Symbolism in Leon: The Professional
Unlike other 1994 crime films (Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, etc.), Leon: The Professional is a fairly straightforward narrative with little overt symbolism or subtext. The symbols that do appear in the movie, however, provide the viewer with information about the inner workings of Leon and Mathilda.
The main and most obvious symbol in the movie is Leon’s beloved plant. Leon and Mathilda openly acknowledge that the plant is like Leon because it has no roots. The plant also represents Leon’s dynamic nature when Mathilda plants it in a field, thereby finally giving it roots and illustrating Leon’s attachment to another human being.
Due to the fact that the symbolism here is openly stated and explicit, it can be easy to ignore another, more subtle side to the plant’s role in the film. The plant could easily represent Mathilda in addition to representing Leon. How is Mathilda like the plant? Like the plant, Mathilda has been “uprooted” from her family life, and she has nothing tying her to her old way of life. The fact that she has been “uprooted” allows her to take control of her destiny and to team up with Leon for her revenge plot. Like Leon, Mathilda likely has a distrust of other people following her life experiences. This leads to a lack of connection with other people, save for her connection with Leon.
A couple of the objects in the film serve as representations of Mathilda’s lost childhood. On several occasions in the film, Mathilda buys milk or Leon drinks milk. In literature, milk has implications of childhood and parental nurturing. Each time a carton of milk appears onscreen, this alerts the audience to Mathilda’s change and the fact that objects cannot bring Mathilda back to the state of innocence before her family’s death.
Occasionally, Mathilda is shown holding a stuffed rabbit. This serves as another representation of childhood that is ultimately ironic due to her fall from innocence. Mathilda is forced to mature early on because of external forces in her life. This makes itself known when Mathilda, holding her stuffed rabbit, tells Leon that she has now grown up. As with the presence of the milk cartons, the stuffed rabbit alerts us to the futility of childish objects in Mathilda’s life.
The most overt symbol of Mathilda’s lost childhood is the violin case that houses Leon’s firearms. Mathilda keeps up the pretense that she plays the violin, to avoid suspicion. The fact that an outward appearance of innocent childlike activity (in this case, violin playing) is housing an inward capability of violence represents how Mathilda is a child with a cynical, adult outlook on life.
The symbolic images that appear in Leon: The Professional give the audience greater insights into the complex characters of Leon and, most often, Mathilda. These representations show that Leon: The Professional is a film about life-altering events and the difficulty of coping with change.
Besson, Luc. Leon: The Professional. Gaumont, 1994. Film.
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