Aspie Movie Review: Leon: The Professional


It’s my best friend. Always happy. No questions. ~Leon (Jean Reno) regarding his houseplant, “Leon: The Professional”

If someone asked me to list some suitable professions for Aspies, I might have to include “cleaner” on that list. If you do the job right, nobody ever complains. A lack of empathy is actually a bonus. And there’s always a set of unbreakable rules involved.

For some reason I missed Leon: The Professional the first time around. I might have been obsessed with something or another back in 1994. Perhaps it was cartoons. I’m not sure. Anyway, I’m glad I finally got around to it. It’s not just great as a hitman/action/mafia movie, but it works, just as my last flick Lars and the Real Girl did, as a curious exploration of AS.

Though it’s never stated outright or even implied that Leon (Jean Reno), the formidable “cleaner,” is an Aspie, he certainly acts that way. He’s a loner who’s hardwired in his ways. He obsessively drinks milk and watches old Gene Kelly movies alone in Manhattan theatres. Perhaps he’s also sensitive to light, for he wears a pair of John Lennon glasses even in daylight. And he is, despite his seeming cold-blooded ways, a strongly principled and even ethical man. “No women, no kids,” he says. “That’s the rule.” Another Aspie tipoff for me was Leon’s apparent anhedonia. His “agent” Tony (Danny Aiello) keeps thousands of dollars on behalf of his client, yet Leon lives in a dingy flophouse and wears shabby clothing.

 

Leon’s life is routine, even meaningless…then fate intervenes in the form of a precocious 12-year-old girl named Mathilda (Natalie Portman in her film debut), the only survivor of a bloodbath killing in Leon’s building. Like Lars in Lars and the Real Girl, it’s the added dynamic of an “odd couple” which helps the plot move along and changes both characters in the process. Leon is ill-suited to be a father, or even a master training an apprentice. Mathilda, naturally, begs Leon to teach her the craft of “cleaning” so she can exact revenge. At first he refuses, but her charm and persistence eventually warm him over. He becomes the father/hero figure she never had.

I’d even argue that Mathilda is an Aspie, albeit the extrovert kind. In one of the film’s most touching scenes, she decides to “play a game” with her dour, uber-serious protector, which turns out to be Celebrity Charades. She dresses as Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Madonna…and poor Leon is clueless as to the point of the game. Finally, when she belts out “Singin’ in the Rain,” there’s the barest hint of a smile as he recognizes her as Gene Kelly. It’s about as emotional as he gets.

My suspicions were “confirmed” in the second act as Mathilda’s Lolita side starts to come out and she openly worships Leon as a kind of fatherly lover. The laconic hitman either doesn’t notice her advances or doesn’t care. Like so many “professionals” or Aspies, he is married to his work and has no place for a lover.

One thing I really enjoyed about Leon: The Professional was its in-depth exploration of themes like redemption, justice, coming of age, and ethics. These are things one doesn’t expect in most mainstream action movies. It helps that the film is made by a Frenchman (Luc Besson) rather than an American. It has its shootout orgies, and plenty of them, but it’s mostly a quiet, psychological study in the vein of The Silence of the Lambs or Memento. This is a contract killer with a heart, even if it takes an entire film to come out.

The most lovely, and touching, visual metaphor is the use of Leon’s beloved houseplant. Like a pet, he cares for, talks to, and nurtures the little plant despite his obvious shunning of humanity. When Leon and Mathilda get bounced from flophouse to flophouse, the plant always goes with them. It adds the only note of color in otherwise stark, bare surroundings. And at the end of it all (without giving the plot away), it offers a system of roots for both master and apprentice.


A really good movie (Aspie or otherwise) always makes me laugh, cry, think, and hold my breath in suspense at different points. Leon, thankfully, does all these and more. In an age of so many movies that are merely two hours of explosions and chase scenes (thank you, Michael Bay), there’s only a few that manage to make us truly care. I liked Leon and I could see why Mathilda was so easily taken with him. He was not, in the traditional sense, a “nice guy,” but he knew what he was good at and stuck to his principles. That’s as much as any Aspie can do. As for the profession of “cleaning?” I’m sure it’s alive and well. Good work if you can find it, but it wouldn’t be my first career choice. Definitely one of *the* movies to see if you enjoy the hitman genre, as I do.

Leon: The Professional (1994), rated R. *** 1/2 stars out of ****

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on May 5, 2011.

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