The 12 Steps of Kevin’s Hero’s Journey in 'Home Alone'
December 1, 2020
There are many great characters who famously embarked on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey: Luke Skywalker, Neo, and Simba to name a few.
Since we’re approaching the holidays, I figure let’s break down the Christmas classic Home Alone (written by John Hughes) and Kevin McCallister’s journey to becoming the hero of this beloved 1990 film.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in and go along on the 12 steps the hero must take along their journey.
The ordinary world
Let’s face it: Kevin’s ordinary world wasn’t looking too good. When his family isn’t treating him like garbage, he’s acting like a brat and reinforcing their actions. It’s no wonder that he thinks everyone in his family hates him and why he proclaims, “I don't want a new family. I don't want any family. Families suck.”
Whether it’s Buzz eating his pizza, his sister saying he’s helpless or his mom banishing him to the attic, we see Kevin’s world, how he treats others and how he sees others treating him.
Call to adventure
It’s time for the hero to get kicked out of their comfort zone and this happens when Kevin comes down from the attic early one morning to find that his family has disappeared. We know they flew off to Paris without him due to a counting mishap but to Kevin, his wish came true.
This alters his ordinary world and the adventure begins.
Refusal of the call
Idiot burglars Harry and Marv have been working the neighborhood. Now they’re ready to hit the McCallister home. Only when they get there and start breaking in, all the lights turn on, scaring them off. Our not-quite-hero refuses his call to fight for his home and quickly races to hide under his parent’s bed.
After quiet reflection, he realizes this was the wrong reaction. So, he steps out chanting, “I’m not afraid anymore!” and heads out to meet the would-be thieves. Only now he runs into Old Man Marley, the friendly neighborhood serial killer, and runs back into the house fearing for his life.
Bravery is not in the cards, at least not yet.
Who is the one to help Kevin become the hero of this story? Well, mentors are a funny thing because they don’t necessarily have to be people. In the case of Home Alone, I believe the mentor is Buzz’s room – that forbidden destination filled with some spending cash, firecrackers and even the spider – almost all the tools he ultimately needs on his quest comes from this room.
Crossing the first threshold
It’s time for Kevin to show us some skills. Crossing the first threshold is the point where the hero can show us what they’re made of. For this point, I pick the late Christmas party. But why? Kevin is showing his ability to outsmart the burglars, at least temporarily. He knows they’re coming and he’ll be waiting. A Michael Jordan standee on a train set, a couple mannequins enjoying some drinks and cards, loud Christmas music – Kevin has successfully staved off the Wet Bandits.
Test, allies and enemies
Who are his friends? His enemies? And what tests can he go through? Remember, he doesn’t believe his family is coming back, ever. Now is the time for him to start taking care of himself. He shops, he does his laundry, orders some pizza and stiffs the delivery guy on the tip. And that scary furnace that seems poised to eat him; he tells it to shut up, taking away its frightening facade.
And yes, the thieves are still about; but Kevin has to deal with snarky cashiers, accusations of shoplifting, a chase with a police officer, more encounters with notorious serial killer Marley and more. He passes these tests and remains on the trajectory of the hero’s journey.
This is where we see the evil tidings that await our hero. In a neighborhood house, Harry and Marv are in the midst of their burglary when the phone rings and the answering machine picks up. Kevin’s dad is hoping someone will get this message and check on their abandoned boy.
Unfortunately, it’s the Wet Bandits who hear it and are assured Kevin is home alone. Luckily, Kevin overhears their simple plan of returning that night to rob the joint.
Now the hero must hit rock bottom. It’s hard to find what would be rock bottom in a movie like Home Alone, but it sneaks in with a conversation with a Santa Claus. It’s here that Kevin wholeheartedly believes his family is gone for good and yet throughout all the trouble they gave him, his one wish for Christmas is for them to come home.
He conquered his fear of the furnace, he’s talked to Santa, but there is one more thing that scares him: psychotic neighborhood murderer Marley! He happens upon him at church and they have a heart-to-heart. Kevin is no longer afraid of this misunderstood old man and encourages him to make up with his son. Kevin has found his own courage too and, as the sole inhabitant of the massive suburban home, he must protect it.
The road back
It’s time for Kevin to return to the ordinary world, but he’s not returning as some eight-year-old whiny kid. Cue the music, edit the montage, and throw in Kevin’s heroic cry: “This is my house, I have to defend it.”
Here is Kevin’s true test. Can he hold back the burglars? Will his plan work? Or is the McCallister home destined to be burgled?
From the first BB gunshot to the groin to a tarantula on the face to Old Man Marley coming to the rescue, Kevin has faced all his foes and with a little help from new friends, has earned his hero status.
Return with elixir
Now we are back to Kevin’s ordinary world. He’s a changed kid though and his only wish to see his family (which no longer sucks) on Christmas morning comes true.
There are plenty of resources and examples around the hero’s journey. Are there other Christmas classics that show the adventures of an individual rising to the level of hero?
Written by: Steven HartmanSteven Hartman holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College and had internships at Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Village Roadshow Pictures, where he was the assistant to the director of development. His screenplays have placed in a variety of competitions including 'Fatty Arbuckle', which was a Top 5 Finalist in Big Break’s Historical Category in 2019. Steve is a full-time writer and creative video producer by day and a screenwriter and novelist by night.