In anticipation of Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets, the new sci-fi adventure film from French film auteur, Luc Besson, I have cooked up a think piece about the sequel that never was and according to Besson himself last week at the screening of Leon: The Professional at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, never could be.
“Why didn’t you ever make a sequel about what happens to Mathilda?” an earnest fan dressed as the lanky hitman, Leon, addressed the soft spoken french director during the Q & A following the crowd pleasing theatrical cut of Leon: The Professional. Besson thought for a moment then, answered in his typical broken english, “That time has passed.” He continued, “Finally, I had the perfect idea for a film with Mathilda aged 19, but, Natalie isn’t 19 anymore. The time has passed.”
Suddenly, I wasn’t listening anymore. The question opened up an entire world of possibility for me. How many times have I day-dreamed about whatever happened to Mathilda? More than I can count. This wasn’t a new imagination realm. I had often thought about the older, wiser Mathilda since I first watched Leon: The Professional on home video back in the 90’s. I wasn’t much older than Mathilda was then. She was 12 and I was 14. Honestly, I wasn’t supposed to be watching my father’s action films but how could I not?
Here’s the setup: Every Sunday night, the stack of VHS tapes ready to be returned to Blockbuster Video sat on the coffee table until Monday morning when my mother would take them to the Blockbuster dropbox after she drove both me and my brother to school. So, what happened between Sunday night and Monday morning? You guessed it. Little Julianna would creep downstairs and cram every R-rated film into her brain until sunrise. I would leave for school exhausted, but man, it was worth it!
For those of you who don’t know anything about Leon: The Professional, go watch it now.
For the rest, here’s a recap: It’s a story that takes place in NYC’s Little Italy about a 12 year old girl, Mathilda, that returns home from the grocery store after her parents have been brutally slain by rogue DEA agents. The agents sought vengeance specifically toward her father, who had been cutting the cocaine he was stashing for them. In the same apartment building, down the hallway, lives an awkward hitman, Leon, with a prowess for killing unlike anything seen in cinema before. He seems inhuman in strength and as intuitive as a cat. His gift for operating semi-automatic weaponry and sniper rifles make the gangster films of the 80s pale in comparison. When Leon takes the orphaned Mathilda into his home, his life changes forever.
With everyone in her family dead, including her only source of comfort in the world, her little brother, Mathilda decides to ask Leon to teach her to hunt and kill with ease the way he does. In hopes of executing her brother’s killer, she begins a rigorous training program with Leon at the helm. Later, with the help of Leon, Mathilda is able to track down the corrupt DEA agents, thwart their evil plans and destroy them. In the end, Mathilda loses her newfound friend, Leon, in an explosion that kills the main bad dude too, however, she gains insight on true friendship and an expertise on “cleaning” most people never receive. Before the credits roll, she is forced to enroll back into to the prestigious boarding school that threatened to expel her before her family died. The end.
Only Luc Besson could make something sounding this ridiculous on paper, seem exciting, fresh and most importantly, plausible. It really has a charming, gangster fairy tale vibe to it. Moreover, it made an 11 year old Natalie Portman, in the role of Mathilda, an overnight star.
Growing up in the 90s, woman started to be represented in new ways. Female badasses began cropping up on the silver screen and TV. Not a ton, mind you, but enough for me to gather some anti-heroic role models. Luc Besson excelled at writing female characters of complexity, importance and strength. We need not look further then La Femme Nikita or The Fifth Element for great examples of female heroines. Leon: The Professional was no exception.
Strangely enough, the first time I saw Leon: The Professional, I understood a new part of myself. I couldn’t shake Mathilda. I thought about her and her fate long after middle school math class. I thought about her during high school, college, and later, in film classes. What was she up to? I knew she couldn’t have stayed at that boring boarding school for long and if she did, it was only a matter of time before she broke out and slipped into the NYC night with her head full of Leon’s teachings to exact her satisfying retribution toward a corrupt and unjust world.
Mathilda had no real home, no mundane future ahead and no strings attached. She could be anyone, and yet, no one at the same time; a perfect woman to admire. Mathilda: A blank canvas to gaze upon while living out different parts of my own life; the troubling phases and the pesky growing pains. Did she become the kind of woman that we all wanted to be? Yes, because she didn’t have to be anything for certain. She could walk between the raindrops like Leon did. She could live in hiding as a vigilante or go through school and receive top honors.
It’s true. Mathilda is a Rorschach for my own life; a gauge for how I am living and how I am feeling. If Mathilda is killing some greedy politicians or drowning a nasty child killer in a puddle of his own blood then, clearly, I’m a little world weary. Is she teaching neurophysics at NYU while designing the ultimate neurological weapon on the side? Conversely, is she a mother that protects her own children from the violent childhood that she experienced? Maybe. It all truly depends on where my head is at.
Regardless of who or what Mathilda is to you, Luc Besson created a great, multi-dimensional character. Natalie Portman brought her to life. In a world of disappointing one dimensional female characters, Mathilda makes the ultimate difference. For me, she has always been an exemplary representation of a dream you take home long after the movie ends.
Written by: Julianna Brudek