My First Film Seen in 2010: Die Hard. Until the other night, I had never seen Die Hard. This is because when I was a teenager, I would only watch movies that were in foreign languages or British accents or had River Phoenix in them or were directed by John Hughes or were The Lost Boys. Die Hard belongs to none of these categories.
John McClane attempts to save LA’s fictional Nakatomi Plaza building right around the same time Fredrick Jameson was turning his observations on LA’s actual Bonaventure Hotel into a theory of postmodernism as "the cultural logic of late capitalism." WAIT DO NOT LEAVE. I am not going to perform some hackneyed Marxist reading of Die Hard, I swear.* But here’s what’s interesting to this 21st-century girl watching Die Hard for the very first time. Jameson argued that the Bonaventure represented an entire cultural movement toward "hyperspaces" that obscured their actual material embeddedness in the world: the Bonaventure’s mirrored facade acts like a Hogwarts invisibility cloak, rendering the hotel itself invisible behind a distorted reflection of the rest of the city. The entrances are more like secret passageways that dump you deep in the interior of the hotel before you even realized you’ve entered it; when you find your way back to the lobby, it is actually a shopping arcade. This kind of corporate space, Jameson claimed, works like Disney World—it is not in the world, but rather substitutes for it.
John McClane finds himself in a very similar space. It is cavernous and shiny and sterile in that way that very, very expensive things are in the late 80s. He, in contrast, exudes a miasma of New York City grit and essence of Real Man. He takes his shirt off to "clean up" upon arrival at his estranged wife’s company’s Christmas party, but then German terrorists show up so he never puts it back on. Thank god! The dirt and sweat of McClane’s tank-topped, muscle-y trunk are the source of his superpowers! He is fake hyperspace’s most visceral nightmare. While the Eurotrashy terrorists, who are actually just robbers, attempt to break through Nakatomi’s new-fangled internal security system run by these crazy things called "computers," which breaking in is thus a newfangled thing called "hacking," and must be performed by a smart-mouthed black brainiac à la Dwayne Wayne, but we don’t really understand the drama of "hacking" because this is 1988 and The Net doesn’t come into our lives until 1995 so the "hacking" must be supplemented by the melting of various layers of metal vaults with laser beams or something so we understand that "breaking into" the non-space of "computers" is equivalent to actually breaking into something very difficult to break into, anyway, while the terrorists-who-are-actually-just-robbers do all this, McClane goes about mapping and navigating REAL SPACE in this seemingly virtual corporate world, because guess what folks, even in LA, A BUILDING IS JUST A FREAKING BUILDING. It is made of metal and glass and other hard, breaky stuff. You can shoot it up! The camera gives us a good look at the structure’s top floors which are still under construction (Adventures in Babysitting, anyone?), as if to say SEE GUYS IT IS A CONSTRUCTED THING. You don’t even need to read Jameson! You just need to watch Die Hard. I do realize that this is exactly what everyone in the world who is not me actually did.
So McClane saves the day (and his wife’s sexual attraction to him) by saying screw your "hyper" this and "virtual" that LOS ANGELES, your shit BLOWS UP just the same as everybody else’s. I bet Jameson wets his pants when he watches this movie. The curtains coming down on the exhilarating finale are the drifting leaves of office paper falling from now demolished corporate heights, as if to remind you that all that time, real people were typing up real TPS reports in the hidden veins of the Nakatomi machine. Yes, it was strange to be the only person in the world for whom Die Hard looked like 9/11 rather than the other way around. But it reminded me of how horrifying it was in 2001 when we realized the Towers had collapsed, that they were, or had been, just buildings. I wonder if we’ve been escaping back into the shiny haven of "information intrigue," simulacra of break-ins and blow-ups that leave all our actual stuff safely intact. However villainous the hackers of the 21st century, is anyone afraid the internet is going to, like, fall down?
*This is a lie. The remainder of this post is, in fact, a hackneyed Marxist reading of Die Hard. Sorry.