Home Alone is a classic. And it’s not just a Christmas classic – heck, I don’t even celebrate Christmas. But it’s a classic because it deals with serious emotions and issues such as childhood, loneliness and self-sufficiency. The sequel is great too, even if they do make the mistake of swapping Pepsi for Coke for product placement. It works by being the best coming-of-age film, having a young child recognise that maybe what you say and do affects those around you, including (and most especially) your parents.
In fact, it’s become a Christmas mainstay because it’s a constant reminder of all of the feelings we experience not just during childhood, but the different stages up to and including adulthood. No wonder the film was a box office marvel during its original release, staying well beyond the festive period.
Even the very first scenes capture the essence of childhood perfectly. While the rest of the family hurriedly prepares for an exciting trip to Paris for the new year, Kevin asks why he’s not allowed to watch the PG-13 rated film airing on TV. He’s simply too young to appreciate a big family holiday.
Soon after this moment, viewers can relate to his complaining about the excessive number of relatives staying over and scrambling to pack their bags. Especially as an Asian, where you do that thing of waiting for visitors to leave so you can start consuming the samosas you made specifically for them.
Those family tensions are plentiful and brilliantly incorporated throughout, including being teased by his older brother about the lack of plain cheese pizza. Having an older brother myself, this was easy to relate to, something I point out each time we watch this together.
When the film progresses, as you already know, it suddenly becomes about survival and being alone. Everything about childhood is scary. It isn’t helped by Buzz making up some baloney about the neighbour turning his murder victims to Egyptian mummies, whilst the poor old guy is spreading salt across the tarmac outside.
This is when the film works best, seeing Kevin fend off the “wet bandits”, Marv and Harry, two buffoons looting the empty houses of this quiet suburban area.
The atmosphere provided by sleepy Chicago suburbia is the reason we keep coming back to this film. The cinematogrophy makes everything look rich and relatable. The grand houses leave the impression of nothing but warmth and comfort, especially as it becomes dangerously icy and slippery outside (helped by Kevin of course) and also as a tree damages the phone lines. Thank God not everyone had internet access then because that alone could have scuppered the plot.
The emotional climax of the film isn’t necessarily when Kevin is reunited with his mum (come on, there’s no need for a spoiler alert here), but when he bumps into his elderly neighbour at the church. He talks about falling out with his son many years ago, and taking the opportunity to see his granddaughter perform in the local choir. It’s in this same tone of sadness and nostalgia Kevin’s dad mentions his own childhood travels when his family wasn’t wealthy enough for an extravagant winter holiday. These moments weren’t for the kids watching the movie, clearly.
Home Alone has become more than just a Christmas norm for many of us. When Jerry Seinfeld asks Joel Hodgson in his unusual internet show about why we always look back Joel responds, “Because when you look back, you know what you’re going to say. You don’t know what to say about the future.”
As another Christmas holiday is on the way and another year passes by, we’ll continue to hold onto this cinematic gem. But as we get older, we also need to look ahead. After all, as Kevin says: “This is it. Don’t get scared now.”