Originally dismissed as a silly Christmas movie with a preposterous plot, Home Alone defied the odds to box office records. Here is why Home Alone is a Christmas classic.
Home Alone is one of my favorite movies. The DryBar had it playing today when I was getting my hair done, and I allowed myself to get sucked into it while I sat in the chair.
Vox recently wrote a piece enumerating why Home Alone has endured. But there’s more to it than what they write.
I’m a notorious cryer in movies, and Home Alone gets me every time. The movie is billed as a comedy, but it has an undertone of sadness. I’ve always felt a resonance with it, but I’ve never quite put my finger on why.
Until now. Watching a segment of it today, I realized what it is that draws me in and evokes the tears.
The Deeper Theme of Home Alone
While it’s a silly movie on the surface, at the heart of the movie is a theme that is all too common in the human condition: loneliness. Loneliness is different from being alone; often we are most lonely when with other people. Loneliness is a result of not feeling seen and heard in who you are.
Kevin McCallister (played by Macauley Culkin) may be a brat, but we can see from the beginning there’s something beneath the surface of his behavior. He acts out not merely out of a need for attention, but out of a desire to be seen.
He is lonely. Yearning for connection in any way he can get it.
In many ways, he is a “Breakfast Club Kid.” That’s not a coincidence — the late, great John Hughes wrote both movies. And Hughes was a master of writing this condition:
Surrounded by people, and perhaps even noticed, but unseen in your truth.
This is the common thread of so many of Hughes’ most well-known characters: The Breakfast Club Kids. Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald’s character in Sixteen Candles). Ferris Bueller. Kevin McCallister.
It’s something I’ve felt throughout my life. It’s something we all feel.
The Pivotal Scene
The scene in the church is what elevates this movie from a throwaway hijinks movie to a Christmas classic. All classic movies offer timeless wisdom, and this scene is where the wisdom lies.
In the scene, Kevin walks into the church on Christmas Eve day to listen to the choir practice. He looks across the aisle and he sees “Old Man” Marley, his next-door neighbor, who was rumored to have killed his family years ago.
Kevin sees Old Man Marley across the aisle in the empty church. He gasps in fear. Marley turns around to see who Kevin is gasping at. There is nobody around him. He gets up and walks over to Kevin.
The Camera Angles
I love how this scene is filmed. Specifically in the choice of the camera angles.
As Markey walks over to Kevin, the camera takes Marley’s point-of-view, pointing down at Kevin.
It’s an unusual choice. Kevin is the protagonist in the film; it would be natural to shoot it from his perspective, to see how imposing Marley looks from the viewpoint of the young boy.
We thought about every shot in terms of the point of view of the kid. Because of that, we used wider angles. The height of the camera was lower than you would normally have.
By filming from Marley’s point of view, we get to see Kevin in his innocence. We see him in his truth. Ah. So brilliant.
Only when Marley stops next to the pew do we get a shot from Kevin’s perspective, looking up at the man. As we see the man smile and say Merry Christmas, we know he is not the bad man of the rumors. Kevin knows he is safe.
Once Marley sits next to Kevin, their conversation is filmed from an even angle, which reinforces the equal playing field that Kevin and the man occupy. Each comes to this relationship with wisdom that can help the other.
The rest of the scene is a conversation between Marley and Kevin about family and estrangement and disappointments that come from our expectations of others.
Marley offers Kevin wisdom about how you always love your family, even when they hurt you.
In response to Marley’s story about his estrangement from his son, Kevin offers wisdom that it’s never too late.
How Relationship Ruptures Form
Marley’s story about his estrangement from his son is spoken in simple terms a child can comprehend. For adults, there is a deeper message about how separation evolves.
A simple misunderstanding can cause cracks, and cracks cause ruptures. Before you know it, years have passed and it feels like a huge chasm separates you from those you loved most.
What started it all, in every case, is an unwillingness to allow someone to speak truth, an unwillingness to hold space for another. Ego. Pride. Shame. Fear.
These are the things that crack relationships. It’s those ruptured relationships that exacerbate loneliness and lead to stress around the holidays.
Marley is quick to dismiss Kevin’s offer that “it’s not too late” as the simplistic naivete of a child. And that’s the point. It is not naive, but it is simple.
It’s never too late to say I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.
It’s never too late to speak your truth. Until it’s too late.
The Eternal Themes
We inflict real pain when we don’t make space for others speak their truth, when we allow misunderstandings to crack the bonds of love, when we fail to bring compassion and kindness to ourselves and others, and when we block forgiveness with ego and pride.
For as long as humans have existed and will exist, there will be fear and shame and ego and pride. These will lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication, to cracks and ruptures and estrangement.
And as long as humans exist, there will be love, compassion, and forgiveness.
These themes are eternal, and that’s what makes Home Alone a classic.
The Ultimate Gifts
They say “to err is human, to forgive is divine.”
This is a misstatement. There is no divine forgiveness without human forgiveness. We have that power on our own.
We are created from divine love so we can share that love with others.
Most gifts we give and get have short lives. Trends come and go. Technology goes obsolete. Trends fall out of favor. We lose interest in things over time.
The gift of giving others space to fully express who they are and speak their truth never goes out of style.
The ultimate present is your presence.
Your love. Your compassion. The space in which you allow someone to become who they are and feel seen, heard, loved, and safe in that truth.
Regardless of the date or time, or how many months, days, or years have passed, this is the truth:
It’s never too late.