The movie that made Bruce Willis an action star also made us reach for the tissues.
A lot has been stirred up recently about gender roles and their place in modern society. Clearly this article has been deemed THE most important soap box to speak about such matters…why else would the Escapist give me a weekly spot? Firmly establishing that “Guy” movies, “Manly” movies, and “Penis” movies (the non-porn variety) can be enjoyed by both sexes yet are marketed towards the Y chromosome persuasion, I want this article to not only titillate your collective funny-bone, but also fondle your heart. It is my submission that in finding and dissecting the emotional cores of these macho films, we can lay to rest the more harmful notions that men are only “true men” if they bury their feelings. And as a bonus, those in the mood for a “tear-jerker” might find that Predator is just as viable an option as The Notebook. But probably not, because that shit is SAAAAAD.
And the lights dim, and the crowd goes silent…
This movie holds a special place in many guys’ hearts. Partially because it’s an excellent action movie with the “every man finds himself in a situation of being a hero and steps up to the plate” trope in full force, but also because the plot happens during the holidays and someone says “Ho-ho-ho.” This allows it to be rolled out like so much eggnog every year in the colder months, year after year. Families get together to play the “How long will it take to remember we hate each other” game (Kyle’s Edit: New, from Milton-Bradley), and when a winner is crowned, Die Hard is a welcome distraction. Thusly, many have grown up with Die Hard not just as a beloved film, but a holiday institution. Hey, I may be Jewish, but even I know to watch this and A Christmas Story every year, or else TBS will come to my house and throw ham at me.
The more manly portion of the film is delivered via a thick layer of Bruce “Did that man ever have hair?” Willis. This movie cemented him as an action star, mostly by giving us the image of glass shards in his bare feet. That’s the most hardcore. As hard as it is to believe, prior to this film, Brucey (Actually that’s my personal nickname for Bruce Campbell, better not confuse the two) was best known as a TV comedy star in “Moonlighting.” As Earth-is-flat backwards as it seems to modern audiences, no one thought this funny guy could do serious action. Before offering him the role they went through plans A through Y of their wheelhouse, including (but not limited to) Frank Sinatra and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’d ask you to read those names again but I think I get paid by the word, so I’ll repeat them: Frank Sinatra and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A world where “Yippee ki-yay, Mother F-er” was vomited out of the over-steroided mouth of Arnold (nothin’ but love, Arnie!) is a world I don’t want to live in. Luckily he turned it down, and apparently Sinatra was too busy perfecting a new kind of liquor made from distilled hookers.
The film is deceptively simple: a New York cop is visiting estranged wife in LA, at night, at a Christmas party (I said it was simple, don’t think too hard), when bad guys break in and do bad things. Bruce escapes the hostage portion of the party and spends the rest of the film side-strafing and shooting. Wait, he doesn’t have a gun? Oh, he should probably hide in the air vents then. Oh he does? Good.
Officer Carl Winslow was walking by eating junk food and decides he had nothing better to do than to become Bruce’s lifeline on the outside (Kyle’s Edit: the character is actually Sargent Al Powell, but the actor Reginald VelJohnson has played a billion different cops, so it’s not a big mistake.) With no physical interaction possible (calm down, rule 43), Fifth Element and Urkel’s neighbor have deep conversations about how this particular beat cop accidentally shot an innocent kid.
While the A-plot of this film is Hudson Hawk trying to kill Severus Snape, the B-plot is this cop’s journey into his own self-worth. A little action, a few explosions, then we cut back to the FBI taking over the investigation and Carl (Al) once again feeling impotent. I say “again” because we find out that killing an innocent child has left him unable to “pull his gun.” Actually there shouldn’t be quotes there. It’s literally his revolver he can’t use.
Fast-forward to the end of the film. Every flammable liquid and gas has been ignited, the guy from Unbreakable has saved…most of the hostages, and Metatron is a puddle on the cement. Bruce Willis prepares to shake the hand of Reginald VelJohnson (Holy crap, that’s his real name?!) and then suddenly Alexander “Mountain” Godunov recovers from being strangled to death an hour ago and tries to shoot ol’ Sixth Sense. Joke’s on him, he was dead all along. (Kyle’s Edit: Ahhhhhhh, burn!)
Luckily the goon is shot by a revolver that evidently has a subwoofer built into each bullet, yet we’re left confused as to who is holding said Dolby Digital gun. As everyone looks around in slow motion, it’s Carl (Al!) living out a fantasy of how to dispose of Jaleel White once and for all. The music swells triumphantly for a once-impotent cop (metaphorically and maybe-literally-I-don’t-know-I’m-not-his-wife), saving the day and the protagonist. Getting back on that horse. Regaining his virility. Way to go…yay…why isn’t anyone clapping?
The look on Reggie’s face can only be described as haunted, as he slowly lowers his hand cannon. He’s in full-blown PTSD-mode. Despite the victim not being innocent this time, there’s absolute terror in his eyes and the only reason he just fired his gun was muscle memory. Using his gun was an analogy to sexual impotence and Carl (AL!!) basically just “got it up” to his wife kissing him after handing him divorce papers. Cause it was an automatic response…that he wished didn’t happen…don’t question my analogies! (Kyle’s Edit: I’m going to go ahead and question that analogy.)
This was immersion therapy that resulted in someone dead, usually the warning sign that you’re doing something horribly wrong. He didn’t WANT to shoot anyone; he didn’t even want to use his gun. Reginald VelJohnson has to go through soul-shattering immersion therapy in this movie, every Christmas, every year since 1988. His jovial attitude and positive demeanor is ripped to shreds like so many dashing terrorists thrown out the window of a skyscraper. This is a deep, powerful, emotional scene that hits you right in the feels.
Also he played a jail officer in Ghostbusters. Look it up. (Kyle’s Edit: And Turner and Hooch. He was a cop in that one, too.)
Like what you see? Secure enough in your masculinity for more? Dan also works on No Right Answer, the weekly debate show that knows what’s really important: Pointlessly arguing about geek culture.