Invariably, I am reminded about a dozen times a December that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. I’ll see the same grainy photo of a grainy photo of John McClane, your cop husband, fashioned into a Christmas ornament that looks like a little piece of ducting with shiny silver sides, that I have seen since 2007. It will be accompanied by the argument that Die Hard is indeed a Christmas movie. Unlike the other Christmas movies that drip with sticky scenes of sentiment and cheap nostalgia, Die Hard is the good kind of Christmas movie: the kind with action and curse words and explosions. The argument is stale. The counter-argument is stale. Hell, even this argument about the argument itself is stale.
They never talk about you, though.
They talk about John. Poor shoeless John McClane, who somehow escapes the “all cops are bastards” contempt of Marxist millennials toward law enforcement professionals and is forever enshrined as an underdog and a Good Guy. Even the most jaded antifa teen gets a little thrill out of this classic holiday tale wherein an agent of the state defends private capitalist assets against small-time terrorists, because they love their hero. John McClane is everybody’s cool Christmas dad.
So who are you?
We are introduced to your ass before we see your face. In your first lines, you respond to workplace sexual harassment. You do it forthrightly, yet sassily. You defend yourself without ever asserting that the system that has clearly allowed it to exist is unfair. You take it as a matter of course.
You call your kids at home to touch base. You ask about your ex, but not in a hopeful way. At the end of your first scene, you slam that photo of your pre-divorce family face-down so that you don’t have to look at it anymore.
This is how we know you: as object, as tough broad, as connected mother and as ex-wife. For a woman in a movie in 1988, this isn’t too bad. You’re coded as a babe but not a bimbo, and you get to speak for yourself, at least a little.
Your husband arrives at your office and searches for your name in the database, but he isn’t looking for your name; he’s looking for his. He doesn’t even recognize you as Holly Gennero. He’s looking for Holly McClane.
Trouble comes looking for you. Is it any wonder you react to being taken hostage with steely-eyed equanimity? Captivity in Nakatomi Plaza isn’t new to you. It’s your everyday state of being.
Who do we find, when we look for you? Arch-villain Hans Gruber looks for John McClane, taunting him via walkie-talkie and sending flunkies to flush him out. McClane predates along the edges of the story, beating up henchmen and stealing firearms, putting off the big confrontation.
Trouble isn’t supposed to come looking for a woman in a peachy-pink three-quarter sleeve silk blazer with the collar popped. Hans Gruber is never going to seek you. Instead, you seek him. You walk up to a man with an automatic weapon and tell him to take you to his leader. When the leader asks what idiot put you in charge, you tell him, “you did.”
You don’t hesitate.
You don’t stutter.
You look straight at him and wait coolly for him to meet your eye. You remind him that he shot your boss in the head and you’re here to claim your field promotion, distasteful though you find it. You use your leadership to appeal for more humane conditions for a pregnant woman, and for bathroom breaks for your people. Your parting words with this murderer are an insistence that he call you by your own name: Miss Holly Gennero.
The men in Die Hard can’t stop measuring their dicks for a single second, and they do so in units of magazines, tanks, and detonators. While the LAPD fights the FBI for jurisdiction and your habitual harasser tries to impress a terrorist with his slimeball negotiation tactics, you alone concern yourself with the safety and well-being of the hostages, for whom you immediately claim responsibility.
Sarah Connor was four years ago. Ripley was five years before that. The people who made this movie could have given you a showdown. They could have put a gun in your hand, made you John’s equal and helpmeet in the final fight. They could have kept you cool in your role as negotiator, had you talk your way into a strategic position. They lacked courage. They distress you in the final act, making sure you are at most sexualized when you are most endangered, centering your suddenly exposed cleavage instead of your face. They let John undo your watch with his blood-slicked hands rather than give you a moment’s competence. They take back your name so that you can be John McClane’s reward.
But you are not undone.
You hang tough until the bitter end. You’re scared, but you never give in. Your faith in men flags visibly when John appears to surrender, but who could blame you? This isn’t the first time he’s let you down and it won’t be the last.
So who are you, Holly Gennero?
You’re the hero of Die Hard. You and Argyle and Sgt. Al Powell all deserve a piece of this, though the action hero is not noted for his ability to share.
You’re the best thing that ever happened to a bum like John McClane.
You’re the woman who stands up to everyday scumbags, extraordinary villains, and even the hero of the day.
Every Christmas story has a man at its center. He lies in the manger. He slides down the chimney. He gets left home alone. This season, I’m watching them all. But I’ll always be looking for Holly Gennero.