GUEST CRITIC #29: Leon: The Professional
As busy I get from time to time, I find that I can't see every movie under the sun, leaving my friends and colleagues to fill in the blanks for me. As poetically as I think I wax about movies on this website as a wannabe critic, there are other experts out there. Sometimes, it inspires me to see the movie too and get back to being my circle's go-to movie guy. Sometimes, they save me $9 and you 800+ words of blathering. In a new review series, I'm opening my site to friend submissions for guest movie reviews.
TODAY’S CRITIC: Farnaz Nazari
I am an architect who’s obsessed with details. I love observing how seemingly minute details have the power to influence our perception of the environment we find ourselves in. One of the realms of experience where defining details offers significant influence are films; it offers a unique space which features all the arts, from music and scene framing to background architectural space; all play their roles in conveying a feeling or a meaning. I plan to write about the films that I love and I’ll highlight how the defining details of the film helped with the progression of the plot.
As of writing this, it’s been two years since I’ve moved to Texas in order to pursue my doctorate degree. For the time I spend away from academia, I enjoy watching movies, and painting, or simply take a moment watching the sky and clouds passing by. A good movie continues to be alluring no matter how many times I rewatch it. Below, I’d like to share with you the thoughts and lessons I’ve taken away from my favorite movies. I appreciate that Don is such an open person.
Léon: The Professional is an English-language French thriller film written and directed by Luc Besson, in 1994. In the film, Léon (Jean Reno), is a professional hitman, who reluctantly takes in a 12-year-old girl, Mathilda (Nathalie Portman), after her family is murdered. This film cannot be labeled within a singular genre. It can be referred to as a thriller but one that the director violates the genre consistently through the whole film. In addition to the generic violation, Luc Besson tactfully uses the psychology of surprise to draw the viewer’s attention to tiny details of the film. The conventional expectations of the viewer are contradicted in several scenes. This purposeful contradiction helps to attract the audience’s attention to the details and hence, increases the potential for conveying more information. To clarify how this technique would help in attracting the audience’s attention to certain details, we should take a look at the brain mechanism.
There is a certain part in our brain, named the Amygdala, that specifically is activated by interest, surprise, attraction, or motivation (Gutierrez, 2014). In other words, if an object is new to us, this region of our brain gets activated, and as a result, we will start examining and evaluating the new object, and most likely will remember that specific object/scene. When new information is presented to the brain, it does a “scan” to see if it recognizes that information. If it does, then the brain knows how to respond and probably will not focus on its details anymore; the orders and conclusions are probably made beforehand. If the information is new, the brain has to think about it, evaluate it, and therefore our notice would be drawn there, at that specific detail or scene. As Karla Gutierrez suggests, things that can be attached to the unusual have a better opportunity to stand out in memory (Gutierrez, 2014). In other words, we notice more when something is different from our expectation, habits and memories. By violating the generic expectation, Luc Besson has succeeded to add interest, surprise, and novelty to the details of scenes that play an important role in developing Leon’s character. The film is indeed a nonstop set of surprises and unexpected combinations which forms many graphical, physical, and spatial contrasts.
One of such contrasts happens in the first sequences of the film. As a very violent matter, getting an order for murdering, is being discussed over a cozy place in a Café, a table with the nostalgic red gingham cloth on it, while Leon is drinking his glass of milk. This is one of the many surprises that provoke the unconsciousness of the viewer by being different from their typical mindset images.
Typically such matters are discussed over a neutral and cold location, but rarely in such a family kind place as here in Leon. Our generic expectations of a criminal as depicted through the crime fictions is a self-centered, mean person and typically with a violent face. Here, however, Leon is depicted as a delicate person with a childlike smile.
Developing the tiny details of Leon’s personality, in another sequence, Leon uses the cozy corner of the living room to take his night rest, another example of the foregoing contrast. This is the place Leon takes his night rest, a romantic spot of the living room in which Leon, a killer machine choose for unplugging himself. Similarly, another example is the scene in which Leon is performing a serious work-out on his bed. It’s not a typical image of a bed, as it lacks pillows, blankets, or a sleeping individual. The architectural space also has helped to signify the delicate aspect of Leon’s character.
The architecture role in the cinema is far beyond a mere background of the scenes and actions. It can help to convey meanings, feelings and describing the characters’ personalities. As happens with Leon, the use of bright colors in interior space, small windows with a sill have an important role in depicting delicate aspect of Leon’s personality. The building has to have a small window. If it had a big glazing wall, and plenty of well-lit spots in front of it, the plant wouldn’t have caught the viewer’s eyes, or would have been easily forgotten. The act of placing the plant on the window sill is an important feature that helps in expressing part of Leon’s personality. In the sense of Characterization, this film is very rich. Using the mere imagery, without excessive dialogues, the film is able to explain the most about its characters.
Comparing Leon with the conventional Hollywoodian image of a gangster shows that Besson is not following the generic character expectation in Leon. He portrays Leon as a poet among the conventional Hollywoodian gangs. The difference in the characterization of a Hollywoodian gang and Leon can be seen in almost every detail of the scenes, from his habits and style to his house decoration and architectural aspect. He drinks milk, lives in a house full of bright colors, carries a bag like a piece of art, enjoys watching a movie with a sense of child-like wonder in a theater, has no tattoos, cares for his plant, never wears golden accessories typical of a conventional criminal. In contrast, the opposite role, the DEA officer almost has all the typical features of a Hollywoodian gangster. Interestingly, Besson has designed a spectrum in the characterization of criminals, starts from Leon an innocent image of a criminal to a typical image of a criminal shown in the DEA officer and his group. In this spectrum, Tony, one of the four main characters of the film, who dishes out the assassination missions to Leon, is located in the center; he wears a gold necklace, with his blouse buttons open, and a cigarette in his hand, gets closer to the image of a typical criminal, yet by sitting in his cozy restaurant, with a wall full of pictures hanged on, memories that have no place in the modern life, in the background, holds a place somewhere between the conventional expectation and Leon.
Gowans, Chris, "Moral Relativism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/entries/moral-relativism/
Gutierrez, K. (2014, November 11). Use the Psychology of Surprise to Grab Your Learner’s Attention [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/use-the-psychology-of-surprise-in-elearning
I was highly flattered Farnaz approached me as a fan of the website who wanted to have her own work published. I’m honored to help her out to advance her goals. She is welcome back anytime! Friends, if you see a movie that I don't see and want to be featured on my website (and get a fun fake biography written about you), hit up my website's Facebook page and you can be my next GUEST CRITIC!