DIE HARD contains all the evidence needed to send even the staunchest Hero’s Journey skeptics on a quest. Its plot is perfect, the Hero transformation convincing and Jung himself would have drooled over the Hero-Shadow relationship.
by Karel Segers
The one quote everyone remembers is “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” but my favorite moment of the movie is somewhat earlier, at the mid point to be precise.
INSIDE – OUTSIDE
Two sequences into Act Two, John McClane has failed twice to alert the outside world of the goings-on inside the Nakatomi Plaza. After setting off the fire alarm he witnesses the fire trucks turn back and when he radios the police, they choose to ignore him… until local beat cop Powell drops by. But Gruber’s men deceive him and he can’t detect anything suspicious.
Powell has cleared the Nakatomi building and steps into his car, humming “Let it snow,” when a body lands on the car bonnet with an unholy slam, smashing the wind screen. McClane exclaims: “Welcome to the party, pal!” One of the countless moments of delightful irony in DIE HARD.
Now the outside world knows.
IRONY AND SHADOW
The concept in itself is a brilliant case of cinematic irony: A lone NYPD cop has to stop a gang of European criminals in an LA skyscraper.
Past the mid point, the irony keeps stacking up. The reinforcements don’t help John, in stead they make his life harder. Two FBI agents make all the wrong decisions (they’re suitably named Johnson and Johnson, long before Tintin became mainstream in the US) and a journalist inadvertently exposes that Holly is John’s wife.
The fact that Hans Gruber is John’s mirror opposite is not just irony it is a brilliant rendition of the Shadow archetype. Gruber incorporates exactly those character traits John is lacking/suppressing and needs to assimilate before he can face his estranged wife again. John is impulsive; Gruber is thoughtful and calculated. To his wife, John acts like a male chauvinist brute; Gruber plays the charming, distinguished gentleman who treats women with dignity. When John shouts simple one-liners, Gruber speaks in articulate, elaborate sentences, betraying his education.
ASPECTS OF THE MID POINT
The Mid Point often signals a change of goals or a change in direction. John initially tried to alert the authorities; from here on he learns he will have to step up and take responsibility himself.
Around the mid point things usually get personal and it often involves the first face-to-face meeting of Hero and Shadow. Here too, John will soon bump into Gruber, who poses as a hostage.
A common archetypal image at the mid point is the jump off a cliff into the unknown, as in Butch Cassidy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Incredibles etc.. John McClane doesn’t jump off the 34th floor but he has a dead body do the job for him.
Like any truly great movie, a little digging reveals how DIE HARD was built on a solid foundation of mythical characters and an architecturally designed structure. We can all learn from this.
– Karel Segers
(first published for ScripTips – with thanks to Brooke Trezise)
Karel Segers is a producer and script consultant who started in movies as a rights buyer for Europe’s largest pay TV group Canal+. Back then it was handy to speak 5 languages. Less so today in Australia.
Karel teaches, consults and lectures on screenwriting and the principles of storytelling to his 7-year old son Baxter and anyone else who listens.
He is also the boss of this blog.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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