This furnace makes the talking appliances from The Brave Little Toaster look like mere child's play.
When Kevin goes into his basement, the house's furnace metamorphoses into a talking, grumbling demonic presence that threatens and mocks him.
FURNACE: Ha ha ha! Hello Kevin! Ha ha ha!"
It's not an especially articulate furnace, but it is scary: gnashing its grill like it's about to devour him.
Of course, this is all in his imagination.
Kevin bolts out of the basement the first time, but later on, he puts on his big boy pants (metaphorically speaking) and defies the furnace, saying "Shut up!" In response, the furnace…shuts up.
Kevin: 1. Imaginary Furnace Monster: 0.
The furnace is a pretty obvious metaphor for Kevin's fears. At the beginning of the movie, he's too afraid and timidly incompetent to do basic household tasks, and backs away from Old Man Marley because he believes Buzz's lie about Marley being a serial killer.
But, as the movie progresses, Kevin confronts his fears and banishes them. After he gets the furnace out of his head, we see him shopping for food, chatting with Marley at church, and, oh yeah, putting two robbers through a grueling Saw-like maze of horror and pain.
(The Saw reference cannot pass without citing this article, which supposes that Kevin grew up and become Jigsaw. Brr.)
Growing up and becoming an adult isn't just a matter of shopping for eggs and fabric softener—although Kevin succeeds at that too. It's also a matter of smiting your enemies with wrath and furious anger, preserving your house and fortune. But in order to do either of these tasks, you need to confront and defeat the enemy within.
And that's where Kevin's furnace monster really is after all—it's in his mind, not in his basement.
How come people with gold teeth get a bad rap in old movies? What's wrong with losing a tooth, exactly?
At any rate, at the beginning of the movie, Kevin's startled by Harry's twinkling gold tooth—even though Harry is pretending to be a good guy, a cop. Later on, when Harry and Marv are driving around in their fake plumbing van, looking like a couple of burglars, they almost hit Kevin.
When Harry smiles at him, Kevin sees the tooth twinkle again and somehow he knows—this dude is suspicious, and he was probably sneaking around the house, casing the joint. Later, the gold tooth gets knocked out of Harry's face by one of the booby traps Kevin hits him with (maybe it was the paint can).
Finally, at the end of the movie, after Kevin's cleansed Marv and Harry in the fires of pure pain and then got them arrested, Kevin's dad Pete finds the gold tooth lying on the floor of the house.
He says aloud to Kevin's mom, "Honey, what's this?" It's the one clue left in the house that Kevin took on a pair of burglars, a fact Kevin hides from his family.
And why does Kevin hide that fact? Is it because he doesn't want them to realize his massive capacity for bloodlust—the beast that ranges within? Maybe. Perhaps he wants to keep that beast on a chain.
Aren't we all really the same underneath it all? Maybe—but Harry's a jerk, and Marley's a nice guy. That's Home Alone's way of seeing things.
At first, we see Harry's identity in reverse: in reality, he's a robber, but he masquerades as a cop to learn about the kind of security precautions the McCallisters are taking during the holidays. It's a ruse to get behind their defenses.
At the same time, early in the movie, we hear from Buzz (an obviously unreliable source) that Old Man Marley is a serial killer who murders people with his snow shovel an turns them into mummies by putting them into the salt he uses on the sidewalk. Now, if we step back for a second, this is obviously false—and Harry seems a little sinister as the cop.
But, in Kevin's mind, he sees Marley as a serial killer, until he learns better.
The classic take-away lesson is, "Appearances can be deceiving." The initial impression is the opposite of the truth: Harry isn't a cop, he's a robber; and Marley is actually a kindly old man who really just likes helping people get their sidewalks cleared.
Part of maturity for Kevin—even though he's only eight years old—involves learning to see the difference between reality and appearance. He's able to pierce behind this veil of illusion to decipher what's really going on, and it benefits him. By realizing that Marley's one of the good guys, Kevin gains an ally—an ally who saves him from Marv and Harry when they finally catch him. They're brothers in arms.
When Kevin realizes he's alone, he immediately does what any kid would do: fixes a giant bowl of ice cream and watches a violent movie, Angels with Filthy Souls. Angels appears to be a black-and-white classic, which indicates an unusual cineaste's taste in such a young child.
But Kevin can't take it: after one gangster, Johnny, cold-bloodedly guns down another (a guy with the awesome name Snakes), Kevin involuntarily calls out for his mom. It shows that he doesn't really wish his family were gone.
Yet, Kevin soon weaponizes Angels with Filthy Souls. He uses it to scare away the pizza boy (after receiving his pizza, naturally) and then tries to scare Harry and Marv away with it—this works on Marv, but Harry quickly realizes that Kevin's scamming them. In a way, Kevin's taken something that scared him or was too mature, and then used that same fear against other people. By doing this, Kevin conquers his own fears—making other people afraid in the process.
It's a good lesson for kids who want to be devious leaders: banish your own fears and others will fear you.
This pet ends up being used for biological warfare, in a way.
After Kevin accidentally unleashes Buzz's tarantula, it goes scurrying around the house. As Kevin prepares his booby traps in a montage, we see different shots of the spider crawling near the traps. It's a great example of foreshadowing—we know something's going to happen with this spider, but we just don't know what…
Finally, as Marv almost captures Kevin, Kevin spots the tarantula and grabs it, putting it on Marv's face. Marv screams and the tarantula crawls across Harry, who Marv hits with a crowbar while trying to kill the tarantula.
Fortunately for all arachnophiles, the tarantula escapes. We're left wondering—maybe this spider will go crawling across Buzz's face, sometime soon? (We can only hope.)
The McCallisters make the mistake of abandoning their traditional Midwestern Chicago Christmas in favor of a Christmas spent visiting a relative in très exotic France. Uh-oh. That causes everything to go wrong.
Not only are they unable to enjoy their holiday trip—watching It's a Wonderful Life dubbed into French isn't the same experience—but they have to return almost as soon as they arrive, thanks to Kevin being left behind.
If he hadn't been inadvertently abandoned, and had instead journeyed to Paris with them, the McCallister family home would've been plundered and flooded by Harry and Marv. Kevin wouldn't have been around to burn them and shoot them with BBs and smash in their faces with paint cans.
This teaches the viewer two, somewhat conservative lessons: a) never go anywhere else, because America is perfectly fine; and b) celebrate Christmas at home, don't try to get all exotic.
Kevin learns both of these lessons, as do his family members. Kevin doesn't ditch the wealthy Chicago suburbs for France—the Midwest and its variety of Christmas is good enough for him.
This puts him in perfect position to defend his prosperous home—a veritable mansion—against Marv and Harry, who represent the depraved forces of social anarchy. These are two guys who spend the Christmas season robbing houses. They're rejecting the whole spirit of Christmas, and consequentially, they require punishment…with an iron fist.
Kevin, of course, is more than happy to doll out that punishment. "You give up?" he says. "Or are you thirsty for more?" Marv and Harry are too slow on the uptake to realize that there's no winning, and their continued dismantling is all that the future has in store.
Enemies surmounted, Kevin and his family are happily reunited at the home his parents never should have left—because home is where the heart, and the holidays, should be. Thus, the forces of suburban prosperity and family values triumph over the dark, nihilistic criminality of Marv and Harry.
Of course, this is just one interpretation of the movie's allegorical depths. But, hey: Home Alone has some deep messages. Who'da thunk it?
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
When we first encounter Kevin, he's an eight-year-old kid who can't pack his own suitcase—it seems like an incredibly daunting task to him. He bothers his mom while she tries to prepare for the family's trip to France, and catches beef with his family members—trying to tackle his brother Buzz, after Buzz greedily devours a plain cheese pizza set-aside for Kevin, and inadvertently spilling soda on his Uncle Frank.
He's a pest in everyone else's eyes, and he seems unable to fend for himself. He also acts bratty, telling his mom that he wishes he didn't have a family and that he was completely alone.
When they accidentally miscount the number of kids in the van headed to the airport, Kevin's family forgets to bring him along. This provides him with an opportunity to fend for himself—exactly what he wanted. At first, he goes bananas, gorging on ice cream and watching violent movies.
But, gradually, he realizes he needs to try to survive—he can't continue to be helpless and irresponsible. He has to become the Bear Grylls of suburban Chicago.
When the burglars Marv and Harry come and try to break in, Kevin scares them away by turning on the basement light. But, he also freaks out and hides under the bed. In a way, it's not that big of a "refusal"—he still got them to leave.
Yet, at the same time, he feels like he was wimping out. Summoning all his resources of courage, Kevin runs outside yelling, "I'm not afraid anymore!" But Old Man Marley approaches, carrying his snow-shovel, and Kevin—believing Buzz's earlier lie about Marley being a serial killer—runs away.
Is Marley Kevin's mentor? Sort of…but not really. Kevin doesn't get to talk to Marley until later in the movie, when he realizes that Marley's actually a good guy. And Marley shares some wisdom with Kevin, and Kevin shares some wisdom with him.
Yet Kevin's already learned most of his important lessons at that point: he misses his family, wants them back, and is preparing to defeat the two criminals. So, no one's ever showed him the ropes, or instructed him on how to fend for himself. Rather, the challenges Kevin faces, and the need to survive, teach him everything he needs to know.
After an initial "fun and games" period, Kevin gets down to the difficult business of survival. He raids his brother's life savings, and uses the money to buy food, toothpaste, fabric softener, and more.
He even does laundry and confronts the scary furnace in the basement—and later, he successfully orders a pizza (although he stiffs the pizza boy on the tip). He's embraced the challenge of being home alone, and is on his way to becoming a real mensch.
Meanwhile, the burglars are still waiting to make their move. Kevin fakes them out with the silhouettes from a mannequin and a cardboard cut-out in the window, and later uses the VHS tape of a violent movie (Angels with Filthy Souls) to make Marv think a gangster is killing someone in Kevin's house.
Also, a cop chases him after he (Kevin) steals a tube of toothpaste from a convenience store. But, there is at least one ally: when Kevin goes to church, he sees Old Man Marley. They talk, and Kevin tells him how he's sad about the way he treated his family. Turns out, Marley has an estranged son and Kevin urges him to reconcile with him.
Kevin starts to regret making his family disappear (he doesn't realize that they've gone to France without him and that his mother is trying to get back to Chicago). Remorseful, he visits a Santa at a local Christmas display, where kids can come and tell Santa what they want.
Although the Santa is eager to get to a holiday get-together, Kevin tells him to ask the real Santa to bring Kevin's family back. The Santa (assuming Kevin's family is dead or something) says he'll do what he can, and gives Kevin some Tic-Tacs.
After lodging his request with Santa and chatting with Marley at church, Kevin prepares for the burglars who are planning on coming back to his house at 9 p.m. Kevin overheard them plotting outside the house, after they realized that he is home alone.
Eager to defend his home and wreak vengeance on these two goons, Kevin crafts an elaborate maze of booby traps, complete with icy stairs, a boiling hot doorknob, a nail stuck on a staircase, and a clothing iron ready to smash you on the face.
His BB gun is locked and loaded: it's judgment day.
Kevin "seizes the sword" with the wrath of a Babylonian deity. He smites, he scourges—he nearly kills. As they attempt to break into his house, Marv and Harry barely have time to realize what hit them—Harry is burned on the head with an improvised blow-torch, after burning his hand on a flaming hot door knob and getting shot in the huevos with a BB gun; Marv slips down a flight of steps, gets smashed on the head with a clothes iron, steps on a strategically placed nail (which sticks directly into the soft instep arch of his foot), and further shreds his feet by stepping on Christmas ornaments...among other booby traps.
Where's all the blood?
Kevin almost escapes the burglars, but they intercept him at the absent neighbors' house. Harry's about to bite Kevin's fingers off, when Marley sneaks up from behind and smashes them in the head with the snow shovel.
For some unknown reason, Marley lets him go back to his (Kevin's) house alone, where Kevin waits to see if Santa will bring his family back. And Kevin's mom is on her way, traveling with a polka band led by an amiable guy named Gus Polinski (John Candy).
Waking up on Christmas, Kevin runs downstairs to see if his family has arrived. Initially, it appears like they haven't, and he's disappointed. But the polka band drops his mom off, she pops through the door, and they hug, all past grievances forgotten.
Then, unexpectedly, the rest of the family comes through the door—they've all arrived from France, having taken a flight Kevin's mom didn't want to wait for. Kevin's survived his encounter with the burglar, and has become a real, competent man. And his family's reappeared from the limbo (or France) into which Kevin had wished them.
Everyone in the family's impressed by the way Kevin went shopping and managed to survive on his own for three days. They're all very complimentary. There's something different about him: he's got the juice.
When Kevin looks out the window, he sees Marley re-uniting with his and the son's family, picking up his granddaughter and hugging her. As he and Kevin exchange a wave and a smile, we realize that Marley found the courage to make-up with his son by talking with Kevin, who told him how to confront his fears.
Kevin's brought the fruits of his newfound maturity (the "elixir") into the future, beyond just fending off the burglars. We know he's more than ready to face new challenges—the first of which will be dealing with Buzz after he discovers that Kevin trashed his room.
While Home Alone isn't specifically a Shermer movie—the McCallisters are said to be from Chicago, but appear to live in the suburbs—it still has the general vibe of the greater "Chicagoland" metropolitan area. Also, they're clearly in a rich neighborhood: the McCallister house is practically a mansion, and Kevin's parents aren't doing too badly for themselves. (Source)
Overall, the movie depicts the upper-middle to upper-class suburbs of Chicago (circa 1989 or 1990) as being centers of familial warmth, places where the American Dream is thriving. But this prosperous area is threatened by—that's right—Christmas-hating burglars. Kevin successfully defends of Chicago's wealthier suburbs against the forces of anarchy and societal decay, represented by Marv and Harry—wantonly destructive bandits who flood houses after robbing them.
They're not of a piece with the setting; they're a cancer within it.
We don't see a lot of the McCallisters' neighborhood, but we get the sense it's pretty nice. The lady at the drugstore counter is eager to help Kevin determine whether the American Dental Association has approved his toothbrush, and the check-out girl tries to figure out if an adult is looking after him or not—she's nosy, but considerate. So, we get the sense that this community is full of friendly Midwesterners. It's an idyllic setting for sure.
We also get to see Paris, where (the movie implies) the McCallisters never should've gone—Christmas is meant to be celebrated in the good old U.S. of A. (that's John Hughes' subtext). We don't really see much of Paris, just the McCallister kids looking bored at their uncle's apartment, as they watch It's a Wonderful Life dubbed into French.
They quickly head back from France to enjoy what will probably be a merry Chicago Christmas with Kevin. They're reunited, and it feels so good.
As she journeys back to her son, Kevin's Mom stops in Scranton, PA. There a jolly polka bandleader—Gus Polinski (John Candy)—offers her a ride with his band, as they head to Milwaukee. (Chicago's on the way.) Although Scranton is the noble home of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company (the company from The Office TV show), Kate's being there is sort of a joke: she's in an out of the way place, and Scranton is a byword for "nowhere."
As for the movie's micro-settings, Kevin's house immediately springs to mind—considering it's the place where most of the action is set. Director Chris Columbus told Entertainment Weekly:
"We needed to cast a house that would work for the stunts and also a house that was visually appealing and, if this makes sense, warm and menacing at the same time. It's the kind of house if you were a kid it would be fun to be left home alone." (Source)
The house's features—like a laundry chute, steps down to the basement, and a tree house—help Kevin construct his booby trap maze to defeat the robbers. As they try to storm this apparently peaceful house, it's transformed into a war zone—a fortress of terror. When the McCallister home is threatened, Kevin knows what to do.
Setting isn't just about place; it's about time as well. Home Alone's set during the Christmas season, but it's not a Santa-focused or religious Christmas movie. It's more about the joy of being together with family during the holidays, and how it's not so awesome if you're separated and alone.
Technically, Kevin could've been left at home alone at any time of year, and burglars could've tried to break it. But, by setting the movie during the holidays, there's more urgency—it's more important for the McCallisters to share this time together and be reminded of how much they mean to each other. Kevin's jonesin' for that homey "gingerbread feeling" referenced in the soundtrack.
There's not much narrative technique in Home Alone—it's the simple tale of a child inadvertently abandoned, who proceeds to save his home from robbers. No one's at risk of confusing its technique with, say, the disjointed narrative in Pulp Fiction. We follow one story—Kevin's.
Even Kevin's mom's journey is essentially about Kevin and the fact that he's been left home alone. Briefly, we see the other McCallisters hanging out at their uncle's apartment in France—but still, they're talking about how they're worried about Kevin. So, the story sticks entirely to developments with Kevin and with his family, as they first forget him and then realize he's missing.
Home Alone isn't a Santa focused Christmas movie or a Jesus-centric Christmas movie—but it is a Christmas movie. For one thing, it takes place during the Christmas season. That's the first prerequisite. But is it about Christmas?
In short, yes.
Technically, it's about a kid being left alone at home, but since he ends up yearning for family togetherness, and even asks a fake Santa to tell the real Santa to bring his family back home for Christmas, it's thematically a very Christmas-y movie too.
It's also a kids' movie. Technically, almost everyone likes watching a burglar step on a nail or burn his hand on a doorknob—but slapstick violence appeals to children in a very special way. Kids love violence. (Don't believe us? Peep The Lord of the Flies).
Plus, Home Alone empowers children, in that it shows a child attacking grown men and successfully beating them to a bloody pulp. It says to kids: hey, maybe you can shop for your own toothpaste, and also smash burglars with paint cans. Be self-reliant.
Finally, it's a comedy because—it's funny. If you step on a nail, it's not funny. But if someone else does it, and it's fictitious—that's instant comedy. We enjoy watching characters go through painful experiences, especially if they're bad guys or clowns.
Maybe this is because, back in the day, we used to be entertained by acts of actual violence—throwing garbage at people in the stockades or mocking criminals who were about to be publicly executed. Now, instead of engaging in this less civilized behavior, we displace the impulse and get it through movies.
Plus, wouldn't life be overly depressing if we didn't laugh at some of the misery?
Kevin is left at home…alone. Bam. There's your title explanation.
But, to go into a little more depth…
Being "home alone" is both a childhood fantasy and a childhood fear: you're free from your parents' rules, but you're also without their protection. There's something both exciting and scary about the idea. Most little kids would probably say that'd it would be fun to be home alone—but if it actually happened? Cue the waterworks.
For Kevin, that's how the experience plays out. He reacts first by celebrating his newfound solitude—eating a gigantic bowl of ice cream, tobogganing down the stairs, and watching violent movies—but then he starts to freak.
He's frightened when the burglars try to get into the house the first time, though he manages to scare them off by turning on the basement light. And he's irrationally afraid of old Mr. Marley, the snow shovel guy. He doesn't have any parents to guide him through these fears. He has to become self-reliant.
Even though leaving a kid "home alone" is, from a parent's perspective, a bad thing, it actually makes Kevin a fuller person than he previously was. At the beginning, he was just a whiny little ball of incompetence—if still likeable, for all that. But as the pressures of living alone affect him, he learns to access his inner hero. He shops for himself, does laundry, and takes care of his personal hygiene. This gives him the confidence he needs to take on the burglars at the end—creating a maze of booby traps that might've been beyond the conception of the average adult.
So, while being home alone is a crisis and a conflict—and conflict is the essence of plot—it also gives Kevin the tools he needs to navigate his world after that conflict has ended.
And you thought this would be a one-line answer, huh?
After the burglars have been taken out of commission and arrested, Kevin's left with an empty home. He apparently does quite a bit of cleanup—since his mom doesn't slip on the stairs when she later arrives. (Maybe Kevin even salted them to eliminate the ice trap he'd set for the burglars? We don't know for sure.)
When he wakes up the next day, he's disappointed to discover that Santa hasn't given him his family back. After running the gauntlet with those burglars, it seemed like he earned his way out of his solitude. That, of course, is the moment when his mother arrives—calling out to him as she enters the house. The polka band has safely escorted her back to Chicago, though not without torturing her ears (we can assume).
So, someone (Santa or whoever) granted Kevin's wish to have his family back—though, by defeating the robbers, he's poetically earned it. He's proven himself worthy of having a happy ending.
The rest of his family walks in the door, having taken the flight that Kevin's mom didn't want to wait for. Everyone's impressed by how well Kevin managed to fend for himself. Thanks to his experiences with the burglars—but also more mundane tasks, like shopping for groceries and doing laundry—he's become a fully competent kid, capable of surviving on his own.
He tells them, in addition to doing these household chores he "just hung around." They all seem surprised, and Buzz can't believe it, saying, "He went shopping? He doesn't know how to tie his shoe!"
Kevin's undergone what all central characters are supposed to undergo—change. He's brought back the heroic elixir from his struggles and can now be a better-equipped member of the household. We can assume that his newfound abilities will carry on into the future.
After their reunion, Kevin's dad finds Harry's gold tooth lying on the floor—it was apparently knocked out at some point during the mayhem and Harry couldn't find it.
Since Kevin hides the truth about the burglars from his parents—which, in and of itself is kind of suspicious—this is the only remaining piece of evidence. That is, unless old Marley spills the beans and tells Kevin's parents what happened—which he probably should do, considering.
In the movie's final moment, Kevin looks out the window and sees Marley hugging his granddaughter and reuniting with his formerly estranged son. Thanks to Kevin's help—encouraging Marley to confront his fears the same way Kevin confronted his fear of the basement—he's been able to revitalize his own life. Kevin's courage has radiated outwards, and is a boon to other people as well as himself.
This is definitely a classic Hollywood ending—and why shouldn't it be? Imagine if the burglars actually bit all of Kevin's fingers off, like they threatened to, and then threw his corpse in a dumpster. Suddenly the movie wouldn't be funny anymore—it would be really sick.
So, you have to stick with the comic, heartwarming tone. Bad guys get their just deserts, good guys win, and everyone gets home in time for Christmas. Perfect.
At the very end, we hear Buzz yelling, "Kevin! What did you do to my room?" Kevin looks surprised and goes to run away. But since we now know how crafty and resourceful—indeed, devious—Kevin can be, we imagine Buzz won't pose much of a problem.
There's no blood in Home Alone—but it seems like there should be. After all, Marv steps on a nail and grinds Christmas ornaments into his bare feet. Harry, on the other hand, gets burned with a blowtorch on the head. So, there's a decent amount of comical violence.
Also, there's some amusing cussin'—still simmering down at the PG level. Buzz tells Kevin, "I wouldn't let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass!" And Harry, while getting creamed by Kevin's swinging paint cans, hollers, "You bomb me with one more can, kid, and I'll snap off your cajones and boil them in motor oil!"
That's a pretty graphic threat, but fortunately, Harry never gets to follow through on it, since Marley bashes him in the head with a snow shovel.