There is an interesting notion that can be extracted from the first and third movies in the Die Hard series. Those particular entries had the same director, related villains, and similar plots, thus it seems that the subtly conveyed idea of satirizing the Communist/Capitalist paradigm was very much intentional. This was all hidden beneath the guise of a blockbuster action film, but clever storytellers very often veil their true intentions for them to be discovered later on. Including truly daring story elements that challenge the status quo don’t go over too well with the big business brood over in Hollywood, thus the film factory spends most of its time releasing cookie cutter products with a few conventional genres for diversity.
Die Hard and Die Hard with a Vengeance would be fairly standard action movies if they stood alone. Though, they’d be above average as their plots have more cleverness than usual, but it is with the films’ connection that something even greater develops. This is not just hidden by the surface level action film aspect, but also the fact that the mentioned films are two non-consecutive entries in a series that currently totals four films. Entries 1 and 3 (to be looked at here) are tied in with each other much more closely with their directly related plot lines than entries 2 and 4, which just share the same protagonist.
The direct correlation between the plot lines of series entries 1 and 3 can be found in the rather interesting villain of each film, both attempt to execute a clever heist using similar tactics, but their relation to one another proves the most revelatory of all.
Meet Hans Gruber
This man ranks as one of the more interesting Hollywood villains, despite falling squarely into the field of conventional bad guy categories. However, the way he fits into the “bad guy categories” is unique. In general, Hollywood like foreigners as villains and some of the most prolific recruitment demographics have been the Germans, usually as Wehrmacht soldiers or NSDAP members; the Japanese, as Imperial Army soldiers; the Russians, as communists and Red Army soldiers; the Vietnamese, as Viet Cong soldiers; as well as Arabs, as Islamic terrorists.
That’s quite the bunch of “bad guys” to choose from when making an action movie. However, Hans Gruber is a German terrorist from East Germany, thus making him a German Communist Terrorist. All the traditional bad guy traits are still there, just in a neat new package. Hans Gruber’s goal is the theft of $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds from the central vault of a Japanese corporation’s Los Angeles office building. Gruber and his team strike during the annual Christmas party when the building is mostly empty, save for the top tier employees, who can be held hostage and intimidated into giving out company secrets. Much of Hans Gruber’s background is implied, however, there are clues as to his Marxist background.
First, he’s robbing a wealthy corporation, thus striking a blow against capitalism. Second, he’s striking on Christmas, thus interrupting a celebration that most Marxists, from Karl Marx himself all the way to practically every Communist party leader, have despised and expressed disdain for.
[NOTE: For the West German market (Die Hard was released in 1988) the film was edited to make Hans Gruber an Anglo, in order to avoid any potential correlation with the Red Army Faction, which would, no doubt, have loved a recruit like Hans Gruber. This Anglicization fit nicely, since actor Alan Rickman, portraying Hans Gruber, is English. In a news report seen in the film, it is said that Hans Gruber belongs to “the West German Volksfrei,” a fictional group, but a reasonable stand-in for the real RAF as that paramilitary organization was formed underground in West Germany, but had Communist ideology.]
Once Gruber’s squad has seized control of the building, they take the CEO to extract information from him. There is a little side scene in an elevator here that seems to be of little significance and can even be seen as the type of scene that gets dropped during the editing stage. However, Hans Gruber drops a particular clue: he compliments Mr. Takagi, the CEO, on his suit and says that he has two from the same tailor and that “rumor has it, Arafat gets his there.” It seems Gruber is keen on many things and he also has apparently taken interest in very non-Marxist things, such as an expensive tailor. This then explains his next key line. Mr. Takagi is confused that Gruber has no demands and that he doesn’t intend to hold anyone ransom. Gruber’s goal, as mentioned above, is the theft of negotiable bearer bonds, $640,000,000 worth of them! “Who said we were terrorists?” says Hans with a laugh! It’s a brilliant and very revelatory bit of dialog. The DVD has some deleted scenes with alternate versions of this line, thus it was fine tuned by both scriptwriter and director before settling on this version, so no doubt it’s a key idea in the film.
If Hans Gruber and his men are not terrorists, than who are they exactly? They are Marxists seeking a way out of inevitable collapse of their system. Hans Gruber has already been established as smart and calculating, thus in 1988 he must have seen the inevitable collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the slow deterioration of the USSR was already well underway. So what does he do? He jumps over to the other side of the false dichotomy, from communism to capitalism, so that he can steal all he can to preserve himself. Whatever job he had in East Germany, we can presume something along the lines of a Stasi agent, is about to go completely down the drain. Thus, he used his skills and cunning to prey on the other side of the dichotomy to make up for that non-existent future pension.
As part of his charade to the police, Gruber reads a list of false demands: various militia and revolutionary groups that are currently in custody around the world and they are to be released in exchange for hostages. This ruse is meant to keep the authorities busy so that his team can work on cracking that vault. The Los Angeles police do not have the capability or the authority to negotiate the release of said groups and so the FBI arrives at the scene, but Hans Gruber had anticipated even this. The FBI shuts the power down to isolate the building, but little do they know that this allows Gruber and Co. access to their goal, the main vault, whose last impenetrable lock shuts down when the building’s power source is cut. Gruber has been, in effect, leading the opposition against him on a wild goose chase.
As vault opens and the loot is revealed in glorious bright light, Beethoven’s 9th plays (it had been part of the soundtrack in subtle variants), and this is not so much a “German” reference, as it is a nod to the European Union whose anthem is, in fact, the “Ode to Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven. And this is the film’s most brilliant satire: a robbery in the hundreds of millions spanning the false economic dichotomy symbolized by the EU.
You have to hand it to him; Hans Gruber is one clever guy and also the Marxist who won’t go down without taking a predatory chomp out of his fellow capitalist.
Meet Simon Gruber
This man is also a clever villain. He also happens to be Hans’s younger brother. It seems that elaborate heist schemes run strong in the Gruber family. Also, it is an English actor, Jeremy Irons, whose native accent matches Alan Rickman’s, who plays Simon Gruber. The director of the first film, John McTiernan, was back to direct this sequel, which started production as a non-sequitor plot just like Die Hard 2. It was originally scripted with the title “Simon Says” where a shadowy villain torments a NYC cop by giving him increasingly elaborate riddles with the threat of bomb going off if the cop doesn’t comply or solve them in time.
This was then adapted to fit the Die Hard formula by making the main character John McClane, however, during production McTiernan insisted that a stronger connection be developed between hero and villain. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh soon added “the Gruber connection” as an augmentation to his initial plotline.
Roughly 45 minutes into the film, John McClane finds out that the man threatening to blow up some civilian packed locations in New York is actually the younger brother of Hans, whom he dropped from a 42nd story window about 5 years ago. The FBI gives all sorts of details about Simon Gruber, including that he was a former East German intelligence officer (RAF connection is not mentioned, but it’s reasonable to believe) who is now in the field of “freelance terrorism” and that the last reports indicate that he is “working for the Iranians.”
In all probability, only the first part is true with the rest being Neo-Con propaganda. Considering that a great many people are considered “terrorists” or “tyrants” if they don’t play the game of the false dichotomy and Simon Gruber is definitely doing no such thing. Iran has long been accused of sponsoring terror, yet the accusations have far outweighed the proof. Thus, the FBI here is just playing their bit of deception.
However, this is far exceeded by the deceptive genius of Simon Gruber, who seems to know all about the FBI agents, as well as the man who introduces himself as being “from another agency” when he gives them a teasing surprise phone call. Gruber also tells them that a bomb will go off in a public school in a few hours. With that, the set up is complete and Gruber’s men get to work. Meaning, robbing the New York City branch of the United States Federal Reserve Bank where countries from around the world store their gold reserves! The bank is located in southern Manhattan, a place with no schools, and now, with the whole police force occupied, Gruber’s men are free to march in disguised as construction workers to repair the damage from a bomb blast in the subway earlier that happened to breach part of the Bank’s security system… this detonation was also planned by Gruber, it was a false flag, and thus, Simon’s plan is basically Hans’s plan on steroids: a heist in the billions and it also spans the false economic dichotomy. This second Gruber clan member is also an out-of-work former Communist whose system had collapsed and now he seeks to continue his exploitation on anyone he can, namely the “victorious” capitalist side of the Cold War.
Simon Gruber’s deceptions go on until the very end of the film. He demonstrates his willingness to kill civilians, betray his own men, and also spew out some political rhetoric all to confuse his enemy. Funny thing is that some of his treachery (the bomb in the school) also ends up being a deception as the bomb was a dud, but it distracted everyone away from the robbery. Gruber also seems to load the stolen gold onto a ship, which is then blown up off shore for the all summer beach goers to see. Gruber claims that he wants to “level the playing field” (referring to the World’s economy) and he even makes sure to drop a hint of this being in the interest of the Middle East. Needless to say, the ship explosion and the political talk were all just a show to make everyone think that the gold was destroyed, when in fact Simon hadn’t loaded it onto the ship, but rather trucked it away while everyone in New York was still distracted.
At a secret rallying point with the stolen gold, Simon and his men pop open champagne bottles and toast to a job well done. Gruber boasts about how they can now choose not which country to live in, but which country to buy. Just then, one of his men toasts to their fallen comrades and at this moment Simon Gruber slightly hesitates, but quickly ends up going with the toast. This strongly suggests that the betraying of his men earlier wasn’t just a necessary evil to make most of them rich, but rather that he just doesn’t care about any of them and may very well have a plan to betray all of them. This notion is furthered by the fact that he then orders his men to prepare for their final getaway (out of the US), while Simon goes to have sex with his girlfriend. It seems we now can assume where Simon’s goal lies: full spectrum self-gratification. His girlfriend is definitely in on whatever Simon is up to as it was she who shot the guy on the condemned ship who had figured out that there’s no gold on-board. This woman is a fairly cryptic character with no lines of dialog and one who seems to relish in killing others; at the start of the bank heist she seems to dance with a sickle shaped knife as she slices up a security guard.
This being an action movie, all ends well with the bad guys perishing in an exploding helicopter after John McClane shoots and severs a power line that gets caught up in the rotating blades. It is an indirect killing that is essentially a clever manipulation of a situation to achieve huge results: with two rounds from a police service revolver, McClane destroys a helicopter. Right before he fires, McClane says, “say hello to your brother” referring to Hans, whom he also killed in an indirect fashion. Hans Gruber was hanging out of a window and holding onto McClane’s wife’s wrist and so he just unclipped her watch and Gruber plummeted. The watch was a gift from a coke snorting fellow employee at the corporation, thus it had vanity and superficiality written all over it. The power line that took out Simon Gruber’s chopper was attached to a large neon light advertisement, which can be seen as part of the aura of capitalism.
And so it is, the “Marxists” struggling to survive after their system dies, cross over to the other side of the economic dichotomy for some plunder, but end up like the system they used to serve. In reality, they met their end because they actually tried to break out of the system. Their plan was thoroughly selfish, yes, but when you don’t march to the tune, the other pawns will turn on you. The problem is, they’ll even do this if your intentions are truly noble.
This brings us to…
The Final Problem
This is something that the film doesn’t quite solve or indicate how it can be done. To put it bluntly, the Die Hard series, as well as most other films of this type, offer this as the solution to everything:
The Lone Wolf Archetype. It is this which ends up being the films’ ultimate limitation. Clever the films may be, but they offer only absurdity and impossibility as the path to a solution and thus they stay within the confines of the false dichotomy, the paradigm prison. However, it would have been impossible for the films to get made if they couldn’t be placed into any conventional genre, so it is really up to the audience to recognize and extract the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Unfortunately, many Americans have bought into the Lone Wolf heroics so much that they end up entertaining notions such as this one:
Funny, but many would actually vote for such a character. Note, that the US State of Texas has seriously mentioned secession and Chuck Norris, yes him, has actually mentioned the possibility of running for President of Texas! This will only assure the continuation of the false paradigm. The Die Hard films also noted the transformation of the false dichotomy, from USA vs. USSR to “the West” vs. “terrorism” with continuous notions in the mass media that the latter is Islam. The threat of communism is still there in the form of China (note: a remake of Red Dawn with North Korea and China as the bad guys is due out soon) so, in reality, the beast just grew a new tentacle to help balance all those deceptions and ensure that the masses stay like stay confused and trapped in the rigged playing field.
Looking for Freedom, but only ending up with liberties in prescribed doses. That is his fate. John McClane is just bound to find another bad guy to take down in spectacular fashion and, like most heroic characters of the mass media, he is effectively a prisoner to his condition of bad guy bashing. Just like Batman, Superman and the whole lot of them, they just keep fighting and fighting without ever solving everything. And the masses keep watching and cheering, because they, like the heroes they idolize, don’t realize the Babel that they are trapped in.
Related Information: The Lone Wolf Archetype