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Kyle on Kevin
In the alone house there are many possibilities, but in the full house there are few.
Up until recently, I believed that Home Alone (1990) was about the importance of being with your family during Christmas. But on a Covid rewatch, I felt a certain kinship with Kevin, which drew my attention away from the antics and into the calm pool of his tiny brain.
As with any film, after meeting its central character, we, the viewer, wonder: how will this story escalate? How, if so, will our Kevin change?
And just like that, if we didn't already know from the title, we see Kevin abandoned. An agent for change has been placed on his lap. A provocation! Silver-spooned Kevin is registered for the school of hard knocks!
Well, maybe. People may say that being home alone is A Big Problem, but there isn’t immediate consensus as to why. Certainly, we learn, it is not A Big Problem because you are eight years old and you miss your idiot brother Buzz. And it is not A Big Problem because it’s hard to order pizza for delivery. And sheesh, maybe it’s not even A Big Problem to protect your home from wet bandits.
As Kevin puts it: “I took a shower, washing every body part with actual soap, including all my major crevices, including in between my toes and in my belly button, which I never did before but sort of enjoyed.”
Seems like he’s doin okay.
Earlier in Home Alone, we meet Fuller, a cousin who (we are made to understand) is a bottom feeder. Fuller's character arc spans not-going-easy on the Pepsi and then wetting the bed. In these circumstances, Fuller has his mind about him—but what would happen if his circumstances changed? Perhaps, family gone, day by day unstocked of his Pepsi supply, all beds in the house eventually wetted—how cool do we suspect Fuller's mind will be?
This should be the story of Home Alone.
Instead, we are given this story via Kevin, who (we are made to understand) is a Pepsi spiller and "little jerk". His arc, circumstances changed and family gone of course, is perhaps a little harder to predict. On whom does he spill Pepsi?
This, I think, is the question that drives the plot. And in scene after scene, we are left to reason that Kevin, left alone, is not as predictable as we thought. By the time the Wet Bandits enter the story, Kevin seems invincible to us, and his “self-defense” has the effective appearance of a dramatic punching-down. Have mercy on these bandits, Kevin-god!
Still, at film's end, family restored, we sense that our Sisyphus-Kevin has a cool mind as he returns to the bottom of the hill. He was fine without his family and he’s fine now that they’re back. And just our luck, the producers at 20th Century Fox are about to give him another day for boulder-pushing.
In Home Alone 2 (1992), near the end, after the family is again reunited, the camera pans past Fuller, flanked by three empty cans of Coke in a California king-sized bed. Beside him on the floor, out of reach of Fuller-urine, is our nosy little pervert Kevin. Fuller wakes up and says to Kevin, “Holy smokes, it’s Christmas morning. It’s Christmas morning, man!”
Kevin replies, “Fuller, don’t get your hopes up. I don’t think Santa Claus visits hotels.”
To which Fuller says, “Are you nuts? He’s omnipresent. He goes everywhere.”
Kevin smiles. We are made to feel that in this moment, having witnessed him rent porn and meet park strangers and attempt murder and nervously talk to himself in an empty New York penthouse, Kevin’s mind is perfect glass.
In the next scene, Fuller and the rest of the cousins are surprised by an immodest Christmas tree and a room stacked with gifts. Who bought the gifts? Who manufactured the scene? Kevin. He is Santa Claus. He is omnipresent, he goes everywhere.
From the outside (to Fuller) Kevin is unchanged. Perhaps (to Fuller) Kevin is even made dumber by A Big Problem. But from the inside, to Kevin, life is bigger, more generous.
I get the sense that, for Kevin, A Big Problem ain’t no problem at all.
Which is why I wrote this essay. Kevin McCallister’s approach to A Big Problem is unique. In films from this era, adult protagonists often encounter A Big Problem that has only two evil outs: sell out or check out. In Home Alone, this might be interpreted as be Buzz (idiot) or be Fuller (bed wetter). A popular side-step to this two-outcome plot bind is something called The Third Way. Lucky characters in films with this option find an unprovided path: hypnosis or a hidden tunnel which gives them the power to become John Malkovich.
Ah, The Third Way. The poetic exit. The external reference. So good you can almost taste it.
Sometime in 2020, as my interest in meditation increased while my interest in my job decreased, I became obsessed with having The Third Way of my own. Every day I suffered through the question: sell out or check out, only to go to bed undecided, uninitiated, unlucky.
I hope I’m not the only one who tried to overcome the A Big Problem of the last few years via Taking Life By the Horns. We bought a car. I changed my job for the first time in 6 years. I thought about going back to school, writing a book, opening a coffee shop. Each new idea seemed to "whittle the world down to a more manageable size."
Christmas came around and Home Alone was on the TV at my future in-laws'. In the context of the year, the story felt bizarre and relatable. And there’s something about Kevin that feels unusual for a protagonist—he doesn’t really change, he doesn’t evolve. But the A Big Problem does evolve, it does change. Eventually, the world turns and brings his family back to him. Twice. And Kevin? Well, Kevin’s just being Kevin.
Shunryu Suzuki said, "When you are sitting in the middle of your own problem, which is more real to you: your problem or you yourself?"
As my own A Big Problem became insurmountable, the urgency I felt about overcoming it became less important. As my will to attain some special outcome receded, so did my discomfort and frustration. As it turns out, not only is there no The Third Way for me, there’s no first or second way either. There’s just a way—my life—the path which I will walk. The path which all people walk (probably), and will walk (hopefully), and have walked (for centuries).
A Big Problem. It’s just you, being yourself, in your circumstances.
You as you are, life as it is.
In the words of David Byrne, “Time isn't holding up, time isn’t after us.” And in the words of Kevin McCallister, “Guys, I’m eating junk and watching rubbish! You better come out and stop me!”