Uncle Frank from Home Alone is a fucking piece of shit. Sure, it’s the Wet Bandits that get taken away by the police at the end, and threaten to castrate a child and boil his testicles in motor oil, but the real villain of the piece is Kevin’s dad’s brother, played to slimy perfection by Gerry Bamman.
It’s not the attempt to get his wife to steal crystal glasses from the airline that makes him such a bastard. Nor is it the lack of empathy involved in comparing leaving a child on his own to forgetting his reading glasses. It’s not being a cheapskate, refusing to pay for a pizza with the flimsy excuse he only has traveller’s cheques. It’s also not the unconvincing fan theory that Frank was behind the Wet Bandits targeting the McCallister home. Nope, Uncle Frank’s peak a-hole moment comes before anyone’s been left home alone — calling Kevin a jerk in front of his family.
Kevin isn’t blameless in the kitchen situation — a plain cheese pizza from a major chain is a ridiculous thing to order. But he specifically requested it, and Buzz ate it knowing that. Kevin’s cousin Fuller (played by Macaulay Culkin’s younger brother, future Succession star Kieran Culkin) similarly knows that he wets the bed but goes hog wild on the Pepsi anyway. Kevin is surrounded by people actively making life worse for him, yet when he responds, he’s insulted and embarrassed with none of that taken into account.
Telling your own kids off for misbehaving is one thing, and it’s not what parenting experts advise anyway, favoring talking through how they should have behaved rather than focusing on what they actually did. But telling someone else’s kid off, particularly in their own house, in a manner dripping with contempt and disdain? That’s quite something.
“If my brother said that to my son in front of my family, I’d fucking kill him,” says Matthew, a father of three. “Even if my son was being an asshole, which he frequently is, you don’t treat a kid like that. I’d suggest Frank and I went outside for a chat, and probably punch him in the face. He’s not even drinking — he’s only had Pepsi — but he’s out of fucking order. Kevin’s uncle is a prick. But so are his parents for accepting this shit.”
When Kevin later remembers the moment, the line delivery is totally different, suggesting this wasn’t even the first time Frank had dropped the j-bomb. In the kitchen, it’s, “Look whatcha did ya little jerk,” but in the flashback it’s “LOOK what you DID. You little JERK.”
Kevin’s parents seem to see nothing wrong with his disgracing in front of the whole McCallister clan, with his dad shaking his head in dismay and his mom sending him to the attic. “There are 15 people in this house, and you’re the only one who has to make trouble,” she says, taking the time to count the fake policeman in the hallway, but not to acknowledge that her older son Buzz was just trying to regurgitate a slice of pizza in a very full room. (Even for a giant house like that, 15 is a lot of people. At one point there are 16 people in there — two families of seven, plus the pizza guy, plus Joe Pesci pretending to be a cop. There are three McCallister brothers — Peter, Frank and the Paris-dwelling Rob — and they all have five kids. That’s toooo many kids.)
The closest Uncle Frank comes to being a responsible adult is stopping Kevin from watching a violent gangster movie that, when he does subsequently watch it, really upsets him. But it’s also a piece of responsible behavior that can come as a byproduct of being a dick — less about protecting Kevin and more about not letting him have what he wants. In a deleted scene, he yanks his nephew’s pants down like a fucking bastard, so yeah, he’s a total monster, determined to humiliate Kevin however he can.
According to the 2010 Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law paper “Humiliation: Its Nature and Consequences,” suffering severe humiliation “has been shown empirically to plunge individuals into major depressions, suicidal states and severe anxiety states, including ones characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Humiliating an eight-year-old in front of their family — the people whose approval is more important than anyone else’s, the people who control how happy, safe and secure a person, particularly a young one, might feel at any given time — is fully shitty. A key part of any child’s identity is their status within a family unit, whatever shape that unit takes, and disrupting that status by having the family reject the child could really play havoc with their sense of self. Even when his family have disappeared and there isn’t a squeeze on sleeping space, Kevin never returns to his bedroom. Is this because, even with everything else going on, Kevin feels like bedrooms are for actual people who matter, and he’s merely a little jerk?
The hierarchy of age, and the power dynamics in any parent-child relationship, mean that when Frank has his big moment, Kevin doesn’t get to state his case for retaining his status: “Buzz ate my pizza, Fuller’s going to piss on me and I am unhappy with how I am being treated.” Instead, he is silenced and banished. A later passage from the paper mentioned above makes it seem like it might have actually been in everyone’s interests that the Wet Bandits showed up, as Kevin’s vigilantism may have provided an outlet for the rage resulting from his identity being cruelly snatched away.
“Although [a humiliated person’s] anger is often intense, they are powerless to act within their communities to recover their former status,” it reads. “In this situation, some individuals assume a new, powerful and potentially quite dangerous status, that of an outsider who has become an enemy of the community. Such persons come to believe that they have no other recourse but to take revenge on the community itself through some form of violence. However, in perpetrating acts of violence, they effectively end the possibility of attaining future standing in this or in any community, and they are left nowhere. Their lives in this sense are over and dispensable, and they may reasonably regard suicide as necessary, tolerable and perhaps even convenient collateral damage. Such a scenario is often reported in the news in which a humiliated employee or student goes on a rampage, kills many innocent coworkers or fellow students, and then commits suicide.”
The Wet Bandits might have saved Kevin’s life that Christmas Eve. Stealing people’s belongings is a really shitty thing to do, but a VCR can be replaced. Teaching someone they don’t matter? That’s not something insurance will ever cover.
Obviously, this happens right at the beginning of the movie, and Kevin goes through a lot more before the end credits — his family go to France, he is wracked with guilt after stealing a toothbrush, he gets taunted by a furnace, has to fight off some burglars and so on. The idea that Kevin would be traumatized by the events of Home Alone has become a bit of a trope (is it odd that “character from beloved movie from childhood struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder” is quite the go-to on YouTube? Yes it is!) — for instance, the 2015 pilot of the web series DRYVRS saw Culkin reprise his role as a 35-year-old Kevin, all twitchy and haunted.
This in turn led to Daniel Stern reprising the role of Marv, just as haunted and traumatized by his experiences:
There is also a pretty well-developed fan theory that Jigsaw, the booby-trap-loving villain of the Saw movies, is a grown-up version of Kevin, taking his incredible ability to inflict pain on people to new lengths. Both Culkin and Saw director James Wan have laughed about the idea.
But this all focuses on the wrong bit of the movie traumatizing him. When Kevin looks back at his escapades with the Wet Bandits he’ll remember his resourcefulness and heroism, and how he saved Christmas and made friends with Old Man Marley. When he looks back at the events immediately before, he’ll remember being eight-years-old and completely fucking humiliated in front of his extended family. That’s going to cast a shadow.
In conclusion, fuck you, Uncle Frank, you big shit.