Stations of Home Alone: Three Ways of Looking at a Scream
[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]
Kevin Mcallister stands before the bathroom mirror, swaddled in a towel. He is singing to himself. Caught up in his reflection and his freedom, he arches an urbane eyebrow as he mouths the words to the Drifters’ “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” He’s never had it so good. Then comes the aftershave, the hands on the cheeks, the iconic Culkin caterwaul. And with that, this little boy passes into cinematic immortality.Behold Kevin’s startled shriek at that bathroom mirror, and take note of the natural reaction of a person who has gazed into the abyss of humanity and found it gazing back.
Like most iconic movie moments, Kevin’s scream remains fresh in people’s minds, even as the contextual details of the surrounding film fade from memory. It comes to symbolize Home Alone as a whole: the loud, rambunctious energy of a child living out the fantasy of indulging every whim with no adult interference. Behold our hero squalling into that mirror, and be reminded of what it was like to be a kid who occasionally would make a racket just for its own sake. Kevin celebrates himself, sounding his barbaric yawp over the roofs of his upscale Chicagoland suburb.
But one of the aforementioned contextual details that gets lost in the shadow of this famous scream is Kevin’s essential awfulness. His uncle calls him a “little jerk,” which is a mean thing to say to a child, but soon enough the audience is obliged to conclude that Uncle Frank has a point. It’s old-hat by now to write shuddering appraisals of the sadism of Kevin’s booby traps, but he is plenty unsympathetic long before the blowtorches and BB guns come out. Living in luxury, he casually flings insults at his mother and later causes havoc just because nobody saved him any plain cheese pizza (which science has proven to be the lamest of the pizzas). One can easily imagine him wearing a powdered wig in Paris, his aristocratic entitlement provoking the French underclass into violent revolution.
To be fair, the world that surrounds him is a strange place. With the exception of Kevin’s mother, the McCallisters are a quarrelsome clan of weirdos and tyrants, which means they fit right in with the other denizens of their town, from the sullen delivery boy to Kevin’s burglar enemies. Surreal flourishes abound—the town’s police station is a nightmare bureaucracy, and the McCallisters’ basement furnace is a sentient, malevolent entity. A tarantula escapes its aquarium and prowls the house at will. No wonder Kevin has a few screws loose.
These factors may not excuse his behavior, but they provide at least a partial explanation for it. Kevin lives in a warped environment; who can blame him if his instinctive response to the threat of burglars is to smack them in the face with paint cans instead of calling the police? The people whom Kevin encounters are either bullies or inexplicably hostile fuddy-duddies, so it makes sense for him to act accordingly. Behold Kevin’s startled shriek at that bathroom mirror, and take note of the natural reaction of a person who has gazed into the abyss of humanity and found it gazing back. After all, he too is a member of the human race.
Fortunately, Home Alone provides one scene of respite late in the film. Kevin’s next-door neighbor, whom Kevin had assumed to be a monstrous villain, turns out to be merely a gentle old man, and Kevin finally comes to grips with the fact that he’s not a good person. He reveals that he understands his own awfulness and that he is worried he’ll face harsh consequences for his sins. He fears that he’ll be cut off from love and warmth forever. Tellingly, his confession of his flaws occurs inside a church, and we sinners can certainly relate—what if our own awfulness is enough to keep us from God? As Kevin receives reassurance and absolution (of a sort) from his kindly neighbor, we feel peace. The Christmas season comes alive for a moment.
Then he immediately runs home to prepare his traps and exult in his mischief. And once again, we sinners can certainly relate. The traps are the main reason most of us are watching this silly thing in the first place, to be honest. We’re no better than the annoying eight-year-old with entitlement issues.
So return to that bathroom. Listen to the sound of the Drifters crooning in the background. Kevin McCallister, towel-swaddled, stands beside you. You both look at each other in the mirror, understanding. Kevin anoints his palms with aftershave; you take a little for yourself; and together you both cover your cheeks with your hands. Now behold Kevin screaming his Edvard Munchian scream, and share in his horrified revelation. We have met the enemy, and he is us. Thanks a lot, Kevin.