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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Fallacy of John McClane, Hero of Nakatomi Plaza?

In July of 1988, the cold war was all but over.  Reagan was at the end of his second term in which he had already made his famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech.   Six months later, Pan Am Flight 103 would be blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, ushering in a too-close-to-home terrorist threat (My sister was a classmate of one of the victims).  But that summer, the answer for terrorists was a lone man, a cop in the wrong place and the wrong time, doing his job.    He would singlehandedly take down a group of European "thieves" in a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper.  His name was John McClane.

Die Hard invented a new genre of film.  In fact, it lent its own name to the genre as, “Die Hard on a blank.”  The premise was simple.  A very well organized and well-funded group of bad guys, usually a mixture of foreign players and one or two Americans, would attempt to take over, blow up, rob, or kill someone, only to be defeated by one man with some peripheral help and a creative mind in regards to weaponry and self-defense.   The lone wolf savior was usually an off duty police officer or former soldier, and in the case of the “Die Hard in a hockey game” offering of Sudden Death, the protagonist was a firefighter. 

The protagonist would usually pick off a few of the terrorists or criminals before having their weakness exploited by the mastermind or tricked by a false friend, leaving them in some lower than low state.  But in the end, some Deus Ex Machina type device would save them, allowing them to dispatch the mastermind in some symbolic fashion complete with a fitting catchphrase. 

Regardless of how many times the formula was reused in the cinema, the original was still the best.  Die Hard introduced a real human protagonist.  John McClane wasn’t Rambo or Commando.  He wasn’t some body builder or ripped athlete.  He was just a man on the edge with vices and flaws.  He had a trucker's mouth and a distaste for authority.  He was everyman, the blue collar American, your dad, or your uncle who went to war.   He appealed to us all who wanted something more realistic than Stallone or Schwarzenegger.   It wasn’t a political or religious fight.  It was usually greed that drove the bad guys’ plot.

But, could the original Die Hard exist today?  Look at all the drama and discussion surrounding American Sniper.

“It’s “right wing” propaganda.”

“It glorifies war.”

“Snipers are cowards.”

“We should never have been there.”

“This is why we need to defend the 2nd Amendment.”

Each argument piggy backing a movie to serve its own purpose and soon an election will probably use the movie version of Chris Kyle’s life as a way to gain votes.  Exploitation at its best.

But again, could Die Hard work today?  Pacifists or “tree hugging, gun hating, pinko commie hippies” as they are probably looked at by others would say, “John McClane was in the wrong!” 

2nd Amendment extremists or “Gun toting tea baggers” as they are probably looked at by others would say that Die Hard demonstrates the need for more freedom for gun owners to carry all the time.

Well, maybe they can both be right and wrong.  But above all though, what if John McClane was never involved, or involved to a lesser extent?

Let’s look back at the film.

It’s 1988 America and John McClane has just arrived in LA to visit his estranged wife at her place of business for a Christmas Party.   Combating jet lag, McClane takes to a private office bathroom to clean up and “make fists with his toes” to alleviate his condition.   At that moment, a well-organized group of criminals with great hair care invade and take over the building.  All inside are killed or rounded up for the nefarious purposes of a yet unseen crime.  Are they taking hostages?  Are they extorting some kind of ransom?  We don’t know.  We just know that John McClane, shoeless, grabs his service weapon and takes off for another floor to avoid capture.  He appears to be the only invited guest at the party with any kind of weapon other than security, who were easily dispatched.

The bad guys round everyone up and keep them confined to the main foyer where the party takes place, while a few of the participants attend to other matters such as security, networks, and extracting a much needed code from the President of Nakatomi Trading for the vault downstairs.  Meanwhile, John McClane looks on in horror as Mr. Takagi is murdered, causing criminal mastermind, Hans Gruber to go to Plan B which involves a yet unseen element after Theo drills through the first layers of the vault door.

John McClane attempts to attract police attention by setting off a fire alarm and then making a distress call on the emergency services band using the radio from a dispatched terrorist.  This forces Gruber to try and neutralize this threat, but more importantly, it advances Gruber’s plan by involving police forces and ultimately, the FBI.

Does John take out terrorists?  Yes.

Does John represent the best chance for the hostages’ survival?  Maybe.

Let’s take a look at the death count on the good guys’ side.

Victim - Joseph Takagi
Killed By - Executed by Hans Gruber. 
Reason Killed - Because he wouldn’t give up the code.
McClane’s involvement – None.   
Reason for level involvement - He could have stopped them, perhaps temporarily, but then he’d be dead too. By giving away his position, he may have been able to take out many of the terrorists in the room, perhaps even Hans, himself.   But the cons in that equation definitely outweighed the good.  He would probably have been killed due to the odds, Takagi could have been killed by crossfire or in retaliation, and most likely, had John not nailed every one of them and saved Takagi, the smart thing would have been to go downstairs, kill all the hostages and leave before anyone knew what was up.   
Karmic impact – None if any
Final Word - John made the most calculated and logical decision given his circumstances.

Victim - Harry Ellis –
Kille By - Executed by Hans Gruber. 
Reason Killed - Because he got in the way, giving Hans information about John’s identity, and then ceased to be useful to Hans.  He was more of an annoyance.
McClane’s involvement – 80%
Reason for level involvement - Ellis told Hans who John was in order to help keep the hostages safe.  Yes, he was still a dick, but he didn’t know of Gruber’s end game.  When John didn’t give into Hans demands and was basically outed, Ellis was no longer useful.  John interfering with the entire ordeal caused Ellis to act on his own, leading to his death.  Furthermore, John not surrendering ensured Ellis’ death.  However, John would have been dead and so would have been Ellis pretty much.  While the audience and the characters may not still know the end game for this, Hans had no use for the hostages so Ellis would have been dead anyways.  But John interfering with Hans plan, even while advancing it, made for Ellis’ decision to try and quell the uprising.
Karmic impact – minimal.  He felt bad and even tried to save his life which made him more useless at that point.
Final Word - John being involved moved up Ellis’ death time but probably didn’t influence it.  Still, his involvement is implied.

Victim(s) - Five SWAT Team Members –
Killed By - Uli and Eddie ambushed four at the entrance with machine guns.  The Driver was killed by a missile exploding the SWAT vehicle, fired by Alexander and James.
McClane’s involvement – Direct involvement.  John called the police, involved Al Powell by dropping Marco onto his police cruiser which alerted the police’s full attention and SWAT involvement. 
Reason for level involvement - John’s continual annoying nature exacerbated the issue possibly causing their ultimate deaths as a statement of Hans’ “Do not mess with me, McClane!”
Karmic impact – less than you think.  The SWAT, by Hans’ blueprint would have been involved and according to Theo, they followed standard procedures.  They would have been there anyway.  They also took that role of their own accord so it came with the territory.  John’s involvement may have led to Hans using over the top measures but then again, why did he have a missile launcher in the first place?
Final Word - It’s their job but John put them there unknowingly.  Still, we don’t know if Hans would have killed them or more because John took out the missile launcher position and operators with the C4 in the elevator shaft.
Victim(s) - Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson, helicopter pilot
Killed By - Hans detonating the explosives on the roof caused the helicopter to catch fire and crash into the building... or gravity.
McClane’s involvement – Direct involvement.  He attempted to get the hostages off the roof but the FBI helicopter mistook him for a terrorist and began firing.
Reason for level involvement - John went to the roof because he knew the roof was wired to blow up.
Karmic impact – none.  Hans pulled the trigger but McClane being on the roof is what forced Hans to blow it.  The copter may not have been as close to the explosion had McClane not gone up there.
Final Word - While they were there because of their job, they totally planned on killing any terrorist they saw and possibly 20-25% percent of the hostages due to collateral damage.  John may have forced the issue, but Hans killed them and they were dicks.  That doesn't give their families any solace but they were in the business of being put in harm's way.
That’s all the good guy deaths.

Now, the plot of Gruber’s crime itself hinges on the fact the police would show up.  At what point in his original timeline would they be alerted to the situation.   For argument’s sake, let’s say John McClane is not at the party.  His plane was delayed.  So, Gruber and company take over Nakatomi unfettered.  They manage to execute every step of the plan with probably only one casualty, Joseph Takagi. 

So, there they are, with everything ready to go:
  • Roof rigged with explosives
  • All but one lock opened on the vault
  • All hostages accounted for in the main area of the party floor
  • No loss of terrorist life
  • No resistance to their efforts
  • No questioning of their command
All they need is for someone to call the police and have them show up.  Then, they give the fake “Release my brothers in arms” story to sell their hostage story.  SWAT team shows up with no knowledge of how many terrorists and what fire power they have involved.  Do they do a breach of the building without the knowledge that McClane gave them?   Better yet, do they even believe the story as Dwayne T. Robinson says, “He could be one of the terrorists, Powell” about McClane’s information?  In fact, Powell wouldn’t even be involved because he would have been home with his pregnant wife by the time Gruber was ready to execute the next phase of his plan.  No Powell means no questioning of the response.    

This is conjecture of course.  The SWAT team could have still been killed as Hans could have ordered more missiles fired.

So, was John McClane the best possible way to ensure that the greater good was served?   Was a lone wolf with a gun the best possible way to resolve the conflict?

Here are four possible scenarios:

No McClane = Hans executes his plan fully, all the terrorists escape with the millions and all the hostages are killed in the explosion on the roof. 
  • 100% hostages dead
  • 0% terrorists dead
  • 0% FBI forces dead
  • Maybe 1% of total SWAT officers killed (The math is fuzzy but 5 out of all total SWAT officers with LAPD Metro has to be around 1% I would think, even for 1988)

No McClane = Hans executes his plan up until the involvement of authorities, but due to the lack of McClane, the strategy changes and perhaps Gruber doesn’t get to blow up the roof with the hostages and escape with his money.  Some hostages die because the FBI takes them out as they are prepared to accept a loss during the firefight.
  • 90-100% terrorists dead (Theo and Eddie maybe taken into custody)
  • 20-25% hostages dead including Takagi killed by Gruber  OR maybe 100% of hostages dead because the roof blew and no McClane to get them down. 
  • Same amount of SWAT officers killed roughly 1%
  • Possibly 33-50% of FBI are killed or 1 Agent Johnson during the fight if we count helicopter pilot as FBI.
McClane involved  but surrenders because of Ellis = Takagi still dead, Ellis still dead, McClane dies because of Ellis, plan still carries out beyond that.
  • 38-75% of terrorists are killed because of McClane or police/FBI involvement
    20-25% hostages killed, including Takagi who is killed by Gruber. 

  • 99-100% killed as Holly still taken as hostage due to McClane and Ellis’ involvement and maybe killed later.
  • Same amount of SWAT officers killed roughly 1%,
  • Possibly 33-50% of FBI are killed or 1 Agent Johnson during the fight if we count helicopter pilot as FBI.
  • 100% of heroes killed

McClane Involved as originally scripted = Movie plays out as it does. Gruber’s plan gets modified and timetable pushed up.  He blows the roof prematurely and has to try and steal the loot during the aftermath.
  • 99% of terrorists dead (Theo taken into custody)
  • Less than 6% of hostages killed (Takagi and Ellis),
  • Same amount of SWAT officers killed or roughly 1%,
  • 100% of FBI forces killed (Both Johnsons and helicopter pilot)  
  • 0% of heroes killed.

Result – John McClane was the best option, using his training and brains. 
Yippee Ki-Yay Motherfucker!

And then, there's this gem:

  • Only one terrorist was killed by McClane having a gun at the party.  He shot Eddie at the end when he taped the gun to his back. Hans Gruber was shot by it, but died from falling out of the 30th floor window onto the pavement.    John either killed the remaining terrorists with other means or their own weapons. The list of deaths and how they occurred is here.
  • Had any of the guests been carrying a registered and concealed firearm, it is more than likely they would have been shot before getting a chance to use it or it would have been confiscated had they been round up before being able to respond. This also plays into a fifth scenario that I did not explore. John shows up and is present when the terrorists take over. Most likely, being a cop, John would not have tried to engage them at the onset as he would have most likely been outnumbered and killed immediately. Also, his service weapon would have been confiscated. In the event he would have come up with a plan while being held hostage, he would have had to rely on his brains or mistakes made by the terrorists so the carry and conceal argument would not even play into it.

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