25 Reasons to love Die Hard: Reason #25, the secret to surviving air travel

This is a new feature of the Illbomb. Maybe I shall publish it as a book. I will break it down for you:

So once a month during the course of two years and a bit, I will post one reason why Die hard is a classic to compile a worthwhile series entitled “25 reasons to love Die Hard”

This will ensure that my lazy ass updates this blog every so often even when I haven’t managed to see any new releases and it is an excuse to waffle on about one of the best films ever. Below is the first instalment; countdowning from 25…

Reason #25 : the secret to surviving air travel

“After you get where you’re going take off your shoes and your socks then you walk around barefoot and make fists with your toes.”

This is the advice given to Lieutenant John McClane by a passenger on the plane who notices McLane’s unease at flying.  The passenger credited only as businessman is the first character to speak in Diehard and the above advice is one of the first sentences uttered in the film. But what is the significance of this character and the advice given within the wider context of the Die Hard’s plot? McLane questions this advice with a puzzled look. This guy must be talking crazy! McClane does give him the benefit of the doubt though where after he arrives at his wife’s office he follows the man’s advice to make “fists with his toes”. This is the only moment of calm for John McClane until the end of the entire course of the film and it lasts all but twenty seconds because the terrorists start shooting and have taken people hostage.

Now is the time of reckoning and it is up to McClane to defeat the terrorists and save the hostages. The only problem though is that in the panic of the gunfire, he’s only gone and bloody left his shoes and socks in the office. Therefore for the entire course of Die Hard, McClane has to deal with some badass villains with AK47’s all in his bare feet. This may not seem like much of a handicap in the wider scheme of the modern action hero, but given the setting and the circumstances, it becomes a significant one.

The whole point of Die Hard is putting McClane in situations where metaphorically he is fighting with one arm tied behind his back. Indeed one of the movie’s taglines is thus: ’12 terrorists, one cop. The odds are against John McClane…that’s just the way he likes it.’  So the evolution of your modern action hero is perhaps giving your enemies a head start. Look at these oriental posters for Die hard 1 and 2 or as referenced “Reluctant Hero 1 and 2” below. The emphasis on having or not having shoes is keenly expressed in the poster’s taglines.

die hard: reluctant hero must defeat enemies. he has no shoes
die hard two: his wife in danger. but this time he has shoes

McClane tries to remedy his no shoes-hindrance early on after his first kill of one of Hans Gruber’s men…. stealing his gun, his detonators, walkie-talkie, smokes and trying on his shoes for size. Unfortunately for him the shoes don’t fit: “9 million terrorists in the world and I have to kill one with feet smaller than my sister”

This comes back to haunt him when it is revealed to the terrorists that he is running around the Nakatomi plaza barefoot and subsequently they “shoot the glass” causing bloody injury to the soles of McClane feet. Still at least this is “better than being caught with your pants down”. Picking out glass from his feet in a running water sink, the consequences of the businessman’s advice is slowly starting to sink in for both the cinema spectator and McClane.

The pinnacle of Die Hard’s stunt set pieces occurs because of McClane’s lack of shoes. Swinging off the top of an exploding skyscraper with a fire hose attached around his waist his bleeding feet pressed against the window.  Had he had shoes on it probably would have been the run of the mill action equation below:

explosion+ jump = smash through glass.

Instead what happens is:

explosion + jump+ bump into window= shoot through glass.

There is added dramatic effect because of this, making the suspense of escaping an exploding rooftop with a fire hose last

longer. It will have the audience wondering how he is going to get through the closed window, and the relief of him shooting his way back into the building will be greater.

So back to the businessman’s advice and the clarity of its importance within the narrative. Watching Die Hard for the first time this throw away bit of small talk on a plane between two strangers appears to be imperceptible and is easy to ignore. Its significance does not come into effect into much later on in the film, which owes much to the meticulous building up of the plot whilst not wanting to rush straight into the action. Only when McClane has to walk on shattered glass with his bare feet do we recall that businessman at the beginning, and our thoughts are universally the same. Why couldn’t he have kept his big mouth shut?

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