Home Alone – An Introduction
Home Alone is a timeless classic Christmas comedy movie released in 1990. The film was written and produced by John Hughes, and directed by Chris Columbus. The basic premise of the movie is that a young boy, Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin), has been left at home accidentally by his family, who have taken a holiday to France.
Although, superficially, the plot seems nonsensical and ridiculous, the story is richly layered and connects with the audience on a deep level. This blog attempts to break down the film, provide some analysis of key events and characters in the film, and what makes it such an impressive Christmas story.
This film also teaches us a lot about parent-child relationships, and about growing up. From a tutor’s perspective, it provides a real insight into the ways in which you can build confidence within a student by providing them with challenges, and about the importance of fostering independence.
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The Significance of the Title
The movie has one of the most poignant titles in movie history. “Home Alone”, does not initially stir up positive emotions, and does not suggest that we are about to watch a comedy. “Home Alone” unfortunately represents the reality for many people all over the world. It is estimated that this Christmas, 8% of people will be spending Christmas alone in the UK. This reality is especially true for those who are above 65.
Moreover, there are probably many more people across the world who feel isolated, depressed, and as if they are walking alone through life. The movie itself alludes to this reality in the church scene with Marley. You can see that the church has the elderly isolated and alone in each pew. The movie itself, takes this dismal reality, and subverts it, placing a young person, Kevin, into this uncomfortable reality.
At the beginning of the movie, Kevin comes across, in many ways, as a typical brattish 8-year-old. He is immature, and the movie highlights that he is unable to do little for himself. In the scene below, Kevin is told to pack his suitcase, and he looks terrified at the very thought. His elder sister, Megan, even describes him as “helpless”.
This focus on the helplessness of a young child, who has not yet developed the confidence and competence to complete basic tasks on his own is so easy to connect with. Perhaps even some adults feel this way.
In essence, the film is brilliant in its attention to these everyday facets of human action and nature.
His family’s negative reaction to his concerns is disappointing, to say the least; nobody offers him a caring word and empowers him with the belief that he can complete the task. Kevin’s tantrum and resentment towards his family seems natural and justified. All of this culminates in Buzz (his elder brother), eating Kevin’s pizza, and Kevin getting angry about the situation. At this point, the whole family turns on Kevin, despite his brother’s obvious wrongdoing. The audience feels that Kevin has been mistreated by his family and that there is a definite sense of injustice, as his brother is not reprimanded.
Isolated and Alone
To make matters worse, Kevin is then physically isolated from the family, as his mother sends him to the attic. Kevin told her that everyone in the family hated him and that it would be better if he didn’t have a family. A mother may find these words difficult to bear coming from her son, but she does not act well in this situation. Her harsh words are particularly traumatising: “Maybe you should ask Santa for a new family.” It isn’t however, unrealistic for anyone to say something in the heat of the moment that might seem regrettable on reflection.
What may be interesting to consider, is how the parent should respond in this situation. It is actually decidedly difficult to think of a decent response. What Kevin said, was decidedly harsh, but what would be the most reasonable response? The best response would probably combine an acknowledgement that the statement was harsh, but would also acknowledge Kevin’s feelings of insecurity. Saying that Kevin should ask Santa for a new family, is a snide remark that makes light of Kevin’s feelings.
If you want to learn more about the art of communication, definitely read our blog on How to Make Friends and Influence People:
Finally… Home Alone
Kevin, alone in the attic, is forgotten about, suggesting something about his insignificance to his family. A ridiculous series of events leads him to being forgotten:
- The family had a power cut which caused their alarm clocks to reset.
- They had to rush around the house and perform a headcount of kids but unfortunately counted a neighbour instead of Kevin.
- The night before, milk was spilt on the passports and plane tickets after Kevin and his brother got into a fight.
- Kevin’s ticket ended up getting used during the clean-up and was thrown away with a handful of red napkins used to clean up.
Despite all these ridiculous events, forgetting Kevin displays the inattention and insignificance of Kevin’s role within the family. There does not seem to be statistical evidence which points to there being a strong correlation between birth order and neglect within a family, nevertheless, it seems to be the dynamic which permeates within the McCallister family.
Anyone, however, can identify with this feeling that their feelings are insignificant and do not matter, and this is what makes Kevin so relatable to anyone watching. “Home Alone” therefore touches on themes that are readily identifiable to anyone.
The Magic of Childhood
As Kevin is such a young child, he engages in magical thinking. He constructs this idea that he has actually succeeded in wishing his family away. Again, this reveals how “Home Alone” captures the magic of the Christmas spirit and the beautiful naivety that comes with childhood.
Psychoanalytically, this also reveals how our psychological immune system can take up and reconstruct narratives to protect an individual from the truth. He enjoys this illusion at first and embraces it like a child, using the opportunity to break the usual rules that his family would usually impose upon him.
Thanks to this delusion, he is actually able to feel more at ease than the rest of his family. As they move into adulthood, they have lost the protection that magical thinking can provide. Even Megan is worried:
Old Man Marley
Old Man Marley is portrayed as a mysterious and somewhat intimidating figure at the beginning of the movie. There are rumours and urban legends among the children that suggest he is a sinister character. However, as the story progresses, it is revealed that Marley is actually a kind and compassionate person.
He serves as a parallel to the character of Jacob Marley in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in the sense that transformation binds the two together. Old Man Marley transforms in Kevin’s mind from the sinister stranger into the ultimate saviour in Kevin’s hour of need; a true angel and not an angel with a filthy soul. On the other hand, Jacob Marley is instrumental in the transformation of Scrooge.
Old Man Marley’s storyline in “Home Alone” involves reconciliation with his estranged son, and his character ultimately emphasises the themes of forgiveness and the importance of family. In this way, while there are differences between Old Man Marley and Jacob Marley, they both play roles in promoting positive messages within their respective stories.
Marley eventually reunited with his family: