This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film Léon: The Professional (1994) and a relationship analysis between Léon and Mathilda. Did he love her? Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Luc Besson, the action-thriller stars Jean Reno as Léon, Natalia Portman as Mathilda Lando and Gary Oldman as Norman Stansfield.
Léon: The Professional (1994) – Plot Summary
Léon is a professional killer. He lives alone in New York City and gets most of his assignments from a mafioso named “Old Tony”.
In his apartment building, Léon meets a girl (Mathilda Lando). The child lives together with her family in the apartment down the hall. She often skips school and has two siblings: a younger one and an older one.
One day, a couple of DEA agents (led by a man called Normal Stansfield) storm into Mathilda’s apartment looking for her father. The man has been stealing cocaine from the corrupt police officers. Things heat up and Stansfield orders his colleagues to murder the entire Lando family. Meanwhile, Mathilda is back from grocery shopping. However, as she walks down the hall, the girl realizes that something horrible happened to her family. As a result, Mathilda passes by her own apartment and heads to Léon’s door. At first, the hitman was hesitant about letting her in, but then, he changes his mind and opens the door to Mathilda.
Soon, Mathilda discovers that Léon kills people for a living. Therefore, the girl begs the hitman to teach her his skills. Mathilda wants to avenge her little brother’s death. Although he hesitates at first, Léon eventually takes Mathilda as his protégé. As a token of appreciation, the girl cleans Léon’s apartment, runs errands for him and teaches him how to read. As time passes by, Mathilda grows fonder of Léon, but the hitman does not seem to reciprocate.
After learning the basic skills from Léon, Mathilda fills up a bag with guns and heads out to the DEA office to kill Stansfield. In order to do that, Mathilda poses as a delivery girl to enter the building. After passing the security, Mathilda heads to the men’s room to find a place to lay down her weapons. However, Norman appears behind the door and ambushes her. It seems like he’s been watching Mathilda from afar. Meanwhile, another corrupt officer rushes into the bathroom and informs Stansfield that Léon killed one of them. Shortly after, the hitman enters the building to find and rescue Mathilda. Léon kills two more corrupt officers in the process.
Furious, Stansfield goes to Tony’s and gets physically violent with the man while inquiring about Léon’s whereabouts. After escaping from Stansfield, León tells Mathilda his background story: why and how he became a hitman. Many years ago, while Léon was still in Italy, he fell in love with a girl. The two had plans to elope, but the girl’s father killed her out of anger. Due to his wealth, the man was able to escape justice. Unsettled, Léon killed the girl’s father and fled to New York City, that’s how he met Tony and became a “cleaner”.
After shopping for some groceries, a team of agents ambush Mathilda and hold her as bait to lure Léon out of the apartment. In order to rescue Mathilda, Léon stars killing the agents in the building. With nowhere to escape, Léon smashes a hole into the wall which leads to an air duct. The hitman tells Mathilda to runaway and meet him at Tony’s in an hour.
While Mathilda escapes the building, Léon disguises himself as a wounded agent. The hitman goes almost unnoticed. However, at the very last minute, Stansfield realizes that Léon is the man behind the uniform. Therefore, the police officer follows him and shoots Léon in the back. On his last breath, Léon makes Stansfield grab a grenade. The hitman’s vest was full of active grenades, which end up exploding, killing both of them.
Mathilda asks Tony for a job as a “cleaner”, he refuses. Léon left all his money to Mathilda but Tony offers himself to hold it until she reaches an older age. The mafioso gives the girl some money and tells her to go back to school. After telling the truth about what happened, the headmistress accepts Mathilda back. While heading out of the school’s office, Mathilda looks for a spot in the backyard to plant Léon’s plant.
Léon: The Professional (1994) – Ending Explained
In the end, Léon dies but Mathilda gets to have a second chance in life. After all what these two went through, how could one describe their relationship? In addition, what was Léon’s final plan? Was the hitman planning to escape from Stansfield or kill him? By the way, in the last scene: why did Mathilda plant Léon’s plant in the school’s backyard?
Some people believe that “Léon: The Professional” is a romantic love story, but it’s not. How can a relationship between a child and an adult ever be a romantic one? That happens because some folks prefer to sexualize Mathilda, instead of seeing her as a child. Nonetheless, like any piece of art, things are open for interpretation.
As might you have guessed, “Léon: The Professional” is still subject to criticism not because it’s bad, but many still insist in accusing the film of romanticizing relationships between adults and children. It’s true that, there are a couple of moments where Mathilda expresses her “love” for Léon, though he never reciprocates (in a romantic way). Throughout the film, it’s clear that both develop a very strong bond, but that doesn’t mean the two are in love.
Now back to Mathilda. Let’s take a closer look at the scene where Mathilda shows up in a bra while she’s singing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. Some might say that the scene sexualizes a young girl because it’s showing her with less clothing. However, in that scene, Mathilda was playing a character (Madonna) who is known for her provocative image. That wasn’t Mathilda trying to make “sexual advances” on Léon, she was just impersonating a character.
When Mathilda asks Léon to be her first, she wasn’t in love with him. What the girl feels for Léon is a mix of admiration, gratitude and maybe some curiosity. She wants to test the hitman’s boundaries. That’s what children do, they like to experiment how far they can go. If neither have true romantic feelings towards each other, then what is going on between them?
Let’s go back from the very start. How did these two meet? Mathilda’s life was basically on Léon’s hands, when she knocked on his door. Had the hitman not welcomed her to his place, Mathilda would be pretty much dead. Having said that, Mathilda feels a lot of gratitude towards Léon. He was basically the only person on the planet that showed some compassion when she needed it the most.
Why did Léon teach Mathilda how to “clean”? The hitman probably saw himself in her when he was younger. Léon used to have a regular life before he killed his girlfriend’s father. However, at the time Léon didn’t do it for money, he was seeking revenge for what that man did to his own daughter. So, he could totally relate to Mathilda’s desire to avenge her family for what happened, especially, to her little brother.
Léon and Mathilda are survivors, that’s why their bond grew so strong. Léon had to witness the death of his first love. The trauma still haunts him, hinting that he hasn’t dated other women since the incident. Meanwhile, Mathilda had her entire family killed by Stansfield. At a very young age, she had to deal with being alone in the world and the only person that helped / cared for her was a hitman. In a way, both individuals had to endure very traumatic experiences from a young age.
The main reason why Léon hesitated to open the door is anonymity. As a hitman, the last thing that he needs is a corrupt DEA officer putting a target on his back. Léon didn’t want to get into any trouble because of someone else. Nonetheless, the hitman’s human side spoke louder and let Mathilda in. The child slowly “grew on” him. The two sort of complement each other. Mathilda brings a certain sense of “normality” to his life and Léon acts like a mentor / father figure to Mathilda.
Did Léon Love Mathilda?
The last words that Léon uttered to Mathilda: “I love you.” Why did Léon say that to her? Because it’s the truth. Let me explain. Léon loves Mathilda, but he’s not in love with her. The hitman feels a great deal of responsibility towards this child. Otherwise, why would he have risked his life (twice) to save her? This love that Léon feels for Mathilda is very similar to what a father feels for his child.
Léon is a hitman and he knew that his chances of getting away (alive) from that situation was very slim. The man knew that Mathilda would not leave the building without him, so he said those last words to comfort her. Léon’s love for Mathilda is very real. Ever since the hitman met the child, he made her his priority. In end, Léon risked everything to make sure that Mathilda would live another day. That’s true love.
What Was Léon’s Final Plan? Escape Or Kill Stansfield?
As a hitman, Léon always has a plan B just in case things don’t go his way. So initially, Léon was trying to get out of the building and escape Stansfield. However, the bad guy was right behind and shot him without any mercy.
It would’ve been really terrible if Stansfield actually got away from his heinous crimes, but Léon is smarter than the corrupt DEA agent. The hitman already knew that people like Stansfield like to “play dirty”, so that grenade vest was his safeguard. If Léon doesn’t make it, Stansfield won’t make it either. Mathilda ends up having her revenge after all, but at a very expensive cost: León’s life.
What Does The Plant Mean In “Léon: The Professional”?
The plant is an extension of Léon: it has no roots. As a hitman, Léon spends a lot of his time alone. In addition, the hitman doesn’t have a particular place to call home, since he’s on the constant move. Having said that, the plant doesn’t grow roots because whenever Léon moves to a new location, it needs to move too.
Before Léon met Mathilda, the hitman didn’t have someone to care for. As a result, the plant became a substitute for that human bond that Léon needed in his life. Whenever the hitman took time to take care of the plant, he was actually taking a break from his routine: caring instead of taking (lives).
Why did Mathilda keep the plant and decide to plant it in the school’s backyard? First, she sees it as something that can remind her of Léon, like a memento. Second, both Léon and Mathilda discussed about the importance of giving the plant roots so it can grow.
One word to describe “Léon: The Professional”? Amazing. Timeless. Heartbreaking. Please forgive me for using three words to describe the film, instead of one. It’s too hard to describe the whole experience in a single word.
As I said before, the love that Léon feels for Mathilda is real and untainted. The actors who play them were flawless in their performances. Jean Reno was the personification of cool and weird. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman gave the human touch that the film needed to be believable. By the way, let’s not forget about the villain. Gary Oldman was terrifying (in the best way possible) as the unhinged DEA officer.
The ending of “Léon: The Professional” really plays with the viewer’s emotions. For a split second, just like Léon, I thought that he would actually make it to Tony’s and be with Mathilda again. Sadly, that’s not what happened. Nonetheless, Léon did not die in vain, he took Stansfield with him. It’s one of those happy-sad endings. On one hand, there is a certain sense of closure: the bad guy got what he deserved. But then, anger and sadness hits you right in the face because now, Léon is no longer alive and Mathilda is alone again.
Though it seems like I’m complaining, I’m really not. I think the film is great. Why? “Léon: The Professional” has one of those stories that make you think about life and choices. Had Léon not opened the door, Mathilda’s fate would’ve been very different. She would be dead, but Léon would be able to continue with his life. But would the man be really better off, if he hadn’t met Mathilda?
As Léon said it himself, Mathilda gave him a taste of what life could be like. Before having the little girl in his life, Léon was pretty much on autopilot: get the assignments from Tony, “clean” the people on the list, get the money and go back to sleep. Aside from “cleaning” people every now and then, Léon didn’t have anything exciting going on his life. Something to look forward to. Of course, everything changed when the hitman met Mathilda. She showed him the small joys of being alive, not just existing.
Overall, “Léon: The Professional” is an unforgettable cinematic experience. The film might not be for everyone. As I said before, different people will read the story differently. Some will condemn the leads’ relationship and call it “inappropriate”, while others, will just see two people trying to do their best to survive in a very corrupt world.
The film’s aesthetics really stand the test of time and the action scenes are impeccable. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a 90s film. Having said that, “Léon: The Professional” doesn’t look outdated at all, as a matter of fact, it still looks “fresh”. The film has one the most original plots ever: a hitman shelters a girl and makes her his protégé. Hands down, “Léon: The Professional” is a classic.