Vintage Saints and Sinners by Karen Wright Marsh, Free for CAPC Members
In Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh manages to emphasize the vast goodness of spiritual giants while also humanizing them.
[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]On this 25th anniversary of the classic Christmas film, the Stations of Home Alone are theological meditations on iconic scenes from the story of a boy forgotten by his family and left to survive on his own. They are presented here as a way of reflecting more deeply on the spiritual reality of our shared humanity in the film and holiday season—whether we are left to ourselves or surrounded by those we love.[/su_note]
Nestled on 671 Lincoln Boulevard, the Mcallister house crawls toward the sky in striking ferocity. The home’s bricks pop in juxtaposition to the surrounding snow, their crimson color foreshadowing the not too distant future. Inside, all of the occupants have vanished, save for a lone figure slouched in a dark, leather armchair. Capitalizing on the solitude, Kevin McCallister flaunts his newfound freedom like any eight-year-old would—he’s smudging his face with ice cream and watching a violent movie.
His film of choice is a black and white noir drama appropriately titled, Angels with Filthy Souls. In the scene, a gangster named Johnny is confronted by a man called “Snakes.” After some dry-witted banter, Johnny (played with devilish sarcasm by Ralph Foody) gives Snakes an ultimatum: he has ten seconds to get his “ugly, yella, no-good keister” off his property or Johnny’s going to pump his guts “full of lead.”He may be a filthy animal, but you can’t say he doesn’t have a soul.
But alas, Johnny skips numbers three thru nine before dispelling an entire clip from his Tommy Gun into Snakes’s chest and abdomen. Goodbye, slyly-nicknamed gangster—Johnny’s in charge, and he has an endless stream of metal bullets to prove it.
If Angels with Filthy Souls represents anything to Macaulay Culkin’s character in Home Alone, it’s power—the power to watch what he wishes, do as he wants, and, eventually, turn the tables on his oppressors. And not only is the image of Johnny with his Thompson submachine gun a symbol of Kevin’s new-found control, but it also serves as beacon to exhibit that control over others.
Accidentally left behind when his family departed for the holidays, Kevin McCallister utilizes his temporary solitude to partake in a round of hedonistic pleasures. Before desertion, Kevin felt stifled and bullied by those around him—especially his older brother, Buzz. “No one will let me do anything!” he cried. Now, in privacy, he shoots plastic sports figurines with a BB gun in the kitchen, rides a sled down the entryway staircase, and rummages through Buzz’s property—though he finds no use for the picture of his brother’s girlfriend. Kevin may not mow his enemies down like Johnny, but he’s made all who’s stood in his way—namely, his family—disappear.
No more clearly is this realized than when Kevin later uses his copy of Angels to establish power where he stood helpless. About halfway through the film, Kevin orders a pizza. Playing sections of Angels with Filthy Souls through the kitchen television, Kevin tricks the delivery boy into believing the fictional Johnny is speaking to him. As Johnny supposedly threatens to shoot him, the delivery boy races from the house to the sound of bullets filling the air.
Contrast this sequence to a scene at beginning of the film. The first time he sees the pizza delivery boy (at the start of Home Alone), Kevin has just ruined dinner and is being carted away by his mother. The second time, the pizza delivery boy is the one being expelled by an authority figure—Johnny and his Tommy Gun. It’s also not surprising that the delivery boy works for Little Nero’s Pizza. The historical Nero, himself an oppressor of the weak, sent Christians to cages and the Coliseum. Kevin has conquered Nero; he has overthrown the tyrannical Rome.
Yet, while Kevin’s freedom releases him from the mistreatment of others, it also compels him to steal from his brother and turn his retributive gaze toward those who represent memories of oppression (the delivery boy), but are ultimately innocent. That same power is beginning to corrupt Kevin, and if he’s not careful, Home Alone will end up becoming a Saw prequel.
The issue of “angels” operating with rubbished souls is a looming one, even outside of Chris Columbus films. The same church who suffered persecution under Nero later murdered their own enemies during the Crusades. When the oppressed take the throne, when they are given their “Tommy Gun,” what will they do? The Bible tells us about fallen angels with dirty souls; history shows us these angels have human skin.
So where does our young hero eventually land in this madness? When he plays Angels with Filthy Souls for the Wet Bandits (and later tortures them with a series of ingeniously designed traps), is this for fun or protection? If the answer is not fully realized in Home Alone, it’s certainly disclosed in the smash 1992 sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
After being separated from his family the second Christmas in a row, Kevin indulges himself once again—more cheese pizza, a room at the Plaza hotel, and three scoops of ice cream (he’s not driving!). When these gratifications vanish—due to the cunningness of a sly Tim Curry—Kevin decides to go all in for someone other than himself. In true heroic fashion, Kevin McCallister sacrifices to stop Harry and Marv from stealing donations earmarked for a local children’s hospital. “No one messes with kids,” he declares. “Not on Christmas.”
So there our short champion goes, off to Uncle Ron and Aunt Georgette’s New York apartment, fashioning a second maze of horrors for two bumbling burglars bent on taking their own bite out of the Big Apple. Kevin knows his heart has the propensity for darkness—he felt those tugs when he met Harry and Marv the first time—but maybe he can use that for good.
So run into the night, Kevin. You may clutch two turtle doves from Duncan’s Toy Chest, but sometimes finding peace means rigging an AC/DC Arc Welder to a sink and watching the sparks fly.
He may be a filthy animal, but you can’t say he doesn’t have a soul.
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