Repetitionresolution

Part of this work, as we have stressed several times, is a certain excessiveness. This makes Die Hard also an example of what Colin MacCabe or Stephen Heath have analysed as a necessary instability of the classical system, its constant breakup of the configurations and their reassemblage. Heath, in his essay 'Narrative Space' (1981: 19-75), traces the different kinds of excess and instability in Hitchcock's 'geometry of representation', as they can be seen, for instance, in the different function of two paintings in Suspicion. This necessary instability, it might be argued, manifests itself in Die Hard as an emphasis on special effects, on the pyrotechnics of violent assault on bodies and buildings, typical of an action film but here staged in such a flamboyantly self-confident way that one suspects an underlying panic to be part of its violent urgency. For this kind of excess only serves to displace and cover up others kind of instability: the skewed 'relations' between male and female protagonist, the non-congruence between what John wants/needs and what Holly wants/needs for their gendered identity, and the asymmetry that locks executive female and working-class male into conflict and contradiction. A Bellour-type reading would identify the 'symbolic blockage' around the impossibility of McClane accepting his second, social 'castration' (in the new world of globalization), and therefore starting the pyrotechnical mayhem, a sort of fetish action by which he hopes to escape the acceptance of his first, originary castration under the law of patriarchy. This would identify his actions as motivated by guilt feelings about 'unfinished business' (in relation to his wife, but also to his profession as a New York cop), and it would confirm that while this classical narrative is apparently 'about' the male hero's psycho-sexual identity, 'woman trouble' is also at its heart. Die Hard can indeed be shown to be a film where the woman's unstable position in the world of men appears as the 'real' trouble in the system, not post-Fordism. But at the surface level, it is the trouble with a certain type of masculinity that actually propels the film. Such an emphasis on male desire and male anxiety means that masculinity becomes the motor of a perfectly functioning narrato-logical machine, where there can be no interruption or pause, and where even minor details and detours are relentlessly reintegrated, or retrospectively re-motivated as contributing to the central dilemma, by providing either possible solutions (the roads not taken by the hero) or impossible solutions (the pitfalls avoided by the hero).

One of the impossible solutions avoided by the hero is that provided by the subplot around Ellis, Holly's colleague and McClane's sexual rival. While Ellis may be more respectful of Holly's professional identity, both his predatory sexuality and his subservience and betrayal are severely punished by the film. His bad character's uncompromising stance towards McClane and Holly retrospectively confirms the hero in having been right in his uncompromising stance, also vis-à-vis his wife. As to a possible solution not taken by the hero, there is a scene of the sex-mad couple at the party, who burst into the room where John and Holly are trying to make up, looking for a safe place to copulate. It is a shot that is repeated when the terrorists burst in, and its importance is indeed twofold: it demonstrates in a jokingly graphic way one option for John and Holly to get together again very fast indeed. But it also sets up expectations - false as it turns out - that the second time will also be an irruption of unbridled libido, when in fact it is an entirely different danger to the Christmas festivities. Here the repetition does not provide a resolution, but points to a dead end (for the couple), in the sense that their 'work' on the relationship encompasses more than sexual desire, which is shown (as so often in classical American cinema, with its puritan streak) to have destructive consequences: the wild sex drive of the couple is directly associated with the criminal drives of Gruber and his gang.

Another road not taken for McClane is the fate of A1 Powell, the black patrolman. On the one hand, we see how his goals chime in with those of the main characters, especially McClane, both as a cop (to do his duty) and as a man (to have a family to go home to). He gets caught up in the action, on his way home to his pregant wife, to whom he wants to bring the hostess cakes she has a craving for. In this respect he is a McClane without the macho-chip, but we see what a terrible price he has to pay: he is traumatised from having once shot and killed a youngster by mistake, a desk-bound cop (shorthand for emasculation in many Hollywood films, witness the Robert Duvall character in Falling Down), who needs to redeem himself as a policeman and a professional. He thus presents the (unacceptable) solution to McClane's dilemma, since the nurturing male for this genre is inevitably a traumatised or 'castrated' male.

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