The emblematic cluster

In an opening scene or sequence, we often find a privileged image or composition which in a sense gathers together diverse and heterogeneous elements in a single configuration, whose meaning will only become fully apparent in retrospect, and which thus functions rather like an emblematic picture, or a condensation of the various narrative motifs, as well as implying a temporal structure of anticipation and foreshadowing. In Die Hard's opening there are a number of such constellations, chief among them the verbal exchange between McClane and the passenger sitting next to him on the plane as they land in LA. The passenger, noticing how tense McClane is before and during touchdown, gives him a piece of advice: 'When you get home, take off your socks, and curl your toes into a fist.' The phrase represents, in figurative form, three central oppositions (or enigmas) which the narrative sets itself1:he task to resolve: the culturally difficult relationship between masculinity and the exposed body, the anxiety-producing relationship between vulnerability and violence, and finally, the counterintuitive relationship between common sense and a winning strategy.

The opposition toe/fist, as well as the suggestion to take off his socks, will, as we shall see, feature prominently - and unexpectedly - in the subsequent narrative. The figure of the passenger is also important in another respect: he is an Asian-American, and thus introduces the semantic cluster of race and ethnicity, used in the film both as a semantic category (it gives rise to a number of pertinent oppositions with which the narrative can play to advance its resolution) and as a cultural-historical category, in that it hints at the antagonistic constellation of Americans, Japanese, and Germans, which the film exploits also for an (anti-?) globalization argument.

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