Here are some things to remember this holiday season: Mom likes candles, Dad hates everything, cousin Joey is allergic to nuts, uncle Randy voted for Trump, the cat is in the box you just threw out, eggnog isn't a food group, you can't buy happiness, Holiday Inn has a blackface scene, the turkey needs to come out of the oven, and, last but not least, Kevin from Home Alone was dead the whole time.
Well, at least according to this fan theory first popularized by The Daily Beast's Erin Gloria Ryan back in 2017 that we are now resurfacing because it's Christmas and we all need to something to argue about with our families over the dinner table.
According to Ryan, the movie—and it's litany of convenient plot holes such as why didn't Kevin call for help, how are the Wet Bandits still alive after those paint cans, and why wasn't Kevin removed from the McAllister household by child services sometime between Home Alone and Home Alone 2—all make a lot more sense if you subscribe to the theory that none of it is actually happening, but is instead the fever-dream reverie of a ghost child trapped in purgatory.
Laying out her hypothesis, Ryan writes:
We know everybody hates Kevin because they tell him so, seemingly gratuitously. One cousin calls him a “disease.” Uncle Frank calls him a “little jerk.” It doesn’t make sense for an entire extended family to be that cruel to one 8-year-old member. Unless that 8-year-old is a ghost that won’t leave them alone.
Not done there, she then expounds on some of the more symbolic elements of Kevin's paranormal experience:
Kevin has an aversion to both the third floor of his house (“It’s scary up there!”) and the basement, where a menacing furnace calls his name. It doesn’t take a first-year Tisch student to point out that this pair of aversions represent Kevin’s refusal to leave the physical world of his house and ascend or descend to the afterlife.
But perhaps spookiest of all, is Ryan's theory about Gus, the polka king of the midwest, who gets just a touch too real for Kevin's subconscious deep in the third act of the film:
In the back of a Budget rental truck, Kate asks Gus if he’d ever left his kid home alone. Gus replies that he’d actually left his kid at a funeral parlor once, all day long. Kate says, “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this.” Gus points out that she had brought it up. “I’m sorry I did,” says Kate, mad with grief.
You may find this all a little too Sixth Sense for your beloved bit of holiday escapism, and that's totally fine. But it's by no means unprecedented. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, one of the most revered, remade, and reimagined Christmas stories of all time, employs a very similar conceit, plucking Ebeneezer Scrooge from his mortal coil and dropping him in a memory-smeared netherworld where he witness past, present, and future in the span of single, ghostly night. Even 2015 Christmas horror cult-classic Krampus ends with a family trapped inside a snow globe stand-in for purgatory, a vague sense of unease slowly creeping over them as they realize that this house, in the immortal words of The Talking Heads, is not their beautiful house.
So as you push forth this holiday, over rivers of memory and through haunted woods, remember the ghost Kevin McAllister may be lurking right behind you. And for christ's sake, whatever you do, don't forget the damn turkey in the oven.