32 years after its release, Home Alone remains a holiday classic. Grown-ups can bask in their love of the 90s – reminding themselves of the good old days – while newcomers (presumably children) can revel in the carnage that unfolds at the hands of a young child left home alone at Christmas.
Largely depicted through the eyes of an 8-year-old, children are offered a protagonist in Kevin with whom they can deeply identify with. As a child, you felt resentment for older brother and all-round jerk Buzz, disgust for his cheap-skate Uncle Frank and frustration with his mother for sending him to the third floor. You felt empowered watching Kevin stomp around making this declaration of wanting to live alone after growing up and getting married.
26 years later, as a mother of an almost 8-year-old, my sentiments have changed. Don’t get me wrong, Frank and Buzz are still categorically the worst (even worse than bad guys Harry and Marv) but what has changed are my views on mother Kate McCallister.
I recall as a child how old Kate seemed. Her brown coat, gold earrings and blow dried bob all struck the chord of annoying mum and, in truth, I could never forgive her for sending Kevin to the hide-a-bed with Fuller instead of Buzz. Now, wearing a brown coat, gold earrings and a bob, I’m convinced I might have done the same thing.
To those who haven’t watched Home Alone (if such a person exists), the film follows the youngest of the McCallisters, Kevin, who is accidentally left behind by his family while they set off on their annual Christmas vacation to Paris. As a plot it seems impossible but when you are given a glimpse into the chaos of the McCallister household it becomes a completely plausible narrative.
Alongside watching the unattended minor live out every child’s fantasy of limitless junk food and trash TV, we see the effect this realisation has on the wider family – though mainly the impact it has on mum Kate. We witness her desperate attempts to get home while Kevin ends up fending off two burglars intent on robbing the supposedly empty house.
Watching it through the lens of a mother I feel for Kate in a way that, as a child, I never could. Children find their hero in Kevin but mothers are offered a realistic ally in Kate. She may not be able to wield a rifle but, in her own way, presents as equally badass. From the onset, we witness her juggle tasks in typical mum fashion.
She is seen trying to prepare for their trip while tending to everyone around her. She is tasked with the role of disciplinarian as she deals with Kevin who loses it with Buzz for eating his cheese pizza – all the while reminding everyone to drink all the milk before they leave because that is what mums do.
Whether Kevin was in the wrong and deserved to be punished seems less bothersome to me now. As a mother, all I see is a tired and frazzled woman, desperately in need of a slice of pizza (which, by the way, she paid for). We watch her make mistakes and instantly regrettable statements which can often feel like the narrative of parenting. We can see the family’s expectations weigh heavily on her – “What are you worried about Kevin? You know Mom will pack your suitcase.” “Hey, did you by any chance pick up a voltage adapter thing?” “Mom, Uncle Frank won’t let me watch the movie”. All in the space of minutes and mothers are paradoxically transported into their own lives, making her arguably the most relatable character in the movie.
While these details may seem insignificant to the plot, they serve to set the scene of an exhausted mother trying her best. The moment she realises Kevin has been left behind, she is distraught. She laments that she is a “terrible mother”, as all mothers do, and spends the remainder of the movie frantically trying to get home. Her impassioned monologue to the officer in the Scranton airport leaves us in no doubt that she would “sell her soul to the devil himself” to get home to her son.
While Home Alone is undoubtedly a movie full of festive fun, it hits a note of poignancy that is best reflected in the reunion between mother and son. Their embrace still catches my throat after the hundredth time of viewing and her apology to Kevin is a reminder that we are all imperfect – capable of mistakes but deserving of forgiveness. The beauty of the Home Alone story is that it can be viewed in a multitude of ways which, I suspect, changes as we continue to grow alongside the movie.
To me, it is a portrayal of maternal instinct and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child. It emphasises the value of family and the resilience of the human spirit but also acknowledges the challenges and difficulties that can arise at this time of year. Kevin will always be the hero, but Kate undoubtedly holds a special place in the hearts of all mothers watching.
*Sets the scene for Home Alone 2 where no mugger or murderer would dare mess with Mrs McCallister and she throws a mean punch.*
Home Alone is available to stream on Disney+