffering at the hands of unconsciable men, both Jesus and Action Jesus push on through the excruciating pain, because they know that only they can save the innocents whose lives hang in the balance.
I told you I wasn’t joking. Die Hard is a goddamn Easter movie.
3. He is betrayed by someone he thought to be an ally
To be fair, John McClane is betrayed three times throughout the course of the film – one, when Hans Gruber pretends to be an escaped hostage and then tries turning on McClane (who had anticipated this possibility and gave him an unloaded weapon); the second time by reporter Richard Thornburg, whose intrusive interview of McClane’s children gives away Holly’s identity and her connection with McClane; and the third time by resident Nakatomi sleazeball Harry Ellis. And it’s that third betrayal that most clearly aligns with the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot, leading to the events of Easter.
Much like Judas going to the Sanhedrin to give away information on Jesus that would lead to his arrest and crucifixion, Ellis – unprompted – goes to lead terrorist Hans Gruber to negotiate a deal that involves giving away John McClane. Ellis, like Judas, did not hold any particular disdain for this savior – both men were simply trying to look out for themselves, and narc’ing on their destined savior was just collateral damage.
And both Ellis and Judas pay almost instantly for their betrayal – Ellis is shot in the forehead, and Judas hangs himself.
Still think Die Hard is a Christmas movie? Anyone betray Jesus in the story of Christmas? Didn’t think so. Easter, baby!
4. He saves the doomed from their fate
Okay, stay with me here, because we’re going to get pretty specific into Christian lore: after Jesus’ death on the cross, his spirit is said to have descended into Hell, where he would bring salvation to the damned who died before his sacrifice allowed for their souls to be saved. This was known as “the Harrowing of Hell”, and is largely regarded as one of the most triumphant moments in the story of Easter (although it is only loosely referenced in Scripture).
In Die Hard lore, there’s a clear equivalent – although it’s the opposite. The hostages, although they do not know it, are already as good as dead as they head up to the roof of Nakatomi Plaza, where they believe they’ll be rescued. In fact, it’s all an elaborate trap – Hans Gruber has been planning to blow up the roof with explosives as soon as the hostage rescue begins, creating enough chaos and confusion to allow him to slip away with the bearer bonds unnoticed. The only individual who knows the truth and is in any position to do anything is John McClane – who has just gone through one harrowing ordeal after another, and just barely survived a fight between himself and Karl. Instead of descending into Hell to save the lost souls (who falsely believed themselves damned forever), he ascends to the roof to save the lost souls (who falsely believed themselves saved).
Many sects and theologies within Christianity also believe Jesus Christ defeated Satan during the Harrowing of Hell – and that one has a clear mirror in Die Hard: the death of Hans Gruber at the hands of John McClane. Hans Gruber is an easy stand-in for the devil – he deals in deceit as easily as he breathes air, he has no regard for the life of innocents, and he even tries to tempt McClane into surrendering to his will earlier in the film. McClane’s final victory (before the true ‘resurrection’ of his marriage) comes when he defeats Gruber after saving the last hostage – his wife, Holly.
Admit it – this kinda makes sense to you. Die Hard is an Easter movie. Please alter your favorite Christmas movie list appropriately.