Monday, January 10, 2011

The Professional -- reality and relationships of life

Director: Luc Besson, 1994. (R)

An exciting action movie, The Professional is memorable as the debut film for Natalie Portman (Star Wars 1: the Phantom Menace). Cast at 11, she plays the 12-year-old Mathilda. And she does so in this prepubescent role with a remarkable range that precociously portends her later career.

Living in New York City in an cheap apartment, Mathilda is a lost waif. Her dad is a two-bit drug dealer. His violence is painted on her face, and she skips the private school to spend her days on the stairs. There she meets Leon (Jean Reno), her neighbor, a solitary man who carries the tools of his profession inside his long-brown overcoat.
When the well-suited Stansfield, pays Mathilda's dad a visit, he is given a deadline: find some missing drugs or the person who stole them by noon. Gary Oldman (The Book of Eli) is wonderfully wicked in yet another villainous role as Stansfield. He gets up close to Mathilda's father, invading his personal space to literally smell him and his fear. Unscripted, this quietly personifies his sadistic malevolence. But when Mathilda's father fails to fulfill the order, Stansfield and his men ruthlessly gun the entire family down. All, that is, except Mathilda who has gone shopping.

Returning home, Mathilda walks past the open door guarded by a gunman and proceeds to knock on Leon's door, silently begging him to let her in and save her. This he does. His secluded world is shattered by this act and it propels him into a relationship he never wanted. When she finds out he is a "cleaner," a professional hitman, she pleads with him to teach her the tricks of his trade so she can take revenge on the men who killed her family.

Besson focuses on this budding relationship between Mathilda and Leon. Both are cynical. Both are loners. Mathilda has not seen life yet, while Leon has seen too much. In one scene she asks him, "Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?" He thinks for a moment, and responds, "Always like this."

This is a hard truth, one we want to put off till we are mature and grown. But life is hard. No one ever said otherwise. Life is not fair. Parents get killed. People get cancer. Criminals get off scot-free. Workers struggle to make ends meet. But life is still precious and good. If we did not believe that we would all resort to suicide.

God has given us this gift of life to enjoy. Solomon, the wise King of Israel summed it up: "So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind" (Ecc. 2:17). He saw life was hard. Yet he also said, " Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days" (Ecc. 9:9). We must toil away now but we will take it easy in heaven later.

Leon, though, had no wife or family. His only friend was Tony (Danny Aiello), a Mafia-boss who employs him to clean up his problems. He has no one to love. All he has is his plant: "It's my best friend. Always happy. No questions."

Here is a sad truth beautifully portrayed: "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). Leon lived secluded, sitting in the darkness simply contemplating. But God has created us for relationships. Indeed, life requires relationships. First and foremost is that with our maker. We can experience God through Jesus (Jn. 14:9). He is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:6). He has come to give us life in him (Jn. 10:10). Man is not a plant that he stands stoically apart, waiting for the wind to carry his seed to another plant elsewhere. Man is an animal that relates in person to others. Relating, we love, learn and grow.

Indeed, as Leon starts to teach her, she teaches him things back in return. She opens his heart to love, something he has not done in years. He begins to feel, to live, to love again. She, too, discovers a love for Leon that was not there with her abusive father.

Here is the horizontal relationship. We all have such relationships, including those with our birth family, our friends, and then the family we choose for ourselves through a spouse. Relationships bring richness to an otherwise squalid existence. Solomon, the writer of hundreds of proverbs, said, "A friend loves at all times" (Prov. 17:17). And the Apostle Paul said, "Husbands love your wives" (Eph. 5:25). Of course, parents are supposed to love their children. Such is the core of life, a life Leon missed out on until he met Mathilda.

The Professional, though, is an action movie first and foremost, and it brings it in violent bursts until it climaxes with an exciting extended scene in the apartment. It is here that both realize what they have gained and what they stand to lose: "I don't wanna lose you, Leon." She has found a father she never had. And he understands, "You've given me a taste for life." Let's hope it does not take a "cleaner" to personally teach us these lessons!
Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

1 comment:

  1. The Professional has always been one of my favorite movies. I highly recommend the un-edited, Europian verson. Its a treat. Though slightly... loli-esqu, as Natalie Portman has said herself.