In #WatchWithTNM, we look back at this film about Kevin, a boy who wishes one night that he never has to see his family again.

Home Alone is a 1990 film starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister
Flix Hollywood Friday, July 31, 2020 - 17:56

Years ago, when I was definitely old enough to know better, I woke up on an airplane still sitting on the tarmac and found that I was alone. My parents were almost certainly sitting next to me when I fell asleep, but now, the two seats next to me were empty. For about two minutes, I grappled with the only possible answer to my situation: They had left me. Turns out they hadn’t left me, and had just moved a few rows away to some empty seats. But for a few minutes, I got to imagine what I would do if I was totally and completely alone.

In theory, it’s every kid’s dream to be left alone. No one to tell you what to do, where to go, what to eat, how to act. You’re free from the constraints of grown ups who think they know better, but really, they’ve just forgotten the joys of having a bowl full of ice cream for dinner. Thirty years ago, eight-year-old Kevin McCallister got to live that dream, and we briefly got to live vicariously through him. 

Home Alone premiered in 1990, starring a young Macaulay Culkin who played Kevin, a boy who wishes one night that he never has to see his family again. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Kevin, the youngest of the family — his loving, but distracted parents think he's a troublemaker, his annoying sisters assume he can’t do anything for himself (“You’re what the French call les incompétents,” one says to him), his older brother is a bully and his mean uncle calls him a jerk.  

The McCallisters are leaving for a Christmas trip from Chicago to Paris the next morning, and in the rush to get out of the door, Kevin is left home alone. “I made my family disappear,” he says, first with trepidation, and again with obvious glee. 

The film was directed by Chris Columbus and written by John Hughes. Hughes is better remembered for his '80s Hollywood films that offered a serious voice to high school drama and teen angst, from The Breakfast Club to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink. But in the following decade, his films put a younger generation at the centre of the frame and didn’t dismiss their stories as naive. This also created a range of pure nostalgia content for kids of the '90s, such as the Beethoven series, Flubber and Baby’s Day Out

To his credit, Kevin doesn’t panic but takes full advantage of his new situation. He watches violent movies on TV, he makes himself an enormous sundae, he goes through his brother’s stuff and shoots toy soldiers with an air gun. Every child has seen a long staircase bannister and wished they could slide down it. Kevin does even better, positioning his sled at the top of the stairs and sliding all the way down and out the front door into the snow. 

Kevin also shows that he is not, in fact, les incompétents. He heads to the store to buy milk, eggs and fabric softener, he microwaves mac and cheese for himself and decorates the house to get into the Christmas spirit. Oh, and he sets up a series of elaborate booby traps to scare away two would-be burglars, Harry and Marv (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), who have been staking out the McCallister home for days. Kevin knows that now’s the time to put his fear aside, whether it’s the terrifying sounds from the furnace in the basement or the prospect of two strange men sneaking around his home. “This is it. Don’t get scared,” he tells himself. 

It’s undoubtedly the most memorable part of the movie, as Harry and Marv make their way through the funhouse of horrors that Kevin has created. They slip on icey staircases, step on shards of glass ornaments and one has his head set on fire. They’re pounded, singed and beaten until they’re finally nabbed (with a little help from Old Man Marley, Kevin's next door neighbour).

In the end though, while being alone and independent is cool and all, having a family you can love, hate and spend the holidays with, is a little bit cooler. Kevin goes to bed hoping he can take back his wish and that his family would return. As Kevin has been fending for himself, his mother Kate (played by Katherine O’Hara) has been racing across the world, from Paris to Dallas to Scranton to Chicago, to get back to her son. Watching the film as a kid, it’s easy to forget Kate’s journey and the guilt she feels for accidentally leaving Kevin home alone.

When Kate finally returns to the house, there’s a palpable sense of relief. Kevin shrugs and runs to her, but it’s Kate who feels a weight lifted. As Christmas morning unfolds, the entire McCallister clan barrels through the front door, each marvelling at Kevin for being able to keep himself safe while alone. But, let’s be real, we were never really worried about Kevin.

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