Live Free or Die Hard: Anxieties about Modernity

Die Hard is actually a good movie, no, let me re-phrase that: it is a great action-movie. Straight out of the years of yore it comes at you with a tough, cynical hero wisecracking one-liners and just tearing shit up with his grittiness and resourcefulness that comes with a life-time experience of taking names and kicking ass.

In other words, Die Hard takes a page straight out of the 80’s action blockbuster playbook and just runs with it.

And I really really liked it. The best movie I’ve seen all summer. The reason why I like the movie is almost exactly the same theme explored by the movie itself, namely, that human resourcefulness can still kick a computer’s ass.

The crisis that John McClane must face aren’t bombs and jetfighters (although he does fight one later on in one of the most ridiculous sequences of action movie history), but rather, computer hacks who are able to wreak complete havoc by destroying the infrastructure of the country that are almost completely run by computers.

The movie seems to say that in the end, no matter how much computers control our lives (and computers control pretty much our entire modern existence), the human being will triumph precisely because he’s irrational, spontaneous, not governed by rigid, unchangeable algorithms. McClane is able to succeed because he’s reckless, doesn’t have a well-laid out plan before going to peril, and just doesn’t give a flying fuck.

In some ways, this is a very Luddite reaction to technology, one that reflects a deep unconscious fear of machinery and humanity’s inability to control its own creations. This is a well-worn, time-honored theme in futurist/science-fiction literature.

And I happen to like the movie for precisely the same reason: because most of the action sequences are not CG-generated but actually done by humans. It’s the sound of flesh pounding on flesh that just gives the action sequences a sense of immediacy and blood that CG just cannot bring to the table. This summer has demonstrated just how fatiguing over-reliance on CG can become: just look at Pirates 3 and Spiderman 3. Both of them used more CG that cost more than the GDPs of most African countries, but neither of them had the excitement of Die Hard. I, along with the rest of the theatre, cheered everytime McClane escaped at the last minute and whenever he was kicking ass. But when I was watching Spiderman3 and Pirates 3, I was feeling very bored.

I wish action-movies would return to this 80s-template, when more emphasis was placed on the hero, who is human, and the action was more about human stunts.


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