When I was a kid, I remember anxiously waiting for the chance to stay home alone. It was as if to stay home alone without a parent or another sibling was to receive some outstanding award. It was proof that my parents trusted me. But, it was also the only chance to do whatever you wanted to without being told you couldn’t. It was freedom.
John Hughes, the prolific screenwriter of a generation, penned Home Alone. Hughes, well known for films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, had the gift of being able to remember what it was like to be young. He could tap into the imagination of a child or teenager, keep audiences laughing, and throw in a dose of reality.
Home Alone is the story of eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) waking up and finding himself home alone. His family and extended family had already left, in haste, for Paris, where they will spend Christmas. At first, it is a dream come true for Kevin. He eats what he wants; watches what he wants; and sleeps where he wants. But he quickly becomes the defender of his home against two goons, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) who have their eyes set on Kevin’s home. Kevin develops a series of traps for the burglars to keep them out. And they work.
When the film came out in November 1990, critics were not fans. Entertainment Weekly gave it a “D.” Roger Ebert repeated that it just wasn’t plausible. Yet, here we are talking about it, watching the marathons on cable television, and looking forward to it.
Perhaps it is because Hughes – as he does so well – empowers us to tab into the Kevin inside ourselves. We all have had those moments when our imaginations run wild and we envision what we would do if our homes were under attack by bumbling burglars. Whether or not it is “plausible” that these things could really happen, they do in the child’s imagination. And that is why we love it so.
Even with imagination running amuck, Hughes is able to drop in a little bit of Christmas hope. The only neighbor on Kevin’s street that is home during Christmas is old man Marley (Roberts Blossom). The kids have nicknamed him the Shovel Slayer, because he walks up and down the sidewalks with his snow shovel. At first Kevin is deeply afraid of the old man.
On the night in which Kevin prepares for the arrival of Harry and Marv, he stops by the church. The exterior of the church is Trinity United Methodist in Willmette, Illinois, while the scenes were filmed in Grace Episcopal. While sitting in his pew listening to the children sing, old man Marley moves from his pew to sit next to Kevin. Marley is there to listen to this granddaughter sing. It is the only time when he gets to see her.
Kevin: So give it a shot, for your granddaughter anyway. I’m sure she misses you and the presents.
Marley: I send her a check.
Kevin: I wish my grandparents did that. They always send me clothes. Last year I got a sweater with a big bird knitted on it.
Marley: That’s nice.
Kevin: Not for a guy in the second grade. You can get beat up for wearing something like that. Yeah, I had a friend who got nailed because there was a rumor he wore dinosaur pajamas.
Old man Marley takes Kevin’s advice, and as Kevin is reunited with his family when they return home, Marley is reunited with his. It is the heartwarming moment of the film. And the moment when we all find hope. Christmas is about family coming and being together. Christmas is about forgiveness and reconciliation.
It is Hughes’ lesson to us all. At Christmas, we can forgive. The Christ Child whom we sing about on Christmas Eve came to redeem. The child came to forgive and to reconcile us back to the Creator. This is Christmas.