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In “Léon: The Professional,” How are Sexual and Mature Concepts Presented Between the Characters?

Léon: The Professional (1994) was a controversial film at the time of its release. American audiences responded poorly to many of the scenes between Léon (Jean Reno) and Mathilda (Natalie Portman), so much that the film was edited down by almost a half hour and re-titled for American theatres.

In the original cut of the film, the relationship between Léon and Mathilda is more complicated. Léon spends more time teaching Mathilda the intricacies of being an assassin. Mathilda tries to seduce him, saying she’s in love with him. She gets drunk at a restaurant. And while Léon never shows a sexual interest in Mathilda, some viewers can’t help but see the relationship as pedophilic or, at least, socially inappropriate. Though Léon never responds positively to Mathilda’s questionable behavior in either version, the material opens itself up to that sort of interpretation.

Director Luc Besson didn’t intend for anyone to think Léon had a sexual interest in Mathilda. She tries to seduce him and thinks she’s in love with him, but it’s important to remember she’s a child. She doesn’t know what her emotions mean - she’s merely in a situation where she’s finally allowed to have them. Her family life was terrible, she witnessed her family’s murder, and Léon is the first person who genuinely cared for her. He’s a paternal figure, a protector, and the only man in Mathilda’s life. The only person she ever truly cared about was her little brother, who was murdered with the rest of her family. She transfers her love for him, and her longing for the father she never had, onto Léon. She’s 12 years old and on the edge of puberty - it’s completely reasonable for her to not know how to handle all these various emotions.

Léon himself is a bit of a child in the ways that Mathilda isn’t. He drinks milk a lot and can’t read. Aside from being an assassin, he’s very reserved, naive, and disconnected. His feelings toward Mathilda awaken an appreciation for life and show there’s a reason for him to exist. But he never responds with even the slightest glimmer of interest in her emotional advances. He loves her, but not romantically. Jean Reno does an excellent job conveying his discomfort every time Mathilda attempts to act beyond her age or understanding. He’s an assassin, and could easily be an immoral character more than willing to take advantage of a 12 year-old throwing herself at him, but he does the exact opposite. If anything, the film should be interpreted as anti-pedophilic. Even a guy who is fine with killing a room full of people isn’t low enough to touch a 12 year-old.