Marxist Movie Review: Die Hard
Die Hard is one of the most reactionary movies ever made
everyone’s favourite “Christmas” movie
Halloween is over and the holidays are upon us once again. And because everyone needs pop-culture drivel to drown out their insufferable shit-family, we will all turn to holiday movies to escape the irritating shits we are wasting our vacation time with. So then, the question of “what’s your favourite Christmas movie?” becomes inevitable and inescapable, and of course, you have to respond with the now cliché and easily most popular answer to this question: “DIE HARD.” No, you can’t snuggle under a blanket and enjoy the delightful fucking charm of the Muppet Christmas Carol or Miracle on 34th Street —no lame-ass singing or merrymaking or hugs for you — in this country, Christmas means murder!
Yes, you are watching one of the most reactionary right-wing movies ever made. Which is a shame, because it’s actually a tremendously entertaining, well made, and coherent film. It was the breakout movie for both screen legends Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in two of their most fun performances of their careers (Rickman is the highlight of the whole film). The plot is very well thought out and well constructed, and most of all there was a level of restraint, subtlety, and focus that was rather uncommon in 1980’s and early 90’s action movies, which made this one stand out among imitators, and it all served to increase the drama and tension. Even among the many ‘ action movie classics,’ most of them haven’t stood the test of time to the same extent that this one has.
Based on Roderick Thorp’s detective-shit-novel Nothing Lasts Forever, this movie changed up the whole action movie formula — instead of an invincible protagonist mowing down enemy “bad guys” by the dozen, Die Hard gave us an action hero who could get hurt and injured, who experienced pain and stress and duress, who had to isolate enemies and take them out one or two at a time. He had to outwit his enemies as much as outfight them, and constantly comes up with creative ways to solve problems and thwart their nefarious schemes. So it’s fun to watch — piece by piece, the villains lose their shit, and their ‘perfect crime’ falls apart, as the hero turns the tables on the bad guys and saves the day. You could just enjoy it and leave it at that and have yourself a good time, but I am a Marxist, so I prefer the suffering and misery of truth and getting to the bottom of things, and it’s time someone explained to you what the fuck it is you are actually watching: SPOILERS INCOMING.
So strap on your reactionary-conservative ideology-goggles, because that’s the lens with which this film was made, and the proper way to understand it.
Nakatomi Plaza is the United Nations
The movie takes place at the fictional Nakatomi Plaza (real life Fox Plaza), where all the members of NATO are there celebrating their record profits at their year end Capitalism and Jesus Party. Yes, it’s 1988 and things good. But clearly something is a little wrong here. Compared to the good ol’ fashion, traditional American values and social-conservatism of good boy John McClane and his common sense Americanism, this party is a decadent display of the American counter-culture movement from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s; liberalism-run-amok! By god, these progressives are going too fucking far and letting everything that matters spin out of control!
In stark contrast to the modest, old-fashion, conservative McClane, in his everyday-street clothes, this party is full of sordid, debaucherous, dressed-up liberals (in the American sense of the word). They are doing drugs, livin’ it Hollywood, men-kissing-men on the cheek (good god!), wives cheating on their spouses, and all the sleazy smooth-talking slicksters like Harry Ellis are having a blast. It’s not Jones Plaza, or America Plaza; no it’s Nakatomi Plaza, as somehow the Japanese — Joseph Takagi as the representative — have come to be in first place and in charge and running the capitalism-show (“Hey, we’re flexible. Pearl Harbor didn’t work out, so we got you with tape decks.” — people sometimes forget that the Japanese economic surge of the 80’s seemed unstoppable to Americans). It’s all upside-down and wrong, and the white American males like McClane(the ones who aren’t duplicitous liberals) seem like outsiders. They have all been pushed to the sidelines. And McClane, clean and righteous wants nothing to do with it. Why is he even there in the first place?
You see, McClane’s (nearly ex-)wife, Holly Gennero, no doubt embracing modern feminism, has entered the workplace (how dare she!), having left her husband for her career (the audacity!), moved to L.A. (disgusting!), and is seen prioritizing her work over her family (on Christmas Eve no less!). What’s more, she’s been given a gift from Nakatomi Corporation: a valuable gold Rolex watch — symbol of her female empowerment and financial independence (she don’t need no husband!) — which will no doubt become a symbolic point of interest later. In fact, McClane has come to the party in the first place to reconstitute the submission of his defiant wife into his patriarchal protection, in order to re-establish and save the deteriorating American family and abandoned traditional values from this degeneracy. But it’s only with the intrusion of sinister Hans Gruber on this world scene, that he can finally prove his worth. He quietly and quickly becomes the only one who can take charge and reign in the out-of-control liberals, gun down the commie bad guys, and restore order and the white male American dominance and hegemony to this scandalous world.
Hans Gruber is Karl Marx
Things really kick off when Karl Marx and the Communists show up at the party. Sure the liberalism was getting out of hand, the Japanese were doing too well, and some of the problems at the party were being left unchecked, but everyone was happy and having a good time and making money and it was all pretty good. But now Communism is here, and they brought guns (and took away yours) and everyone is miserable and everything is bad. Yes, the world’s most malicious sorcerer-philosopher, Karl Marx, and a bunch of his deranged Eastern European followers and far-left ideologues from the Global South have come to terrorize the United Nations. The Communists start randomly murdering people — after all that’s just what Communists do — but “this is simply the beginning!” Indeed, it seems like there’s something more to what’s going on. They’re up to something big and sinister and revolutionary. World shattering.
Before long it’s transformed into a full blown hostage situation, with the police and FBI showing up; and those dastardly Communists have their fingers on the trigger. But what do they want?! Well, it seems that they are mobilizing various insurgency groups and making demands to these foolish government representatives, who, being a bloated government bureaucracy filled with liberals, are all-too-ready to cede everything to the Commies! This is just what communists do! They stir up internal conflict and strife, throwing their support to a bunch of random violent terrorist organizations all over the world! These organizations and the Communists all seem to promote liberation or socialism or whatever, but only the good boy Americans can recognize that these are really bad dudes. McClane and the real Americans are the only ones that see what is actually going on.
“I have comrades-in-arms around the world languishing in prison… The following people are to be released from their captors: in Northern Ireland, the seven members of the New Provo front, in Canada, the five imprisoned leaders of the Liberte de Quebec, in Sri Lanka, the nine members of the Asian Dawn movement.”
-Hans Gruber, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination
It’s when they bring Mr. Takagi in and start threatening him (and kill him — the Japanese stand no chance against Communism!) that it finally becomes clear what these Communists are really up to! Why they are here in the first place. This is what Communism is really all about! They aren’t in this for anything revolutionary. They don’t care about any of these liberation movements or radical groups. They are all just robbers! They are con-men, trying to trick you and rob you and steal all of the money locked away in the basement — all for themselves. And they will kill anyone and everyone to do it! Of course negotiations will never work — the only solution is a bullet to their brains and even that is too merciful! All of their ‘ideology’ is just a big trick and smokescreen and nothing more; and everyone is falling for it. Except of course Ronald Reagan, who makes it his sole job to isolate them and kill them one by one to save America, the United Nations, and capitalism from this more horrendous theft!
and John McClane is Ronald Reagan
Yes, the only hope for salvation from Communism is the cowboy, Ronald Reagan. Yes, it’s John McClane, but he fashions himself with the alias of Roy Rogers in the movie — but you have to be deliberately blind not to get what is being implied here. You have the patriot conservative American cowboy hero — the only person who has a clue what he is doing in an office tower full of liberals — going mano-a-mano against the Communist horde to save capitalism itself.
You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshall Dillon?
On top of this, Reagan is also a cop in this movie. Not enough to just be a cowboy, he has to represent the real heart of reaction here. He spends pretty much the movie going around murdering Communists to save the rich business people that who would be utterly lost and helpless without his long law-arm punching out the baddies. He gets to be the embodiment of state-enforcer-repressor domestic violence in the name of bourgeois order that the reactionaries crave. And an unabashedly disobedient and violent one at that:
“You’re a policeman. There are rules for policemen.”
“That’s what my captain keeps tellin’ me.”
Now Marx and the Commies were easily able to outsmart and corner all the helpless, useless liberals, but Reagan proves to be quite the fly in the ointment. Compared to the “classically educated” Hans Gruber (whose Marxism has overrun universities and culture!), you’d think that ol’ Ronny Reagan would be no match for his genius, but that’s the whole point of the movie. At every turn, in every scene of dialogue between them, the common sense, simple American outsmarts and outwits the sharp, weird ass scary ideological geniuses from Europe (or wherever) that are killing everyone. Hero cowboy killing foreigners. Yes, this is the movie you are watching at Christmas with your family: reactionary porn. Every time one of Gruber’s schemes is thwarted, Holly lusts increasingly uncontrollably for a return to submission under Ronny’s patriarchal dominance and I’m now going to go cut off my fingers for having written that out. Even when Marx and Reagan finally meet up, Marx tries another one of his clever, cunning, manipulative tricks — one that any of the party liberals would have easily fallen for — but to no avail against the ol’ Gipper.
liberals, liberals everywhere!
The movie clearly hates Communists and Communism, but not quite as much as it hates liberals (that is, American Democrats — the real threat to American values when the USSR was clearly in decline). At least the Communists in the movie are all fun personalities and have a clear coherent get-rich-quick-scheme and are working towards that goal. But the people this movie really hates are the liberals — the people who are supposed to be on McClane’s side but keep fucking up and making everything all worse by not embracing Reaganism.
The prime example of this is Harry Ellis. Ellis is a smooth-talking, French-culture loving, asshole liberal-Democrat who is incapable of shutting up. He’s all fake smiles and fancy suits, and in way over his head without realizing it. Early in the film, he horns in on McClane’s wife (his ‘property!’), and in the ultimate act of buffoonery, this turd thinks that he can somehow negotiate with Communism!
“Business is business — you use a gun, I use a fountain pen. What’s the difference? Am I right?”
But of course Ronald Reagan knows that you can’t cut deals with Communists. It’s unilateral missile treaties all the way down! You can’t leave this in the hands of a bloated, Democrat-filled bureaucracy to solve the problem either, Ellis. You can’t make peace with them — if you do that, they’ve already won! No one else but Ron seems to understand what is actually going on, and all of these yackity-liberals are just making a bigger mess of things. No, the only solution to Communism is to get behind Ronald Reagan and his fistful of bullets.
The (undoubtedly Democrat) Deputy-Chief Dwayne Robinson is totally out of his depth against the remorseless Communists, but the ante is upped when the FBI shows up. Of course, they are portrayed the prime example of liberal big-government inefficiency; another armada of useless liberals at the helm, steering America to disaster, with only Captain Reagan to (far-) right the course. When the FBI take over, they only further make a mess of things, falling right into the trap — cutting the power and opening the last door to the vault. When bloated government bureaucracy is about to massacre the American civilian hostages on the roof to get the Communists (again, all part of their plan), they are thwarted by Reagan’s privatization heroics, having their witless big-government spending escapade foiled in the film’s penultimate action scene.
Of course, the theme of witless liberals ruining everything is most clearly captured with the liberal media in the film. These talking heads can’t make day-from-night, as everything they say and do, despite sounding like the authoritative study of experts, is exactly wrong and backwards and in total conflict with the ‘correct’ conservative line-of-thinking. In intrusive liberal fashion, they end up exposing Holly’s family to the Communists — those damned liberals and their free speech going too far! You’re telling the Communist enemies our weaknesses! SHUT UP! It all culminates in the final moments of the movie, where re-submissive Holly finally gets to punch the brainless liberal reporter right on national television; something the real Reagan no doubt wanted to do many times over his scandal-laden career.
yippee Ki-yay motherfucker
When we finally get to the climax of the movie, with Reagan having killed just about everyone else, only a maligned and furious Karl Marx is left standing, waiting to be put down. Even in this final scene, Reagan is saved by the Second Amendment, keeping an extra gun on hand at all times. As Marx is thrown out the window, he attempts to hold on for dear life, clutching to feminism or female empowerment or culture or whatever — the watch hanging from Holly’s wrist — Reagan smoothly and heroically latches it off of his property — freeing her from feminist ideology — bringing his wife to heel and watching Marx and his whole ideology fall to their deaths.
Of course, Reagan doesn’t do it alone. Here it’s interesting to take a look at the two ‘good guy’ supporting characters in the film. One of them, Argyle, is a well dressed limo driver, a friendly, unthreatening, and loyal servant to Ronald Reagan. During the climax of the film, he runs down and catches Theo, the only black Communist in the film in the midst of his escape. If you think I am suggesting that Die Hard is a little bit tacitly racist, then you are correct. Another good example of this is the two Asian characters in the film: the good guy loyal Japanese capitalist businessman and the unruly, gun-toting Southeast Asian frothing-at-the-mouth Communist. Mr. Takagi is a little bit of a dick, sure (after all, he’s not American, the “best” nationality), but he’s generally brave, noble, sophisticated, whatever. Compare him to Uli, the cartoonish, murderous bad guy, who is basically nothing but a violent madman. These are really shallow stereotypes.
But the main sidekick to Reagan is the uncle from the Steve Urkel show, and more importantly a fellow cop in the movie (and also the Urkel show). One who cheerleads every Reagan move, tailing him to the end. This good, wholesome cop made only one innocent and totally forgivable mistake in his life, killing a (undoubtedly black) kid with a toy gun. Now he’s too psychologically damaged to engage in police-sponsored-murder of civilians ever again. Thankfully, Reagan comes to the rescue, and his inspiring courage and heroism show him the light. When the end of the film finally comes, and one last Communist is still standing, he becomes the hero to blowing him away with his standard issue firearm, finally able to murder for the bourgeoisie once again!
Producer Albert Broccoli said such scenes were intended to highlight “the neverending struggle” where another terrorist plot or conspiracy will soon rear its ugly head.
And so, Ronald Reagan saves the day, saves most everyone’s lives (and those that died mostly had it coming for being liberal or un-American), saves capitalism, and saves the whole of the United Nations. Yessir, he’s just another good old fashion American wholesome goodboy cowboy yeehaw apple pie Jesus baseball and firearms, and that’s the only correct way to exist in the world. Of course, his previously defiant wife is ‘back where she belongs,’ his nuclear family restored, Communism is in ruins, and America wins, now and forever. It’s a truly vile film.
This whole movie is the conservative understanding of Communism — nothing but a trick, a big robbery with decorative delusions of grandeur. This is the conservative response to crime and terrorism. They see it as nothing but random outbursts of violence upon otherwise peaceful and harmonious society, emanating solely from the the worst of individuals, either making bad choices or born with sinister hearts. Crime, to them, isn’t something that can be solved or resolved by dealing with the conditions giving rise to it; no, only endlessly beat down with a stick in a never-ending whack-a-mole. Criminals don’t emerge because of societal conditions or structure or the system around them; no criminals are just inherently bad, and a bullet to the head is the only appropriate response. From this, the imperial violence all over the world can forever be upheld and justified, as long as it is prefaced with ‘fighting crime’ or ‘fighting terrorism’ or whatever.
the other Die Hards
You know, Die Hard 2: Die Harder is also set at Christmastime, but literally no one ever lists Die Hard 2 as their favourite Christmas movie. In short, it’s because this film is basically a scene-by-scene recreation of the first movie, with only a fraction of the thought put into it. Instead of an office building, its an airport, but the events and plot all play out the same. And the plot twist is ridiculous instead of clever — with an entire Special Forces unit being ‘in on it,’ and a tedious snowmobile chase finale. I guess I‘m supposed to like it more since the reactionary themes are much less prevalent, and what is there is mostly disjointed, but the cost is that the movie has no soul — it’s formulaic and dull. A well made evil movie is at least more interesting than a factory produced empty shell.
Die Hard With A Vengeance is probably the second best film of the franchise. It’s also probably the least reactionary of these movies, but that’s a low, low bar, and the “I was forced to wear a racist sign” scene is almost saying too much, but at least the movie knows how to have fun. It managed to be its own thing, not just a recreation of the original film, but rather feels like a full separate adventure in the life of John McClane. The story and events mostly works okay enough to be compelling, just by having Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson argue and banter as they deal with a bunch of wacky puzzle-bomb schemes and math homework that the Riddler had left behind for Batman and Robin. The whole thing pretty much collapses by the end, with the strange, completely detached climax helicopter fight scene in Montreal for no explicable reason, but the fact that its entertaining enough for most of the second act is about as good as this franchise ever gets again.
Live Free or Die Hard is just a mess, as it’s the breaking point that totally undermines what the original Die Hard did so right — having a restrained, focused, almost (not really but by movie standards) plausible action movie. Instead, this one goes full tilt into the nonsense and extremities of action, including crashing a car into a helicopter (with irritating shit Justin Long needing to state that out loud), and Bruce Willis literally fist-fighting a jet fighter on a collapsing super-highway during the climax. At least this movie settled with the fact that Holly Gennero has permanently left him — despite all of Reagan’s efforts, the future refused to change. Either that or Bonnie Bedelia wanted too much money for an on-screen appearance.
I don’t think you could pay me enough to sit through A Good Day to Die Hard, so I’m just going to assume it’s another Live Free or Die Hard, but even worse in every way and call that a review.
If this film has a redeeming quality is that it is well made, extremely well-acted, and fun and exciting. But it’s problems are deep and ideological. It’s not just not-Marxist, but actively anti-Marxist in one of the worst ways possible: by degrading and misunderstanding communism to the point of seeing it as little more than a robbery. I get that there wasn’t ever going to be a mainstream action movie with a deep philosophical take on Marx coming out of the late 1980’s, but this one is filled with the worst trappings of one of the worst Presidents in history — an enormous Christmas-fun murder celebration at the dawn of the modern neoliberal era and the supposed end of history.
So now that it’s (finally) been explained and said, now that you finally know what you are watching and praising and participating in, this is the time to re-examine it and what you are doing. Take the time to give yourself some self-crit for Christmas. Now it’s okay for you to be a Marxist and to like and enjoy this movie, as long as you recognize these issues. Actually, no, wait, scratch that last sentence — some liberalism somehow leaked in to the review. Correction: you are not allowed to like and enjoy this movie and anyone caught doing so will be politically purged.