By Tim Ballingall
This past December break, I was watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and I started noticing a cryptic subtext which leads me to believe that Kevin McCallister is a psychopath. (I’m qualified to make such a diagnosis because I’ve watched, like, 20 episodes of Criminal Minds.)
Glibness and Superficial Charm
With the help of his Talkboy, Kevin easily books a hotel room, having presumed exactly what he’ll need to say to the female operator and to pause while she says, “You will need a major credit card.”
He also causes the tight-lipped desk clerk at The Plaza to doubt herself when she asks if he himself has a reservation. Kevin eloquently blasts her with an elaborate explanation:
Mam, my feet are hardly touching the ground. I’m barely able to look over this counter. How can I make a reservation for a hotel room? Think about it: a kid going into a hotel, making a reservation. I don’t think so. … I’m travelling with my dad. He’s on business. He’s at a meeting. I hate meetings. Plus, I’m not allowed to go in. I can only sit in the lobby, and that’s boring. So my dad dropped me off here. He gave me his credit card and said whoever was checking people in to let me into the hotel room so I don’t get into mischief. And Mam, sometimes I do get into mischief. We all do!
This glib monologue illustrates that Kevin is both aware of how the adult world works—being away on business, attending meetings, checking into hotels—and how adults expect children to speak.
At first, Kevin speaks very formally using unchildlike language; his feet “hardly” touch the ground. Then as if he catches himself he begins using short, SVO sentences typical of a child: “I’m travelling with my dad. He’s on business. He’s at a meeting. I hate meetings.” I went to the park. I saw a doggy. He was brown. He had spots.
Although kids often pick up grown-up-sounding words or phrases like “hardly” or “You’ve been most helpful”, with the mountain of evidence to come, proving this over-analyzer’s proposal, one must call into question this sudden change in speech pattern.
Kevin reveals his knowledge of grownupisms when he writes Mr. Duncan of Duncan’s Toy Chest: “Do you have insurance?” He writes that he’ll send money if Mr. Duncan does not. We must deduce from this that Kevin understands that Mr. Duncan will need to put in a claim for the property damage to his storefront window.
Most normal ten-year-olds do not understand the concept of insurance. That Kevin does is alarming.
Another instance of alarm is when Kevin tells a hotel staffer who is scooping him a decadent sundae, “Two scoops? Make it three. I’m not driving.”
Kevin knows about drunk driving. How does a ten-year-old know about drunk driving? Maybe he learned about it from his parents. How else would they keep leaving him behind every year?
Lying and Manipulation
Kevin’s elaborate explanation to the desk clerk is also a lie. Typical of psychopaths, Kevin lies to the desk clerk, the snooty concierge, the bumbling bellhop, and even sweet, old Mr. Duncan. When confronted, Kevin frequently changes his story.
When he visits Duncan’s Toy Chest, a Home Alone FAO Schwarz, Mr. Duncan asks if he is shopping alone. Though Kevin does not technically lie here, he evades the question with another glib remark: “In New York? Sir, I’m afraid of my own shadow.” Mr. Duncan responds, “Oh, I was just checking,” to which Kevin, in his unchildlike voice, says, “That’s very responsible of you.”
According to Dr. Robert D. Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), glibness/superficial charm and a propensity for lying are common traits among psychopaths. The compounding of these traits also makes Kevin manipulative.
The desk clerk, the concierge, the bellhop, Mr. Duncan—these adults, these pawns, when they confront Kevin, are made to doubt themselves. And one cannot be manipulative without possessing a grandiose sense of self and a lack of empathy for others.
Kevin, with his father’s cash and Visa, relishes being pampered by room service and revered as his father’s proxy. The scene in which Kevin is being scooped ice cream resembles that of a lavish parlor in the Palace of Versailles. The tone the concierge adopts when he sees Kevin enter the lobby is that of a royal servant.
“Is my transportation here?” Kevin asks, transportation being a white limousine accompanied by a steaming cheese pizza, at his boyish request.
Clearly, Kevin is living out a problem-child-in-a-large-family fantasy. But it’s more than that. Kevin adjusts too quickly to the situation, and he is able to sustain the masquerade with abnormal ease. …
Stay tuned for the second installment to be published next week.
In the meantime, read up on Psychopathy with EBSCOhost or search Chris Columbus, the director of Home Alone and Home Alone 2, on Films On Demand. Or check out in the card catalog Martin Kantor’s The Psychopathy of Everyday Life: how antisocial personality disorder affects all of us among many other fascinating titles.