Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nikita d. Luc Besson, 1990

"You're always combining two things at once."

Nikita - or La Femme Nikita, depending upon where you live and how you read the film - is a romantic/relational drama masquerading as a spy thriller.

Follow: Say you write a letter to a friend, a friend who just so happens to owe you money. You open with the niceties - how's life? how's school? things are going well here. At the end, maybe even the post-script, you drop the by-the-way, as in, "BTW, if at all possible - and I feel like a jerk for even mentioning this - could you, if it's at all convenient, send me that twenty bucks I let you borrow sometime soon? Kthanksbye." We all know what that letter's about - it's about the twenty bucks. As A, so B: Nikita ends with concerns about the romantic relationship(s) - there's pretty much two - not the female Bond-döppelganging storyline that the DVD menu would lead you to believe the film is about. And while Nikita's newfound profession - a sort of government sanctioned assassin - is integral to the film, it's the collision of these two things, her relationship and her profession, that is most interesting about the film.

Nikita - although at some point she becomes Maria? - goes through training, where she learns how to use a computer, paint, and pump round after round of hot lead in both paper and person. That apposition is integral. It isn't simply that Nikita's training makes her a lethal killing machine, but that it also primes her for domesticity, for entrance into modern life. This is made abundantly clear in scene where Nikita, in order to satisfy the duties of her job, masquerades as a hotel maid. Her contact fills a cup with a tea, a cup that looks to be some sort of surveillance and/or explosive device. It isn't that the cup is simply one or the other, but that's it both: it operates as both a domestic and professional signifier, both tea cup and spy gadget. The professional collides with the domestic, making it impossible to figure where one and the other begin or end.

This collision isn't more apparent, or more affecting, than when Nikita, while stuck in a bathroom and on vacation, is called to snipe a target for her profession. Her fiancé stands at the door, attempting to discuss their relationship, while Nikita takes three shots at some old tart. The conversation and the sniping are related only by proximity. There is simply an incongruence between Nikita's professional and personal lives.

Which gets to the heart of the matter; this is, simply put, a film about how difficult it is to balance ones professional and domestic lives. The latter bleeds into the former and vice versa. This conflation begins to affect the viewer. When Nikita jumps out at her fiancé, scaring him as he's coming home, it isn't clear whether this is an attack or a surprise, whether it's the "spy side" of Nikita or the "domestic." In this respect, the film operates as a powerful commentary on the corrosive power of professional life. Or, as two characters (who I can't seem to specifically recall at this point) say to each other, "You're always combining two things at once." "The vagaries of love."


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