Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mourning Celebrities

Just when we all thought 2016 couldn't possibly turn out to be a lousier year, we lost another icon in Carrie Fisher just a few days before 2017 -- and after several reports that her condition was becoming stable, no less. From David Bowie and Alan Rickman to Gene Wilder and even Prince, 2016 seems to have been the ultimate year of saying goodbye to great talents well before their time. For a lot of people, this is bound to raise the question of whether or not it's right for us to really mourn the deaths of celebrities that we didn't know personally.

The answer: of course it is. Every real person's death is tragic, and celebrities are no exception. Even though we may not have known them personally, we still knew who they were and followed their careers throughout much of our lives. Some of them, like Carrie Fisher, even became prominent personalities in our lives because of the beloved characters that they played. Mourning the loss of a favorite entertainer is no less justified than mourning the loss of a casual friend that we saw from time to time and had fond memories of.

Also, knowing someone's body of work better than we knew them doesn't mean we have no reason to miss them. There was nothing questionable about people missing figures like Ronald Reagan or Pope John Paul II, after all. It can be argued of course that those cases were different since those figures devoted their lives to serving the people and helped millions, but a similar thing can be said for entertainers if you think about it. 

Think of all the little girls and even boys who saw Princess Leia as a role model. Think of all the people with drug addictions and mental illnesses who may have kept Carrie Fisher's real life struggles and advice in the backs of their minds while overcoming those obstacles. Think of all the filmmakers, writers, and artists who do what they love today because they saw "Star Wars" as kids and wanted to be a part of something equally creative when they grew up. Inspiring people can sometimes do just as much good in their lives as helping them, and anyone who does anything to inspire someone in a positive way deserves to be celebrated after they're gone.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Does "Home Alone" Happen in Kevin's Head?

Well, it's that time of year again. The time of year when all the classic Christmas movies air on TV to celebrate the holidays and we all watch them because it's a tradition. One such film that aired recently was 1990's Home Alone, and while I've seen it dozens of times, a few oddities stood out this time and got me thinking. This led me to a fan theory about this movie: that most of it only happens in the hero Kevin McCallister's head.

I know, "It-Was-Just-In-His-Head" theories are a dime a dozen in films these days, but there are a ton of things in Home Alone that either really strain logic or just don't make sense when you think about them. The whole premise alone seems like an impossibly perfect series of coincidences. What are the odds of a storm knocking out the phone lines in a neighborhood on the same week that nearly every resident of that neighborhood is either out of town or on their way out? What are the odds that Kevin slept through all the noisy commotion of his huge family rushing to leave the house on time and then a kid the same age and height as Kevin happened to cross paths with them and get mistaken for him during their head count?

That doesn't even include the cartoonishly dumb crooks who specifically want to rob Kevin's house, the cops who only take emergency calls seriously at the story's convenience, and the mysterious old man who never seems to question why an eight-year-old is completely alone in public every time they cross paths. There's also a scary furnace in the basement that comes to life and talks, but we'll get to that later. This stuff could all just be kids movie logic, or maybe it's all the logic of an actual kid, Kevin McCallister, who's very smart and imaginative.

I can think of two ways to look at this theory. The first and easier one to explain is that Kevin goes to bed after his fight with his family at the start of the film and dreams the rest of the story. He could have fallen asleep in that attic bedroom with the desire to be rid of his family fresh in his mind, then he dreamed a wild scenario where they left him behind and he grew to miss them just like his mother said he would. That would explain all of the coincidences, the crooks' abilities to survive his booby traps, and how Kevin is able to clean up the evidence of those booby traps so perfectly overnight. Kevin's habit of talking to himself and to the audience could be seen as his thoughts projecting themselves into his dream while he's thinking them. It could also be that the cop played by Joe Pesci in the first scene was a real cop, but since his eerie demeanor stuck with Kevin, the kid imagined him as the villain in his dream.

The only hitch with this theory is that we never see Kevin wake up from his dream. The ending scene where he wakes up on Christmas and his family comes home from Paris is consistent with his dream scenario, not with the scenario at the start of the film where the family is still getting ready to leave for Paris. A possible explanation for this is that we, the audience, are the ones who are meant to "wake up"from Kevin's dream and then apply what we learned from that dream to our own lives.

The second way to look at the "It-Was-Just-In-His-Head" theory is that Kevin was in fact left behind by mistake but imagined a lot of the things that he encountered during his time alone.

That's where the talking furnace comes in. The first time we see this phenomenon, Kevin himself says that it's only his imagination, then we see him silence the monstrous appliance by overcoming his fear of it. This is the only time the film ever confirms that something in it isn't real, but that can't be the only thing that Kevin concocts in his head.

Take Old Man Marley for instance. The whole point of his character is that he has an unfair reputation and he's really a nice guy once you talk to him. If he's not a deranged serial killer like the rumors say, then why does he always stare at Kevin in silence like a psychopath whenever they see each other? He doesn't say hello, he doesn't nod his head in acknowledgement  heck, he doesn't even blink. Your first thought could be that he's socially awkward because he's a recluse, but in the church scene where he finally talks to Kevin, he's totally friendly and tells the kid that there's no reason to be afraid of him. That doesn't add up.

It's entirely possible, just like with the furnace, that Kevin's imagination is making him see Marley in a more menacing way than the man really appears, and that illusion falls away once the boy's fear is overcome.

We get another glimpse at this exaggerated perception of things when Kevin first discovers that his family is gone. He recalls some of the hurtful things that his relatives said to him the night before, except their voices and expressions are much harsher than we saw them to be originally. One of those remarks, where his older brother Buzz threatens to feed him to a pet tarantula, isn't even something that we heard said before in the film. Was Kevin recalling a line from a deleted scene, or was he only imagining that Buzz ever made that threat?

It's more debatable whether or not the crooks Harry and Marv are really as they seem in this interpretation. Their behavior is consistent between their scenes with Kevin and their scenes without him, though their gullibility (and lack of peripheral vision) are questionable. It's also still questionable that they can be so physically sound after several falls down the stairs, blows to the head, and being partially set on fire. Perhaps Kevin's booby traps are not as effective as he perceives them to be and he didn't do nearly as much damage to the villains as he thought.

Unlike the dream theory, this notion of Kevin more or less hallucinating parts of his life opens the discussion for all kinds of mental issues that he may or may not have. Fans often find his talking to himself and his perfect aim with a BB gun to be concerning, and there are quite a few ideas floating around for what kind of a person he becomes when he grows up. That's another topic for another essay, though.

The "It-Was-Just-In-His-Head" theory may seem like a stretch, but Home Alone has been described by the people behind it as a dark comedy for children. While many children are able to appreciate dark humor, many others probably aren't. Dark humor often requires a cynical, less-than-innocent view of the world in order to fully grasp and enjoy it, and it takes years for someone to develop such a worldview. It could be that this film was made as a dark comedy with some light-hearted humorous elements in it so that different age groups would find it funny for different reasons. Perhaps the intent was that very young viewers would like it for its simpler elements at first and then develop a more complex and darker understanding of it as they grew up with it, similar to the way a lot of people view their families growing up.

Whether the events in Home Alone really are as they seem or if they're just the product of a very unique child's imagination, the film still proves today that a comedy can challenge you and make you think  even when you're home for the holidays.