Chapter 15: No Women, No Kids

Luc Besson's Leon is a story about a man and a woman, or, more importantly, an older man and a little girl. This is precisely the reason why the version most people have seen is the shorter one called The Professional; old men and young girls hanging around with one another makes people distinctly nervous, especially in modern Western society, and they oft see fit to censor it whenever possible. Seriously, you'd think we'd have covered this territory with Nabokov, who of course walked down the very same path in the 1955 novel, Lolita (which contains a similar relationship between an older man, his young love interest and a villain whom Mr. Humbert dispatches quite violently at the end of the story). And heck, we can even stretch it way back to early history, where little Ms. Electra fell in love with her older daddy Agamemnon and wanted to kill her mother Clytemnestra after the latter killed the former.

But getting back to the future, the Lolita theme is one which crops up time and again in Cyberpunk fiction, both in film and in literature; by "Lolita theme," I mean nothing more than a relationship between an older male and a juvenile female. The relationship need not be sexual, though it is often passionate and intense, and it need not be fatal, though it is certainly painful for everyone involved, and quite often violent. This, of course, forces the reader/viewer to ask the really hard question: what's worse, a romantic/sexual relationship with a child, or teaching that same child how to kill?

And if that one makes you uncomfortable, good. Because that's precisely what Leon sets out to do. Five years before Columbine became more than just the name of a school, seven years before an eighth grade girl shot her 13-year-old classmate during lunch in Pennsylvania, Luc Besson tapped into something brewing in our society, the dirty, ugly, and yes, youthful face of what's to come. He took a little girl, and he gave her a gun and he taught her to kill, and he gave her an older man and made them fall in love, and can you guess which parts of the film they made him cut out?

You don't need to guess, do you? Because the world does an about face when it comes to our children lately. It's OK for adults to be sexual, but unacceptable for them to be violent. And for our children, it's quite the opposite: they can be, and are, violent, but they are not allowed to be sexual in any way. And that's why the original script for Leon contains both a nude scene involving Mathilda, and a scene where she shoots at people from a rooftop with a sniper rifle. The nude scene got cut out. The rifle scene stayed. It was more acceptable for her to be shooting people than it was for her to be seen naked. And this goes straight to the heart of the territory within which Leon and other similar Cyberpunk films and novels have been mucking around in for over a decade.

The 40-year-old Leon and 12-year-old Mathilda are certainly not alone; witness: Akai and Sawa in Kite; Daisuke Ido and Alita in Battle Angel Alita; One and Miette in City of Lost Children; Eric and Sarah in The Crow; Hiro and Y.T. in Snow Crash; And Berry and Chevette in Virtual Light. Stretch the definition just a teensy bit, and we can add a whole bunch of others to the basket as well. Take Blade Runner, for instance: the old, grizzled Deckard falls in love with Rachael who, being a replicant, is nothing more than the reconstructed memories of her creator's 12-year-old daughter; she may physically be a 20 or 30-year old woman, but emotionally and mentally she's just a child in love with an older, tougher man. Or look at The Fifth Element, featuring the older, stronger Korben Dallas falling in love with, and protecting, the childish Leeloo (who, even if she is a perfect being, is really only a few days old). Or how about Ghost in the Shell, which pairs the obviously older, larger, stronger Bateau with the smaller, younger Kusanagi; the image is hammered home at the very end when Bateau has to find the destroyed Kusanagi a new body, and picks a young schoolgirl out for her. And then there's La Femme Nikita, which thrusts a teenaged girl named Nikita under the wings of the much older Bob. And The Terminator, where Mr. Kyle Reese (from the year 2026) has got about 40 years on the 19-year-old Sarah Connor, seeing as he's from the future. And so on.

But back to Leon and Mathilda. The single most important quote in the film is undoubtedly the mantra that Leon repeats over and over again: "No women, no kids." It's important because it has multiple layers of meaning that Leon himself doesn't quite understand. On one level, it means that Leon, and any professional killer, will not take out contracts on women and children. But on a deeper, more involved level, it also represents Leon's own romantic, emotional and sexual barriers. He's been unable to love for over 20 years, has found no romantic interest among anyone: no women, and certainly no kids (i.e., Mathilda). And taking that a step further, Mathilda represents a true challenge for him, because she represents both of those things: physically, she's a kid, but emotionally she's a woman. "No women, no kids" will be difficult to deal with when you're living and loving someone who's both of them at once.

As we start our film, however, Leon (Jean Reno) is dealing not with women or kids but with business, smack in the middle of New York City's Little Italy with his contact Tony (Danny Aiello), taking on a contract to go after a certain Mr. Jones in his hotel room. "Somebody's coming up; somebody serious," is all the warning Mr. Jones' men get before Leon's upon them, killing seven in all without being seen by any of them before sliding out of a shadowy womb and slipping his hard, shiny knife to his target's throat. But he's not there to kill, not this time; he's just a messenger, and as his real client Morizio states over a cell phone, his only job is to make sure that Jones understands, and then to let him go. Job accomplished, Leon evaporates into the shadows again and reappears in the subway, from which he emerges to purchase a pair of milk cartons, just like he does every day. And if you don't see the symbolism there, I'm not going to smack you over the head with it again. Suffice it to say that Leon drinks milk every single day, compulsively, symbolically suckling from a mother he doesn't have around to protect him from the emotional burden he's under every day. He is a man with no women in his life, and he's suffering for it.

He doesn't realize it until he encounters a young 12-year-old girl named Mathilda Lando (a nod to The Empire Strikes Back's turncoat character Lando Calrissian, perhaps?) sitting in the stairwell, smoking a cigarette. Freud once said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but for Mathilda a cigarette is definitely phallic; whereas Leon is looking for a female in his milk, she's looking for a male in her cigarettes (and soon, in Leon's guns, giving new meaning to the old "Is that a gun in your pocket..." line).

But I digress; Mathilda's home life is definitely unsatisfying, as her abusive father does little more than molest her stepmother and smack her around in the face (little wonder that she's looking for a better father figure). When he's not dealing drugs, that is; when we first meet him, the scoundrel is trying to talk his way out of a drug deal gone bad. It seems that 10 percent of the drugs he was holding somehow turned into "cut," and he's being held responsible. However, dirty Drug Enforcement Agent Norman "Stan" Stansfield (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman) is willing to give him until noon tomorrow to come up with an answer, or the missing drugs.

Leon watches silently through the door's peephole before falling back into his pattern: undress, shower, drink milk for dinner, iron clothing, water his plant, and then fall asleep in his chair, one eye open and ready for danger, knives, guns and grenades close at hand.

Morning soon dawns on the last day of the rest of Mathilda's family's life, an apparently typical day in which Mathilda fights with her sister over the TV remote, wanders in on her dad having sex with her stepmother, gives her brother a hug, and tells her school's headmistress that she's dead (Trivia buffs: the Transformers cartoon showing on TV when Mathilda switches the channel is "More Than Meets The Eye Part 3").

Leon, by way of contrast, awakens to do some stomach crunches, drink some milk, and wander out to the movies to catch the matinee showing of "It's Always Fair Weather," featuring Gene Kelly sing "I Like Myself" while dancing on roller skates. The lyrics ("Why am I feeling, when things could look black, that nothing could possibly go wrong? This has been a most unusual day. Love has made me see things in a different way.") will become eerily appropriate in just a short while when Leon returns home.

When he enters the building, Mathilda is standing in the hall holding her nose, which is bleeding; the implication that her father smacked her again is obvious. Leon offers her a tissue and a bit of advice about life:

                        Is life always this hard,
                        or just when you're a kid?

                        Always like this.

Perhaps it's his honesty that she admires, or perhaps she's just looking for a suitable father figure, but she quickly offers to run down to the store to get his milk for him (literally and figuratively becoming his mother). It is a decision that will save her life; it's noon, and Stansfield has returned with his cronies.

It only takes a few minutes, and Mathilda's entire family is killed, and her life destroyed. Stansfield and company blast her stepmother and older sister with a shotgun, then take out the other two after her Dad pulls a shotgun and kills one of the DEA officers. Stansfield, high on drugs at this point, is more concerned about the hole in his jacket than any of the carnage around him, so distracted and "calm" that he casually blows away a glass window beside an old neighbor lady out in the hall before being escorted back inside.

Which is precisely when Mathilda walks straight back into hell.

At first happy and cheerful, she instantly absorbs the entirety of the situation and wanders straight past the bloodbath in her apartment, heading instead down to Leon's apartment at the end of the hall. She, like Leon, is falling back on instinct, switching into survival mode when threatened. She knocks repeatedly on his door, tears streaming down her face, begging to be let inside... and after struggling with the decision for a few moments, he does, indeed, let her in. Stansfield and his men, in the meantime, have realized that Mathilda is missing, but she's already safe in Leon's arms, making herself at home by putting away the groceries and turning on the television to watch cartoons (More trivia: the Transformers episode showing on TV this time is Episode 10, "War of the Dinobots"; quite obviously, the station she's tuned into is showing the episodes out of sequence, since Episode 3 was just on TV a few hours ago.)

As might be expected after seeing her entire family get wasted, Mathilda is a little upset, explaining to Leon that the only reason she's crying is because they killed her little brother; at 4 years of age, he was the only truly innocent one in the entire family. Leon does his best to cheer her up with a pig-shaped oven mitt, but succeeds only in spitting milk all over himself when he gets the impression that Mathilda is developing a crush on him. A crush which only deepens when she discovers a bullet on the table, and an arsenal inside Leon's little black box.

                        Leon, what exactly do you
                        do for a living?


                        You mean you're a hit



One of the things which most disturbs people about this movie (those who don't like it, that is) is how quickly Mathilda accepts and embraces Leon's lifestyle. Almost immediately, mere minutes after her family has been killed, she's trying to convince him to kill the bad guys for her, offering to cook and clean for him in exchange for his services. The next day, having survived a momentary lapse of conscience when Leon had a gun to her head as she slept, she writes up a contract on a receipt and convinces Leon to take her on as an understudy, in exchange for her teaching him to read. Again, he refuses, not convinced that a little girl would have what it takes to kill. By way of proof, she grabs a gun and fires it out the window at passersby (presumably missing). Leon is convinced.

He's also forced to move, so he and Mathilda pack their bags and head on over to the Hotel National, where they check in and head up to their new home. This is where the first deviation from The Professional happens, as Leon questions Mathilda about her age for the first time; evidently, someone thought it would be bad form to suggest that Mathilda might not be of legal age. By cutting the scene out, they dodge the issue entirely, leaving it up to the viewer to fill in the details (in much the same way as the edited DVD version of Kite hides Sawa's age by turning the high school girl into a legal age college student). It would take a moron to not realize that Mathilda's much younger, but it's still amusing to see Leon allow himself to believe the lie.

                            How old are you?



                            You want to see my

                            No, it's just that you
                            look a little...


Leon finally agrees to teach Mathilda the "theory "of how to kill, a concession made somewhere between the original script and the final shooting script. In the original, Mathilda uses live ammunition, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake, but in the screen version, we only ever see her using blood pellets. For her first lesson, Leon has her using a sniper rifle, shooting down into a nearby park at joggers from a safe distance; ironically, the first target she picks is not just a mere orange-suited jogger, but a politician of some sort, surrounded by body guards. Her only comment after hitting on her first try: "Can we try with real bullets now?"

An indeterminate amount of time follows, during which Leon teaches Mathilda all about cleaning and maintaining guns, drinking milk, working out, drinking more milk, and so on. For fun, the two play a game of charades, chase each other around with squirt bottles and buckets of water, and generally grow to develop a deep affection for one another. But it's not quite clear yet exactly how the relationship is evolving until after Leon returns to Tony's one day to pick up a job, and is berated for having missed out on some nice jobs, and warned against involving himself with women.

Upon returning to their apartment, Mathilda, lying on the bed, casually tells Leon that she thinks she's falling in love with him. Spitting milk on himself once again, he dodges the issue and heads out to work, leaving Mathilda behind to spill the beans to the innkeeper and thus blow their cover. She's also got plenty of time to head back to her old apartment, where she discovers her brother's stuffed animal, her father's hidden drug money, and the real identity of the man who killed her family. By the time Leon gets home, Mathilda is already there, once again watching Transformers on television (obviously representing the transformation that Leon and she are undergoing as the story develops). Leon has brought her a new pink dress as a present, but just as Mathilda is beginning to feign disinterest, there's a knock on the door. It's the innkeeper, there to throw them out because Mathilda told him they were lovers.

In The Professional, her little lie is nothing more than a little girl being mischievous and silly, but in Leon Mathilda's whispered conversation with the innkeeper hits a lot closer to home, especially when you take into consideration the 20 minute long sequence (not in the American version) which follows after Leon finishes sewing up his wound in the shower. It starts when Mathilda shoves over the $20 thousand she got from her old apartment and tells Leon who the target is. The entire scene is replicated here because it's a definite turning point in their relationship, and chances are you haven't seen it. Caution: dirty words ahead.

                        Here. It's for a contract.
                        20 grand, right? His name
                        is Norman Stansfield and
                        he's in room 4602 in the
                        DEA building, 26 Federal

                        I'm not taking it.

                        Why not?

                        Too heavy.

                        Well, would you rent me
                        your gear for the day?

                        I never lend out my gear.
                        But you still have your
                        gun. Use it. Just do me a
                        favor. Don't shoot out the
                        window, OK?

                        Why are you so mean to me?
                        Wildly killing people you
                        don't give a shit about,
                        but you won't get the
                        bastards who killed my
                        whole family?

                        Revenge is not good once
                        you're done, believe me.
                        It's better to forget.

                        Forget? After I've seen
                        the outline of my brother's
                        body on the floor you expect
                        me to forget? I want to
                        kill those sons of bitches.
                        I want to blow their fucking
                        heads off.

                        Nothing's the same after
                        you've killed someone. Your
                        life is changed forever.
                        You have to sleep with one
                        eye open for the rest of
                        your life.

                        I don't give a shit about
                        sleeping Leon. I want
                        love... or death. That's

                        Love or death, eh? Get off
                        my case, Mathilda. I'm
                        tired of your games.

                        There's this really great
                        game Leon. Makes people
                        nicer, starts them thinking.
                        The kind of game you love.

            (Mathilda picks up her gun and unloads it, then
            loads three bullets into the chambers. 50/50 chance.)

                        I win, you keep me with you,
                        for life.

                        And if you lose?

                        You go shopping alone, like

                        You're gonna lose, Mathilda.
                        There's a round in the
                        chamber. I heard it.

                        So what? What's it to you
                        if I end up with a bullet
                        in the head?


                        I hope you're not lying,
                        Leon. I really hope that
                        deep down inside there's
                        no love in you. Because if
                        there is just a little
                        bit of live in there for
                        me, I think that in a few
                        minutes you'll regret you
                        never said anything.

            (She puts the gun to her head)

                        I love you Leon.

            (Leon slaps the gun away at the last second. It
            goes off and shoots a lamp. He was right.)

                        I win.

Mathilda has essentially laid her cards on the table, and come up with a winning hand. She's proven to Leon that she's not just a helpless child, but a serious adult who's willing to take her own life for what she believes in. And now that she's essentially proven that she's adult enough to handle it, he takes her with him to Tony's restaurant for a job. Tony is not convinced that this is a good idea, once again questioning Mathilda's age (and being told she's eighteen), but he evidently gives them a job to do, because the very next scene has Leon and Mathilda in the hallway of a random apartment building, on a hit. Leon puts chewing gum over the peephole in the door, and Mathilda pretends she's a lost, scared little girl in a dark hallway. The target opens the door and Leon forces his way inside, putting his gun in the guy's mouth. Mathilda quietly follows, shutting the door behind her.

Once Leon makes sure that the entire place is clear, he backs the drug dealer up against the wall, and has Mathilda take aim with her pistol, showing her where to shoot her target, where not to shoot him, and how to handle her gun's silencer when it gets hot. And although Mathilda is only using paintballs and Leon is the one who actually dispatches the target with real bullets (as opposed to the original script, in which Mathilda is the one to kill the dealer), there's no denying that this counts as Mathilda's first real hit. And that's cause for celebration.

The duo retire to a posh restaurant for dinner and champagne, and Mathilda gets drunk, giggling loudly enough to upset everyone in the restaurant and embarrass Leon horribly. It's the mirror image of the scene in La Femme Nikita where Bob takes Nikita out under the pretext of a celebratory dinner, and then forces her to kill, symbolically representing her coming of age. In this instance, Leon and Mathilda have already killed, and the dinner is truly meant to be just that. But Leon's nervousness makes it clear that while taking a 14-year-old girl on a killing spree is perfectly fine by him, giving her a kiss in a public restaurant is certainly not allowed. There's still a coming of age that needs to happen, and it's Leon's, not Mathilda's.

There follows a montage of hits as Leon and Mathilda repeatedly pull the same trick over and over, sneaking into apartments and dispatching their targets. While it's never shown, it's a pretty safe assumption at this point that Mathilda has graduated to using real bullets; having been taught how to shoot with paint pellets, there's no reason for her to continue playing games when she's now grown up enough to handle the real thing. The simple fact of the matter is that Mathilda is a 14-year-old assassin now, and the only question that remains is how much longer it can go on.

For Leon, the turning point comes when a hit goes bad, and Mathilda is almost killed by a spray of gunfire before he's able to dispatch the target with "the ring trick" (a grenade tossed through the door). Leon, scared, heads to Tony's to ask about his money, because he's now starting to realize that he might actually get killed. Despite Tony's assurances that "You're indestructable... bullets slide off you; you play with 'em," Leon makes him promise to give all his money to Mathilda if something happens to him.

The real reason for Leon's sudden concern for Mathilda's welfare doesn't become clear immediately, but we get our first inkling when he returns home and tells Mathilda that he's heading out on a solo mission. She asks why.

                        You need some time to
                        grow up a little.

                        I finished growing up
                        Leon. I just get older.

                        For me it's the opposite.
                        I'm old enough. I need
                        time to grow up.

Upset, Mathilda tries to kill time by watching TV and shopping, but after she's accosted by some teens playing basketball, and pays them off with a $100 bill, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Gathering up her gear, she heads down to the DEA's office disguised as a delivery girl, and sneaks inside, following Norman Stansfield into the men's bathroom with the intention of killing him. Hiding behind the door, he turns the tables on her, disarms her, and discovers that she wants him dead because he killed her brother. It was personal; nobody sent her, and she wasn't going to send anyone to do it for her. She tried that with Leon and he refused.

Or did he? Just as Stansfield is trying to decide whether or not to kill Mathilda right there, Blood (one of his cronies) comes into the room to report some bad news. It seems that Leon went off on his own, tracked down Malky (another of Norman's crew), and, reciting his "No women, no kids" mantra, gunned him down.

Realization dawns for both Stansfield and Mathilda. Stansfield now understands exactly who Mathilda is, and why Leon and she would be gunning for him. And Mathilda realizes that she severely misjudged Leon. When he said he was going out on a mission that was too heavy for her, he was actually heading out to kill one of the men who killed her family. She's screwed things up by coming here herself. And despite the fact that Leon returns home, finds her note, and rescues her from the DEA office (in a scene reminiscent of the lobby gunfight in The Matrix), a critical turning point has occurred, and it's now clear that this will all end badly.

The American version of the film leaves out the next scene, which is absolutely critical in understanding the evolution of Leon and Mathilda's relationship (and is thus also replicated in its entirety here). Leon is getting over the experience they've both just had when Mathilda emerges from the bathroom wearing the pink dress he bought her, all made up for a night on the town. She casually pours milk for both of them, in command of the situation. Then she asks him about the dress.

                        Do you like it?


                        So say it.

                        I like it.

                         (She indicates his milk)
                        Not thirsty?

        (Leon drinks down his milk in one gulp, nervous.)

                        A girl's first time is very
                        important. It determines the
                        rest of her life sexually. I
                        read that once in one of my
                        sister's magazines. My girl-
                        friends told me that they
                        hated their first experience.
                        That's because they didn't
                        love the guys. They just did
                        it to show off. Afterwards
                        they started liking it, like

                            (She pauses.)

                        Will I like it the first time?

                        Mathilda, no.

                        Why not?

                        I just can't.

                        You love someone else?

                        No. I mean... there was
                        someone a long time ago.
                        Before I came to the States.
                        Her father didn't want her
                        to see me. She was from a
                        very respectable family.
                        Mine was... you know...
                        not so respectable. Her
                        dad went nuts every time
                        she'd take off to see me.

                        She still snuck off to see
                        you, right?


                        See, nothing can stop love,

                        He killed her. One shot
                        through the head. They kept
                        him in jail for two days and
                        they let him go free. They
                        said it was an accident.
                        So... one night I... waited
                        for him. 500 feet with a
                        lens. He also had an
                        accident. The same night I
                        took a boat and came here to
                        meet up with my father who
                        was working for Tony. I was
                        19. Since then, I've never
                        left the city and I've never
                        had another girlfriend.

                            (He starts to cry.)

                        You see Mathilda, I wouldn't
                        be a good lover.

                        Okay. Would you do me one


                        I'm sick of watching you sleep
                        on your chair. We're going to
                        share the bed.

This, of course, explains how Leon and Mathilda end up in bed together the following morning after a chaste night of simply enjoying one another's company. Still a far cry from the original script, which has Leon and Mathilda actually making love, but there was no way that was going to cut the mustard in America, thanks to censors and Natalie Portman's parents. Still, there can be no doubt that they've consummated the relationship on some level. The barrier has been broken. All hell must now break loose with it.

The next morning, as she's returning from getting milk, Mathilda is grabbed in the hallway by black-suited SWAT members. It seems Stansfield paid a visit to Tony's restaurant the night before and beat him into revealing where he could find Leon. And now Stansfield is pulling out all the stops. But Leon's not going out without a fight. Mathilda manages to warn him, and he's ready when the armed police burst into his apartment, managing to kill a half dozen of them before being wounded himself. By the time he's managed to get Mathilda back into the apartment, Stansfield has already called for "EVERYONE!", and so now it's Leon and Mathilda versus the entire city of New York. Hundreds of men with rifles and shields and grenades and rockets and sniper rifles.

And they still almost make it, although they have to do it by splitting up; Mathilda going down the ventilation shaft into the basement, and Leon by pretending to be an injured police officer. But of course, escape wouldn't be satisfying, because this is more than just a love story; it's also a story about revenge. Which is why it feels so good to see how this all wraps up, even though Stansfield does shoot Leon in the back of the head as he's just inches from escape.


						At your service.

						This... is from... Mathilda.

							(Leon places something
							in Stansfield's hands.
							Stansfield opens his
							hands to reveal a ring
							from a grenade, then
							opens Leon's coat to
							reveal dozens of them.
							Grenades, that is.


							(Stansfield dies in a
							huge explosion.)

In the original script, it's Mathilda who pulls the final ring trick, blowing herself and Stansfield up in the ultimate Romeo and Juliet ending. But this is Hollywood, and so Juliet lives to pay a visit to Tony, looking for work. Tony refuses; he's suffered enough by having Leon's death on his conscience, and he doesn't want to be responsible for the death of a little girl. Instead, he gives Mathilda some cash and sends he off to school, where she proceeds to tell her teacher the awful truth, in the hopes of starting a new life for herself. Just her and Leon's plant, which now has roots. Just like her.

But it's not Cyberpunk.

Pah. Sure it is. You're just not looking hard enough. You've got your lone gunman surviving outside of the law, dodging bullets and the corporate-style DEA officers who are more interested in a quick buck than upholding the law. You've got the dark, seedy underbelly of a huge, gleamy-dark city. You've got the technological superiority of Leon (which is removed at film's end, forcing our anti-hero to fall back on his human ingenuity to survive, albeit only briefly). You've got moral ambiguity in spades, questions about humanity and empathy and the ability of an emotionless robot like Leon to love another human being. What more do you need? Nothing. It's all there, and you don't need netrunners and cyborgs and hovering cars to include this film on this list.

But as I suggested in the beginning of this article, my point here wasn't to argue whether or not Leon belonged on a Cyberpunk film list. Rather, my intention was to introduce you to the as yet unnamed sub-genre of Cyberpunk which time and again pairs an older male with a younger female. I provided a whole slew of examples at the start of this article, but by themselves they're nothing. So let's take a step back and take a look at the overall plot development in Leon, and I'll demonstrate how the same plot recurs in almost every instance among those films I mentioned (and in many more I've undoubtedly forgotten about here).

First of all, we have Mr. Yang, always older and physically stronger, typically smarter and wealthier. He is also usually unlucky in relationships with women. Like the Chinese concept of Yang, he represents the sun, creation, heat and light, and nothing short of all things Heavenly. Witness the light upon Mathilda's face when she opens the door to his apartment in her hour of need, the warmth he provides her as they snuggle close at night. Witness Hiro in Snow Crash, world's greatest sword fighter, more heat than light but representing both. Witness Bateau, the big, burly, tan-and-white clothed cop in Ghost in the Shell. And so on.

Paired with Mr. Yang we have Ms. Yin, who represents the opposite of everything Mr. Yang stands for. She is young, female, the moon, the night, all things cold and dark and agile and secretive and submissive and mysterious. She also represents fertility, the earth, completion, and a sense of grounding in reality, which explains exactly why it is Mr. Yang needs her. Leon is trapped in an aethereal nightmare loop of killing until Mathilda enters his life, drags him down to reality and gives him a dose of real life. Hiro is floating in a virtual world delivering pizzas for a living until Y.T. crashes into him and starts him on a whirlwind journey towards his true calling. The matter is a bit more hazy in Ghost in the Shell, but even so we see Kusanagi representing the counterpoint to Bataeu's strength; she is nimble and agile, he is bulky and hulking. She is more in touch with her human side, despite being mostly artificial, than he is with his own humanity.

Now that we have our two protagonists, we have to see what they do to and for one another. The first thing we typically see is that one of the two is in need of help, and the other half of the pair comes to their rescue. Leon saves Mathilda, Y.T. saves Hiro, Akai saves Sawa in Kite, Eric saves Sarah in The Crow, Korben saves Leeloo in The Fifth Element, and so on.

With that established, the poles of the magnet swing, and a balance of sorts is achieved, temporarily. Then the poles swing, and that which once was strong is now weak, and in need of help, in one way or another. Leon needs Mathilda to teach him to read. Sarah needs Eric to save her from the bad guys. Kyle Reese is wounded and needs Sarah to save him from The Terminator. Y.T. is thrown in jail and needs Hiro to bail her out. Et. cetera.

Part of the reason for the wildly swinging balance is that Mr. Yang and Ms. Yin are different creatures sexually. It seems that Mr. Yang has been unlucky with women in some way, and Ms. Yin is romantically immature and often at the point of her sexual awakening. The disparity causes many bumps and turns on the path to resolution for our duo. Leon's true love was killed, and he hasn't loved anyone else in 20 years... and then a little Lolita named Mathilda comes along and throws his life into turmoil. Hiro's struck out with Juanita, and along comes sexually precocious little Y.T. Deckard is apparently considered a cold fish... and then he winds up in a steamy affair with Rachael. Korben Dallas is divorced, and Leeloo falls right into his lap. And so on.

Depending on how long and how intense the relationship is, the poles of our yin-yang magnet can swing back and forth a number of times, or only once. Somewhere in between, the two people generally achieve a momentary balance of sorts, accomplishing tasks together that they would be unable to accomplish alone. Mathilda helps Leon with his killing, Bateau and Kusanagi catch the Puppet Master, One and Miette (in City of Lost Children) solve a mystery together, Akai has Sawa do his killing for him. Korben and Leeloo set off to save the universe. Et cetera.

At some point in the relationship, however, Ms. Yin and Mr. Yang are separated by a great distance, and one (usually the male) will come to the rescue of the other (usually the female). Typically, the separation is caused due to hubris, pride or ignorance on the part of the "captured" party; having experienced increased strength with the other party, they have grown to believe they are strong enough to handle everything alone, and attempt to do so, only to be proven wrong. Mathilda is captured trying to kill Stansfield herself, and is rescued by Leon. Leeloo is injured trying to defeat all the bad guys, and is rescued by Korben. Y.T. is captured by Raven while trying to escape from the government, and is rescued by Hiro (in part). Kusanagi goes after a tank by herself, and is saved only at the last minute by Bateau's arrival. And so on.

So what's the point of all this comparison? Certainly not to posit that all of these films follow a single road, but more to point out that they all drift in the same general direction, with their foundation being a tempestuous relationship between an older male and a younger female who are striving to achieve some sort of balance in their lives and with each other. In some cases, the sexual element is entirely absent (as is the case with The Crow, and in other cases the sexual element is the driving force behind the relationship (witness Kite). In most cases, however, it's somewhere in the middle of the continuum, and it's the constant bounce back and forth that makes it so exciting and uncomfortable all at the same time.

Rather than reach any conclusions here, I'm going to invite comments on these thoughts and leave the rest for part two of a larger discussion to be completed next time. As promised, I'll be discussing another classic Cyberpunk film from 1994, another disturbingly dark journey which is also about the relationship between an older male and a younger female sidekick... except in this case it's platonic, and the male in question happens to be dead. We'll also take a look at how this timeless theme can be used in your own role-playing sessions, often without your players even realizing it. Next time: The Crow.

To be continued...