Matchup of the Day: The Professional vs. My Neighbor Totoro
Today we have two films about young girls and their magical neighbors – The Professional vs. My Neighbor Totoro.
A Variety review of director Luc Besson’s The Professional called it a “fairy tale splattered with blood”. There’s a scene early on in which the family of a young girl, Mathilda, is massacred by corrupt DEA agents. Mathilda’s neighbor, Léon, witnesses the bloodbath and allows her to hide in his apartment. In a an attempt to raise her spirits he entertains her with a pig hand puppet. She is more interested assortment of weapons on his kitchen table. When he tells her that he’s an assassin, Mathilda asks Léon if she can work for him in return for his services in avenging her family (or, more specifically, her younger brother, as the rest of them weren’t very nice to her). Léon’s only relationship is with his houseplant, and so he is reluctant to get involved initially. He changes his mind when she fires a gun randomly out of his apartment window in order to prove her mettle.
There’s an article about My Neighbor Totoro “The Scary Theory That Totoro Is The God of Death“. In the movie, two sisters encounter a wood spirit that lives in a tree near their home. Their mother is sick in the hospital. My interpretation was that their adventures with the spirit, Totoro, had something to with finding a way to cope with the illness. Some people believe, however, that the spirit actually represents death. Studio Ghibli, the creators of Totoro, deny the validity of the theory. Personally, I’d like to believe it was true. Maybe it would subvert some of the cuteness in the film, which, admittedly, I found hard to digest.
The films Luc Besson is involved with, whether directing or producing, tend to be rather cartoonish. That, and they usually have at least one actress who resembles a supermodel in the cast. Natalie Portman, who plays Mathilda, was only twelve in The Professional, so maybe the supermodel part doesn’t apply (I originally thought about doing a Lolita vs. The Professional matchup article for reasons I’ll let you sort out). It’s definitely easy to spot the cartoonish elements. The villain, played maniacally by Gary Oldman, is a combination of diabolical and over-the-top ridiculous. His henchmen are more goofy than menacing. Violence and silliness are mixed with abandon.
Roger Ebert described Totoro as
“A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.”
The relationship between Mathilda and Léon is kind of like that. True, The Professional has scary monsters, fight scenes and evil adults, and the world Mathilda lives in is far from benign. But Léon could be seen as a Totoro from her worldly-wise perspective. The presence of death is just much less open to interpretation.