The Professional (Leon): a tale of love without a happy ending
This film was made more than twenty years ago, but not a single frame of it is outdated. Its main character is an experienced and merciless killer, but he evokes not disgust, but sympathy. Almost all the characters in the film die, but this is not an action movie, but one of the most touching love stories in world cinema. Of course, we are talking about The Professional – the legendary masterpiece of Luc Besson. And if “Nikita” by the same director was hastily taken away for remakes, then all attempts to shoot a sequel to “Leon” fail: the magic of this film can neither be repeated nor faked. Let’s try to figure out what it is.
A tale of love and death
As it was already noticed by the first critics of the film, in essence “Leon”, combining different genres from action to drama, is very close to a fairy tale, and its realism can rightfully be called magical. More precisely, this is a kind of contamination of two fairy tales: about Cinderella and about Beauty and the Beast. The result is the story of how New York’s Cinderella, who grew up with her stepmother and unloved half-sister, who suffered beatings and considered herself dead, met a poor, lonely Beast and put him under spell. The monster fell in love, learned to enjoy life – and died saving Cinderella.
Relying on a fairy-tale foundation, Besson reveals the theme of love as a feeling that is stronger than death, and which, like a spirit, blows wherever it wants. We must pay tribute to the director: he showed a delicate plot about the romance of a 12-year-old girl and a forty-year-old man without a shadow of vulgarity. Even the most cynical viewer has no doubts: the relationship between Matilda and Leon was purely platonic. Love is when you are ready to give your life for another, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever kissed this person, let alone more. How often does this feeling occur? In fairy tales, yes.
And at the same time, this tale of love and death has a tangible social connotation. Unlike Cinderella and the Beast, Matilda and Leon live in the real world, and this world is very dark. In it, those who have to fight drug trafficking are actually “protecting” it; under the signboards of harmless eateries, there are mafia dens – if not Italian, then Chinese; a person’s life is worthless, and the only one who cares about his neighbor is a half-deaf, curious old woman-neighbor. And the only happy ending that is possible in this world is to die, taking the main enemy with you to the next world.
How reliable is Leon as a hitman?
Viewers who are poorly versed in psychology sometimes call Leon an autist, but this is not true: he does not have any mental disabilities. And at the same time, he is very different from other people: he lives a lonely, secluded life, drinks only milk, cannot read and write, does not spend his earnings; his main entertainment is daytime movie theaters showing old films. Could such a person be a super professional hitman?
The answer is yes. Such a killer is possible, and not only in Besson’s world: there are more than enough examples of people who are leading experts in one area and complete laymen in others. Now, if Leon did not train, did not support himself in perfect shape, but, say, drank continuously – then it would be possible to talk about everyday unreliability.
Much more surprising is that Leon managed to keep a man in himself. In some ways, he never matured, remaining a child. His “childishness” is emphasized not only by his addiction to milk and the inability to read and write, but also by his ability to play. That is why he so quickly finds a common language with Matilda.
New York Cinderella
If Leon is a boy who never matured, then Matilda is a girl who matured too early. To understand her image, it is enough to remember: no one has ever loved this girl (apart from her little brother), and in fact she lacks not thrills, but a normal human life, where there is love and understanding. Matilda instinctively senses that Leon is as lonely as she is, and is drawn to him, because she no longer has anyone to reach out to. At the same time, the environment in which she grew up could not help but affect Matilda, and therefore revenge is a completely natural impulse for her.
Why did Leon first save Matilda and then want to kill her?
Even a cold-blooded killer is subject to emotions: for a moment Leon felt sorry for the girl, doomed to inevitable death. However, as can be seen from his behavior, he was not at all going to take responsibility for her life in the future, hoping that Matilda would leave. When she didn’t leave, Leon was seized with confusion.
The appearance of Matilda threatens to destroy the order carefully built by him (this is what happened, by the way). In addition, Leon once already suffered because of a woman and does not want to let them into his life anymore. Therefore, Matilda is perceived by him as an obstacle, a hindrance, and Leon is used to eliminating hindrances in one way.
We can say that with the onset of dusk in Leon, its dark side prevailed, which is symbolized by the change of a white long-sleeved T-shirt to a black one. He walks up to the sleeping girl, he already has his finger on the trigger – but does not press. He is stopped by his humanity and loyalty to the principle of “No women, no children.” From this moment on, all events are a foregone conclusion: the killer, who has gone on about emotions, is doomed. Love makes Leon vulnerable, and therefore he is first wounded (although before he was, according to Tony, “bewitched by bullets”), and then he dies.
Stan and his team
If Leon is a killer who managed to keep a man in himself, then his antipode Norman Stansfield (“Stan”) is a non-man.
He is such a non-human that his malfeasance begins to seem like something insignificant in comparison with the pleasure with which he kills people. If for Leon, killing is hard work, for Stan it is the most sophisticated of entertainment. Apparently, killing under the overture sounding in his head, he feels himself to be a superman, arbiter of destinies.
At the same time, his crimes cannot be explained by affect or partial insanity: he is so sane and smart that he enjoys the unconditional respect of his subordinates and is in good standing with his superiors. The latter follows from the fact that even five victims did not become the basis for Stan’s suspension from work and conducting an official investigation.
One of Gary Oldman’s artistic tricks to show Stan’s inhumanity is his habit of sniffing victims like an animal. The smell of fear excites him as much as drugs or Beethoven.
The birth of tragedy from the spirit of music
The title of Nietzsche’s work in relation to “Leon” is more than appropriate, but this is not about a wonderful soundtrack, but about a special relationship with music, inherent not only to Stan, but also to Leon and Matilda. Leon hides a sniper rifle in a double bass case, which is why the receptionist at the hotel takes him for a musician, and loves old music films. Matilda in the same hotel assures the receptionist that in fact the performer is she, she is lying with inspiration about the competition and rehearsals with cloth placed under the strings, and sadly remarks in the end: “Nobody likes music.” You can also remember the records in the apartment of Matilda’s father, in which a member of Stan’s group – a reggae lover – rummaged.
Where did this theme music come from and what does it mean? For the heroes of the film, music is the embodiment of the irrational, Dionysian principle, subconscious impulses. She opens access to the most cherished: someone has love (and it is no coincidence that Matilda immediately after talking about music with the receptionist makes an absurd confession that Leon is her lover), someone has murder.
To paraphrase a well-known proverb, we can say that not only the devil, but also the genius of the director is hidden in the details, and there are plenty of such details in the film. For example, things on Matilda are larger by size, like a green jacket, or even two – like a gray top from pajamas, in which we see her at the beginning of the film. Thus, her position as Cinderella is emphasized: she either wears out clothes for someone (most likely, for her older sister), or they buy her “grown up” once every few years.
And the velvet upholstery of the box in which Stan keeps his drugs is pretty worn: the director makes it clear to the viewer that the head of the investigative team from the Drug Enforcement Administration has been using them for several years. However, the most famous detail that does not require decoding is the famous Leon flower. Fans of the film even found out what kind of plant it is: Leon’s “friend” is an aglaonema from the Aroid family.
What didn’t make the final cut of the film?
When the discs with the extended version of the film came out, Besson’s fans rushed to buy them – and experienced a slight disappointment. In 25 minutes, which are not included in the classic version of the film, there is nothing fundamentally changing our idea of the heroes. Matilda helps Leon in his “work” and tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. What is with these scenes, what without them, The Professional remains the best Besson film, deserving, in the opinion of his fans, not 27th, but first place in the list of the best 250 films IMDb.