There is a brief window of time in every boy’s life during which he has the sense, unanchored but sure, that his father might not have all of the answers. For me this occurred on a night when I found my father sitting in his underwear on a lawn chair in our living room. He was watching Head of the Class but there was no humor in his face; every time there was a misunderstanding on the screen, he would pound his fist on the chair and mutter, “Come on!”
Once a boy discovers that his father is fallible, he either retreats into a deep depression or he seeks out another role model. After seeing Die Hard, an action flick about a cop (Bruce Willis) who saves his wife and her coworkers from the grip of an international terrorist group, I was in awe. Unlike my father, John McClane didn’t waste time delivering boring eulogies at funerals or accidentally signing “customer copy” receipts at restaurants; he killed people, made sarcastic remarks to their lifeless bodies, and he didn’t fix his marriage with therapy or date nights – he bravely let his romantic rival take a bullet in the face. Actions did speak louder than words, and they were awesome.
Then, I grew up. Once the weight of the world crushes your spirits, you start to realize -- with dawning horror -- that a visit from bank thieves would be a welcome distraction from the daily diaper changes and trips to the supermarket deli that rob men of their collective dignity. In reality, my father was a hero for the daily murders he didn’t commit but wanted to.
To help direct teenagers’ veneration of action stars back to their fathers, I’m analyzing Die Hard in this week’s Fiction vs. Reality. How would this movie play out in real life? Let’s find out together.
Scenario # 1
What Happens: The terrorists arrive at the party via freight elevator.
Hollywood Version: The elevator doors open and all twelve robbers dramatically march out in unison.
Reality: According to Reginald Winston, a structural engineer: “This type of elevator is for maintenance men, not bands of terrorists. It has a maximum weight capacity of 1000 pounds, which translates to about six people. After exceeding that capacity, the elevator’s automatic safety lock would engage to ensure that it didn’t plummet to the floor. They should divide the group and take two separate trips with six people on each ride. It’s far less dramatic but much safer.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: Hans, the well-spoken villain, searches for Mr. Takagi, the head of the company.
Hollywood Version: To weed him out, Hans wanders through the crowd of hostages and delivers a well-rehearsed monologue in which he lists the accomplishments of Mr. Takagi, which shames the other, less successful Japanese businessmen.
Reality: According to Scott Francis, former LAPD police chief and author of List of Demands: The Art of Hostage Negotiation: “An attack of this magnitude requires months of planning and preparation. It’s safe to assume they would have a photograph of their target. Most likely, they would corner Takagi privately and conduct their theft while the party continued downstairs. And terrorists don’t recite CVs.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: Unbeknownst to the terrorists, John McClane (Bruce Willis) contacts the authorities.
Hollywood Version: The female 911 operator brushes off McClane’s well-articulated description of the terrorists’ plan even though machine-gun fire often prevents her from hearing his complaints. To placate him, she sends a fat, ineffectual cop to drive by the building.
Reality: “We have a standard protocol,” says NYPD Police Chief Franklin Markmen. “If we receive a call for distress, regardless of its merit, we will send at least three police cars to patrol the alleged crime scene. We will also run a sweep of all outgoing calls from the area to determine the veracity of the threat. And our technicians are trained to escalate the case upon hearing machine-gun fire.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: After hearing the news of a hostage situation, a reporter uses all of the tools in his arsenal to cover the story.
Hollywood Version: The reporter is portrayed as a manipulative and sleazy self-promoter who cares only for his story and not the people involved in it. The crowd in the film (and attending it) cheers when Holly McClane punches him in the face.
Reality: Sandra Jefferson, Director of Communications at Boston College, says, “His commitment to his story is admirable, especially since it occurs on Christmas Eve. His journalistic ethics are exemplary. He cannot be blamed for the misunderstandings that occur between a terrorist and a woman who changes her last name depending upon her husband’s ability to save her coworkers. I would nominate him for a Peabody award. And I would throw Ms. Genero/McClane into a sanitarium.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: Holly McClane/Genero insults the terrorists and makes unimportant demands (including a request for a couch for a pregnant lady).
Hollywood Version: Hans, a man who murders people for sport, loves it! He accommodates her ridiculous requests, compliments her, and smiles.
Reality: “I’m starting to understand,” says Sharon Fuller, psychiatrist and author of Coping with Borderline Personality Disorder, “why the McClanes’ marriage is in trouble. We have a woman who repeatedly emasculates men and refuses to take responsibility for it: First, her husband, then a reporter and finally, a terrorist ringleader. Ms. Genero/McClane is an emotional terrorist and the most dangerous character in the film. She holds us all hostage.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: While McClane bares his soul to a beat cop, Ellis, McClane’s romantic rival, tries to broker a deal with the gunmen that would allow everyone to make it home for the holidays.
Hollywood Version: Ellis, the only one trying to solve the problem, is portrayed as a fool. Not yet ready to surrender his cowboy antics (and deal with his broken marriage), McClane heroically allows Hans to shoot Ellis in the face (and waste a perfectly good can of Coke).
Reality: Ellis, a man who brokers multi-billion dollar deals each day, successfully negotiates with the terrorists -- they agree to invest with Ellis (which earns them more money than is available in the vault) and everyone walks out unharmed. Emerging shoeless, McClane is laughed at by the cops, terrorists, and his limo driver. Holly changes her first name to Ellis and makes out with him in front of everyone.
Scenario # 7
What Happens: The beat cop reminisces about a time when he shot a child who was holding a ray gun and laments his lost passion for murder.
Hollywood Version: The beat cop says, “When you’re a rookie they can teach you everything about being a cop except how to live with a mistake.” The sad music swells.
Reality: “A mistake is when you spill your coffee, not when you kill my son,” says Laura Markle, mother of the deceased. “That’s called murder! This fat [redacted] should be in jail; not eating twinkies! And, no, I’m not happy when he learns to kill again; I’m terrified for us all.”
What Happens: The beat cop and his Sergeant debate a course of action. The Sgt. suggests following procedure; the beat cop suggests following his gut.
Hollywood Version: The rational and experienced Sgt. is portrayed as incompetent and ineffectual for ignoring the protestations of the beat cop. He tells the beat cop he is free to go home.
Reality: The Sgt. reminds the beat cop that his intuition isn’t too valuable – the last time he listened to it, he killed a kid carrying a ray gun. Then, the Sgt. suspends him for insubordination. The beat cop drives back to the gas station and spends the night binge-eating Twinkies.
Scenario # 9
What Happens: FBI agents force a construction worker to turn off the power grid that runs an entire city block on Christmas Eve.
Hollywood Version: The FBI agents tell the worker, “Turn off the grid or you’re fired.” The worker complies.
Reality: “That’s why we have a chain of command,” says Edward Guerrero, manager of L.A. Department of Water and Power. “And there is no org chart here with FBI at the top of it; that request falls far outside of their jurisdiction. That construction worker would most certainly be fired for ruining the Christmases of countless folks simply because he didn’t obtain the proper clearances from his immediate supervisor.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: A terrorist puts a gun to McClane’s head.
Hollywood Version: The terrorist removes the gun and challenges McClane to a fistfight, which results in tumbles down stairwells and damage to the building that will most likely result in even more construction delays.
Reality: The gunman shoots McClane dead. Holly changes her last name to Gruber. They fall in love.
Scenario # 11
What Happens: McClane confronts Hans, who is holding his wife hostage.
Hollywood Version: McClane, covered in sweat and blood from a recent gunshot wound, distracts Hans by yelling “Yippee Ki Yay” and laughing uncontrollably. Hans, always one to indulge in a good belly laugh, changes his posture (from carefully guarded to relaxed and warm). McClane grabs a gun that was duct-taped to his back and shoots Hans.
Reality: “This would be physically impossible,” says Dr. Stephen Feinsedt, Cleveland Clinic. “The bullet went through his subdeltoid bursa which would preclude him from moving the left half of his body. Besides, blood and sweat erode the adhesiveness of duct tape. If he were to somehow affix a gun to his back, his injured shoulder would dramatically slow down his reaction time. And the pain would not elicit laughter; he would experience dementia.”
Scenario # 12
What Happens: After Hans is killed (and the money McClane spends the entire film protecting falls from the high-rise), Holly decides to give her husband another shot.
Hollywood Version: Holly loudly asserts that her new name is McClane. The couple kisses. Everyone is happy.
Reality # 1:
“This is not a solid foundation for reconciliation,” asserts Malcolm Saxwell, psychologist and author of Heal Thy Marriage. “Traumatic events raise endorphin levels, but the next day when the terrorists aren’t in their bedroom, those two will not be able to ignore their underlying problems. Unless they schedule “hostage night” or Holly undergoes talk therapy, I give it a few weeks.”
Reality # 2:
“You can imagine my surprise,” asserts Fred Garvin, TD Bank North Regional Manager, “when I received a phone call at 10:30 PM on Christmas Eve. I was told I needed to assemble a team to pick up thousands of bank notes that were spread across the Nakatomi Plaza parking lot. Those bank notes had to be cross-checked against a main printout. My team and I spent Christmas Day cleaning up the mess of this McClane character. I was decidedly unhappy.”
Final thought: Marriage comprises sacrifice and communication and can’t (only) be fixed with headbutts; learning to kill again is not a joyous event; and teenagers, show respect to your fathers -- they won’t toss you out of a window even though they want to (and probably should) and that makes them pretty good role models.