The enigma

Narratives, according to Tzvetan Todorov, can be characterizsed, at their most basic, as structures which begin with a steady state, an equilibrium, a balance. This balance is disrupted by an intervention, an irruption (in Die Hard, the breakup of John and Holly McClane's marriage, the sudden burst of the terrorists' entry into the office Christmas party) which it is the task of the narrative to neutralize and to eliminate, so that finally an equilibrium can be re-established which resembles the initial one, but with significant differences.

As we saw above, the narrative's necessary interruption can also be presented as a lack, a desired object that is lost or, as in this case, an enigma, a puzzle. On the surface of Die Hard, the lack or lost object is the family unit which McClane has come to restore. At the deep-structure level, however, we are now arguing, it is the Asian-American's piece of advice which is the enigma, except that neither we nor McClane know that it is actually a riddle.

In the terms of our analysis, therefore, it belongs to the logic of desire rather than to rational-agent logic.

The opening scene by itself does not reveal the riddling nature of the advice. Instead, it lets us see the constellation also from the other point of view - that of Holly and, by extension, the Nakatomi Corporation. As McClane lands and leaves the airport, we cross-cut to the Christmas party at the Corporation headquarters, the speech of the CEO, and Holly telephoning her maid at home and speaking to her daughter. From this combined perspective of Holly and the people at the Nakatomi Tower, McClane constitutes the interruption and intrusion, drawing a powerful parallel between McClane and the terrorists. On the face of it, the terrorists only appear in the subsequent segment, taking over the lobby, and then bursting into the building and violently crashing the party. But covertly, the terrorists do appear in the opening sequence, and this twice over. After Argyle's limousine has entered Nakatomi Plaza, the camera cuts to a big, sinister-looking truck also heading in the same direction. This, as it turns out, is the delivery truck the terrorists use to gain entry into the underground parking of the corporate tower, which they do at about the same time McClane is told by Argyle that he'll wait for him in the parking lot. In this way, the film establishes a parallel between McClane's arrival and the terrorists' arrival: both are outsiders, both are disruptive forces in the lives of Holly and the Nakatomi Corporation.

The first time the terrorists appear, however, is even earlier, on the plane, when the Asian-American passenger notices McClane's gun. A gun on a plane usually means only one thing, terrorists plotting a hijack, and this is the inference which McClane's answer acknowledges: 'Don't worry, I've been a cop for eleven years.' This scene, too, draws a parallel between the terrorist and McClane, but now on the basis of his being a policeman - a parallel that the narrative takes up several times later when the police inadvertently help the terrorists, instead of McClane.

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