May 1, 2013

Die Hard: The Gay Connection

New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is having a very bad day.  He flies to L.A. to visit his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), during her company's Christmas party in the ritzy Nakatomi Tower.  But then a band of terrorists armed with heavy artillery take the partygoers hostage.  McClane, hiding, contacts the LAPD, but at first they don't believe him, and when they finally investigate, they think he's the bad guy.  It is up to McClane to single-handedly take out the terrorists (who are actually burglars with a very convoluted scheme).

McClane is in radio contact with the portly African-American sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), the only LAPD officer who believes his story.  They chat, joke, and rather openly flirt with each other, and when the crisis is resolved, McClane leaves his wife to rush into Powell's arms.  A homoromantic hug capstones the movie.  The primary emotional bond in Die Hard (1988) is not between McClane and Holly, estranged or not, but between McClane and Powell.

But that's not all.


In the sequel, Die Hard 2 (1990), it's another Christmas Eve, and McClane goes to Washington's Dulles Airport to pick up Holly.  But terrorists take over the airport and forbid any planes from landing.  McClane must take them out before the plane carrying Holly runs out of fuel and crashes.  He commandeers the mousy African-American communications specialist  Leslie Barnes (Art Evans) for the adventure.  Buddy-bonding and some gender-role transgressions occur.  In spite of the obligatory "I love you so much" hug with the wife, the primary emotional bond comes between McClane and Barnes.



In the next installment, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), a terrorist has planted explosives around New York to coerce McClane into participating in risky nursery-rhyme "games."  Black-separatist shopkeeper Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) is accidentally involved, and the two go off on a wild ride full of love-hate buddy-bonding and "I'm not leaving without you!" speeches.

When the crisis is resolved, Carver continues to stick around.  In spite of the obligatory reconciliation with the again-estranged Holly (this time in the form of a telephone call), the primary emotional bond is between McClane and Carver.



Live Free or Die Hard (2007), about cyber-terrorists who have taken the entire country hostage, gives McClane a white partner: a young hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long).  This one ups the physicality of the bond, and makes Matt (along with McClane's daughter) the object of rescue.  Plus there's a promise of continuing relationship that the other installments lack.

4 installments, four homoromantic buddy-bonds, 3 with African-Americans.

Why?  Bruce Willis is no gay ally, and directors John McTiernan, Renny Harlan, and Len Wiseman are not known for their gay-positive filmmaking.

 But many recent buddy movies, aware of the possibility of gay subtext, pair a white man-mountain with a soft African-American comic relief character, hoping that because the relationship is interracial, no one will "read" it as romantic.  And Matt Farrell?  Maybe they thought that the 23-year age difference between Justin Long and Bruce Willis would make people "read" them as father-son figures, not older-younger boyfriends.

It didn't work.