Le Samuraï And The Surveillance State

"Je ne perds jamais. Jamais vraiment." I'm not well versed in the French language, but this one is easy. These words are spoken by Alain Delon, a French actor my mother used to have a secret crush on I think, in the unforgettable 1967 movie Le Samuraï, and they translate into: "I never lose. Never truly." I'm going to spoil the plot and ending of this film, so if you plan to watch it, skip this post for now.

Image by Alex Comeau - source: Flickr

In the film Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, an assassin who gets arrested and subsequently released because of a very clever alibi he arranged with the help of a woman who is clearly in love with him. For him though, there's no room for love; he leads a solitary life, speaks as little as possible, and his loyalty to his contractors is above approach. The film starts with this opening text:

"There is no solitude greater than a samurai's, unless perhaps it is that of a tiger in the jungle." (The Book of Bushido)

I doubt that this is a real quote from Bushido and think it's likely to come from the director Jean-Pierre Melville, I don't know, but there's a clear connection between the solitude of the Samurai and the lone hit-man in the sense that they have a solitary master and goal in life, which their entire way of life is dedicated to. Another Bushido connection made in the film is that if the Samurai fails their master, they either become Ronin, a Samurai without master, which is a disgrace, or even worse, they have the option to die with honor, taking their own life by way of seppuku or harakiri. This theme is examined in several later, reasonable to very good films you might like to watch: 47 Ronin, Merry Christmas mr. Lawrence, and Red Sun among many others.

The latter's original French title is "Soleil Rouge", and in it Alain Delon plays another magnificent role as the antagonist to Charles Bronson, who in turn slowly learns to respect Bushido, the way of the Samurai, by traveling together with a Samurai in pursuit of Alain Delon's character. If you haven't seen Red Sun or Merry Christmas mr. Lawrence yet, I can recommend both. Back to Le Samurai though, Delon commits a modern day version of seppuku at the very end by letting the police, who tried to arrest him throughout the movie, shoot him dead. It's a nice, emotional end of a man who realizes that this time he has really lost, that he was betrayed by his master (the contractor), and that he would end up in jail, in a state of Ronin-like disgrace, for the rest of his life...

But all that is not what struck me most when I watched the movie again last week. What struck me was the return to simpler times, times in which technology just started to become sophisticated enough to see the very early beginnings of the totalitarian security state that's now on our doorstep. For that reason alone, even now that you know how the movie ends, it's worth watching. It's so good to see how the state really had to work hard to be able to follow the movements of just one individual, as opposed to the state's ability to track everybody's movement without having to lift a finger. Delon manages to elude the police, even when they break into his home and plant a listening-device, and when they appoint some 50 policemen to follow him through the city of Paris. The film is slow, not action packed at all, but it examines some really interesting themes and contains only realistic people, no Rambo's or Iron men here.

Le Samouraï: Jean-Pierre Melville's Work of Art

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