Religious symbolism in secular Christmas films is nothing new. The holiday itself is a nice mixture of non-religious traditions with varying degrees of Christian undertones. So you’re making a movie about Christmas and you want to throw in a Church or a cross somewhere – no big deal - but to specifically use the graphic symbolism of the wounds of crucifixion in a classic family comedy was a bold – and often missed – choice by director Chris Columbus in the 1990 film, “Home Alone.”
Not sure what I’m referring to? Hit “read more” for evidence and analysis that I am shocked to be (as far as my google searching has shown) the first to discuss online...
First, we have to clarify what we’re talking about. Stigmata typically means a mark or visual sign left by a particular circumstance. In a Christian context, however, Stigmata strictly refers to the scars left on Jesus’ body through the crucifixion process. Sometimes this is around the head (crown of thorns) but more often, it is the scars on the hand signifying where the nails where driven through his hands. Since about the 13th century there have been claims of the scars miraculously showing up on devoted worshippers. Though most believe this to be self-inflicted hysteria (because they didn’t start happening until the 13th century, they never looked the same, etc.) there have been a good amount of people that have believed it to be a miraculous occurrence.
Where it is more present, however, is in art. The use of bruises, cuts, or scars on the palms or back of the hand are very popular in both religious and non religious paintings. To those familiar with symbolism, it’s like an indicator to associate it’s barer with the suffering of Christ, much like the cross pose used in many films to symbolize martyrdom.
So where is the Stigmatic symbolism in “Home Alone” – the slapstick filled, family friendly, Christmas classic? It finds itself in the film’s D-story of fear and redemption, Old Man Marley. He salts the roads, sports a beard, and scares the hell out of Kevin McCallester throughout the film. But if we look close, we can see that he bares the symbolic scars of crucifixion.
Here we see the character’s hand for the first time, bloodied up and wrapped in a bandage. This is such a deliberate shot by the director that there is no denying that he wants our attention – even if subconscious – on this wound. And for those of you that doubt the importance and simply claim it’s a nice way to scare Kevin, check out the next shot.
If it’s just scary imagery, why would the director make a point in showing us that the wound goes all the way through his hand? Plot-wise, it’s hidden very well, but there is no denying that the imagery is drawn up for us to start making comparisons: Is there more to this man that Kevin is scared of? Is this man suffering like Christ did?
What the film does next goes beyond the abilities of a painting’s symbolism, it makes use of it’s medium by incorporating Time into the equation. We’ve seen the scars, what’s next?
What we see here takes place right after the scene in which Old Man Marley confesses to Kevin the cause of his suffering – that he has been estranged from his son and that it’s his own fear that has prevented him from reuniting with him. Kevin, with a child’s simplistic wisdom, gives him exactly the right advice that begins his redemption: to simply call. So what we’re seeing is the healing of his suffering. This is clearly a deliberate insert shot of the man’s Band-Aid (sorry for the poor image quality if you weren’t sure it’s a Band-Aid. On DVD and Blu-ray it is very clear). The healing has begun.
And here, in the end of the film, Kevin looks out his window to see Old Man Marley reuniting with his son and granddaughter. His suffering is over, and his wounds are healed. Now I’m no doctor, but I know that a puncture through the palms isn’t going to completely clear up in a few days without…a miracle.
And you thought it was a kids movie.
What do you think? What else can we draw from this? Does Kevin act as a religious or historical symbol in his story of redemption? What other films have you seen this symbolism in?