Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for The Killer. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is The Killer about?
The Killer toys with viewers. It presents itself as a revenge thriller. Except our main character is not a hero. He’s actually kind of the villain. Fincher wants us to question our instinctual desire to cheer for a story’s protagonist and find subtle ways to toy with audience expectations. For example, the one person who receives mercy is a billionaire.
But there’s another important layer. As much as we aren’t supposed to like Fassbender’s character, he’s also extremely relatable as a workaholic who’s coming to the realization that he no longer has the same interest in his job. That, in fact, by being so focused on work that he’s actually been missing out on living life. That’s something almost all of us can relate to, especially those who are part of “live to work” cultures like the United States.
Movie Guide table of contents
- The Killer – Michael Fassbender
- Magdala – Sophie Charlotte
- The Lawyer (Hodges) – Charles Parnell
- Dolores – Kerry O’Malley
- Leo – Gabriel Polanco
- Calybourne – Arliss Howard
- The Brute – Sala Baker
- The Expert – Tilda Swinton
- Based on – The Killer a comic book by Alexis “Matz” Nolent and Luc Jacamon
- Written by – Andrew Kevin Walker
- Directed by – David Fincher
The ending of The Killer explained
The end of The Killer begins following The Killer’s confrontation with Claybourne. Having received assurances that Claybourne has no interest in pursuing retribution for the missed hit, The Killer has returned home to the Dominican Republic. He relaxes outside, with his girlfriend. A final voice-over, tells us about the need to feel secure. How we have a brief time given to us. And that he, The Killer, is no longer one of the few but, rather, like me or you, one of the many.
The Killer is a twist on the “one last job” trope. Fincher’s own Se7en is an example of this. Detective Somerset, Morgan Freeman’s character, is the grizzled veteran about to retire but hangs on in order to teach his new partner, Brad Pitt’s’ Detective Mills, the ropes of New York City. Only for it to turn into the most harrowing thing Somerset has ever experienced. Blade Runner uses this trope. Unforgiven. Heat. Inception. It’s an easy way to create tension.
There are three primary versions of the trope.
First, someone is retired and they come out of retirement for one final job. Second, someone is about to retire and finally get to spend more time with their loved ones or fish or whatever. Third, someone is younger or in their prime and this one opportunity is so great that it’s the last job they’ll ever have to take. The tension is usually in what the person is giving up in order to return or what they might gain.
In The Killer the one last job is unintended. Having missed his target and failed the assassination, The Killer’s life is in danger. Most of the movie is spent ensuring no one will come after him for his botch. But along the way, several people ask him why he’s doing this. Hodges, the lawyer and handler, keeps questioning why The Killer ever went home in the first place, why he didn’t just cash out and start a new life somewhere else.
And then The Expert (Tilda Swinton) also ruminates on why they, assassins, do what they do. While the encounter with The Brute was a physical one, The Expert brings up existential musings that hit harder than a fist.
In trying to protect his own life, the protagonist realizes there are better things he can be doing with his time. We see he has $8 million in his bank account. There really is no reason for him to keep working. So, he retires.
What’s that saying?
Not a hero
There is quite the contrast between The Killer’s opening scene and the closing. At the beginning, The Killer is in the abandoned WeWork. Alone. The room itself is stripped down, mostly empty, about as bland as the protagonist. He’s contained. With only this small window to gaze out of. Whereas at the end, he’s in nature, next to someone he loves. That juxtaposition between being alone in closed-in space versus with someone in the open-air says everything about the character journey.
The major thing about The Killer is the contrast between thoughts and actions. We hear so much of the protagonist’s internal monologue, and while he’s initially living by his code, there are times he breaks it. Starting with the missed shot. Then, again, when showing empathy to Dolores. And by not killing The Brute’s dog or Claybourne. At the beginning, we take him at his word and expect him to never stray from his tenets. Especially with how controlled he seems. How devout.
With that in mind, you can view the missed shot as a metaphor for sudden doubt, a crack in his armor. It’s the first action that differs from what he’s saying and begins a chain-reaction that leads to his giving up the code altogether and embarking on a new life.
So ultimately The Killer is a story about a workaholic who awakens to the fact that work shouldn’t define him. Except our protagonist is not a hero. He’s a murderer for a living. This isn’t John Wick where you can root for the retired assassin because villainous people attack him and kill his dog. The Killer’s avenging his girlfriend but she’s alive. And it’s his fault she was hurt. This isn’t some righteous journey. It’s not Unforgiven. Old Boy. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The Crow. Gladiator. Promising Young Woman. The Count of Monte Cristo. Drive.
The Killer is more like Nightcrawler in that it puts the villain in a plot that’s typically heroic. In Nightcrawler, you have the rags-to-riches, hard-work-leads-to-success journey that you see in something like The Pursuit of Happyness or The Blind Side or even a story as silly as Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy. Rocky. Good Will Hunting. Except in Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is a sociopath who succeeds because of his willingness to exploit others.
Nightcrawler creates this gigantic tension in the viewer because the familiar structure of rooting for the underdog has us instinctively feeling like we should cheer on Jake’s character. Except he’s so awful that you actively recoil from it. It’s the same with The Killer. We’re used to the protagonist of a revenge story being someone we can encourage. A parent trying to get their child back. A survivor of an attack looking to even the score. But in The Killer, you’re almost begging him to stop.
The cherry on top is that The Killer is unrelenting until he gets to the billionaire. That’s the one person he spares. It would be like if Luke Skywalker got to Emperor Palpatine and said “You’re going to leave me and my sister alone. You promise? Okay. Then I’ll be going.” We’re in a time where the wealth-gap is insane. Inequality has made “billionaires” not just a loaded word but an archetype that’s become a cornerstone of 21st-century TV and film. The tearing down of a titan is something people look forward to.
There’s that old screenwriting rule about “pet the dog”. An easy way to show a character is a good person is to show them pet a dog. Or if they’re a bad person, they might ignore the dog. Or kick it. Or worse. The Netflix show House of Cards opened with Kevin Spacey’s character choking a dog who had been hit by a car in order to put it out of its misery. Which was an intentional nod to the trope and a sign that Frank Underwood was going to be a complicated character. In our current zeitgeist, the billionaire is the new dog. Except the crowd pleasing option is the kick.
What’s it mean when The Killer has its protagonist show mercy to the billionaire? It’s anticlimactic and intentional. A reminder to the audience that this guy is not someone you should admire. He himself is a multi-millionaire who gets to f*** off to a beach-side mansion. Then has the gall to say he’s one of the many.
So The Killer ends up as a pretty challenging movie. If you aren’t aware of the way it’s toying with your expectations and playing on the hero-villain dynamic, it can leave you feeling confused, without a clue as to why. Should you like this guy? Should you hate him? How much of yourself did you see in him? A little? A lot?
But, aren’t we all killers?
The thing is, when you zoom out, the protagonist is someone in a career rut, who often says one thing but does another, and actually hasn’t been treating himself all that well. In a sense, he is the many. Most of us can relate to that. You tell yourself you’re someone who cares about your friends, then you don’t text anyone back for days on end. You promise yourself you’ll start working out more, eating healthier, but don’t. Etc. etc.
When you get away from the specifics of the protagonist being an assassin and look at the film as a metaphor for an individual trying to reclaim their humanity, the story becomes a lot more relevant, as it’s about getting caught up in your career to the point of missing out on actually living.
So on the one level, The Killer may outrage you because how could someone like that think he’s like us? But on another level, he is. Because we’re all killing time.
The themes and meaning of The Killer
Living to work or working to live, identity and dehumanization
The opening scene of The Killer is bleak. Ostensibly, it shows us the mundane reality of being an assassin. The waiting. The preparation. The suspicion. The waiting. The boredom. The going without creature comforts, or basic comforts. The waiting.
So many Hollywood movies portray the assassin as this slick, exotic, force-to-be-reckoned-with archetype. Kill Bill. Léon: The Professional. Jason Bourne from the Bourne franchise. Tom Cruise in Collateral. Oh man, Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. Anton’s not slick but is larger than life.
But The Killer de-glamorizes assassinship. You watch this guy, you listen to him, and it’s just kind of exhausting. What he does isn’t cool. And he’s not all that likable. Then you find out he has a mansion on the beach in the Dominican Republic, has a girlfriend there, and $8 million dollars in a bank account. Why is he sleeping on a table in an abandoned WeWork in downtown Paris?
There’s a self-reflection that The Killer doesn’t necessarily demand of the viewer but politely gestures at. 99% of the people who watch this movie can’t relate to what The Killer does for a living. But they can relate to the idea of being so caught up in working that you lose sight of why you’re working.
There’s an Inc. article, by Stephan Aarstol, about this very thing. “The Aussie Mindset: Working to Live Instead of Living to Work”.
Quote: Months before my college graduation, one of my friends brought up the idea of embarking on a three-month backpacking trip across Australia. It sounded like fun, so I did what any sane entrepreneur-to-be would do: I put off my last quarter of college and joined him.
While we planned the trip, several people said, “I wish I had the opportunity to do something like that.”
But the fact is, they did have the chance to explore the world; they just made excuses to rationalize their decision to stay back…
During my time in Australia, the relaxed lifestyle of the Aussies, Kiwis, and Europeans we met contrasted sharply with the “live to work” mentality so ingrained in American culture. To them, it isn’t about your place in life or how you make a living; it’s simply about living well… So put the excuses aside, go explore, and discover what your life is missing.
You can see the missed shot in Paris as symbolic for someone having that first realization that they don’t like what they’re doing. That they’re not happy. And the rest of the movie is the process of recognizing how much the job, hobby, or passion no longer interests them. Coming to terms with that. Then moving on.
You can imagine George R.R. Martin probably had a similar moment, sometime in 2012. At that point, Game of Thrones had become the hottest show on television. He was earning over $10 million a year. He was in his mid-60s. Now he suddenly had what was essentially unlimited money to buy anything, go anywhere, do whatever the hell he wanted. Did he really have the same interest or motivation to sit at the computer and conjure into being The Winds of Winter in a timely fashion?
George probably had a similar process to The Killer. A routine that he followed. Rules that he lived by that allowed him to produce work at a strong pace. A Game of Thrones came out in 1996. A Clash of Kings in 1998. A Storm of Swords in 2000. Then A Feast For Crows in 2005. Those are long books. You don’t write, edit, and publish over 3,000 pages in a decade without concentration, focus, and intensity. But one day, he “missed the shot” and nothing was ever the same. It’s been over 12 years since his last novel, with no release date on the horizon.
You may not be as wealthy as The Killer or George R.R. Martin. But maybe you’re comfortable enough that you can take a step back, assess where you’re at, and ask yourself if there are any changes you want to make. Is it time to start a new habit? A new hobby? To move? Get a new job? What’s causing you the most stress in your life? And can you give that up? Instead of work being your sole focus, can you find the time to live a little?
In the final issue of the original run of the comic opens with the lines:
I will be able to go back and dwell in the darkness and deep waters of my life. Regain some of the peace that was taken from me and that I miss. And deal with life more than with death.
Actions are louder than words
The Killer emphasizes the voice-over in order to draw attention to how often what its protagonist says doesn’t necessarily align with what he does.
Of course, at the beginning of the movie, the alignment is there. We watch, for a brief time, as The Killer is still in his element. Talking the talk and walking the walk. Until he misses the shot. This guy had seemed like the real deal. We’re buying into everything he’s saying. Because look at what he’s doing. He’s so dedicated to the job that you believe he must be really good. And he probably was really good. Except then he misses the shot. Which creates that moment of doubt in the audience.
It’s the equivalent of being at a bar that has one of those “see how hard you can punch machines” and you overhear someone bragging about how they used to take boxing lessons but now do MMA and that they almost don’t want to punch the bag because it’s going to make everyone else look like a weakling but then they throw the punch and it goes horribly wrong and they score in the double digits when the high score is over 1,000.
Obviously, The Killer is still very capable and proves that over the course of the movie. But by building up to the shot and having him miss it, it causes the viewer to not only doubt but to pay attention to further discrepancies between what’s said and what’s done. As we all know that actions speak louder than words. And what The Killer’s actions tell us is that he’s lonely and cares about people a lot more than he lets on and actually wants to do something else with his life than sit alone in Paris and gaze out at everyone else.
Why is the movie called The Killer?
The title comes directly from the source material Le Tueur, a comic by the French duo of Matz and Luc Jacamon. The assassin in the comic doesn’t have a name. Generally speaking, that’s not unique or uncommon. Tenet’s main character was just The Protagonist. But the context makes a difference here.
In the film version, The Killer is someone whose identity has become his work. He isn’t Bobby Jeffferson by day and The Killer at night. His life is his job. We do know he has some relationships. A girlfriend. A friendship with her brother. But that seems to be it. And we’re never told how often he’s at home. But it doesn’t necessarily seem to be a lot. And, even then, he’s kind of amazed when he spies on The Expert and sees that she’s living a more traditional life. That indicates that maybe he has been keeping people at a distance. Even his girlfriend.
The character journey is the protagonist coming to terms with the fact he doesn’t want to do this job anymore. That he doesn’t even have to do it. That there’s more out there for him than being only a killer. And so he retires, in order to rediscover himself.
So the title helps to emphasize the struggle with reclaiming one’s identity that’s at the core of the film. A funny moment at the beginning that reinforces this is when The Killer quotes the cartoon character Popeye The Sailor Man’s iconic “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”
There are levels of irony there. First, The Killer’s trying to tell us he’s fine with what he is, but we come to realize he’s not. And Popeye is, like The Killer, someone who has made his profession part of his identity. Except in the cartoon, you never really see Popeye being a sailor. He’s often just living his life.
Important motifs in The Killer
The use of music
In the opening scene, Fincher chooses to change how the audience hears the music the protagonist listens to. In shots of the protagonist, the music is a bit distant, as if we’re in the room and just catching the sound second-hand from a danling earbud. Then Fincher cuts to a perspective shot, as if we’re looking through the eyes of The Killer. For those shots, the music is loud and clear, as if we’re also hearing what he’s hearing.
While seemingly just a cool thing to do, an aesthetic choice, that’s more for show than meaning, it actually serves to prime the viewer to pay attention to the difference between what’s internal and what’s external. The subjective and the objective. This is done in support of one of the film’s main themes—the difference between what someone says and what they actually do. In this case, it’s not just what The Killer says to others but also to himself, through his constant internal monologues. We hear him say one thing only to then do something else.
The early use of the music switching back and forth foreshadows how we should, for the rest of the movie, be aware of that tension between hearing what’s in his head versus seeing what he actually does.
Questions & answers about The Killer
Who was the guy on the plane with the socks?
In the comic book, a detective actually trails The Killer from Paris, boards the same flight, and finds him in the Dominican Republic. Which leads to a pretty cool encounter involving a swamp, a shotgun, and a crocodile.
The film nods to that subplot with the guy on the plane with the bright socks. But it actually doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, the movie uses it as a way to show how cautious and pragmatic The Killer is.
Is the movie similar to the graphic novel?
Yes and no. Similar emphasis on internal monologue and overall character journey. The comic starts in Paris, builds to a missed shot, then concludes with retirement.
The major tonal difference is that the comic often jumps from the present to whatever thing the protagonist is thinking about. So if he references a previous hit, you see the hit. If he talks about his childhood, you see his childhood. There are a ton of flashbacks like that (including a ski trip). Which makes the comic a lot more visually dynamic.
The film never cuts away. No flashbacks. We’re forever in the now, no matter what The Killer’s talking about. One isn’t better or worse than the other, they just accomplish different things. The comic builds out the world and backstory more and allows you to feel a sense of freedom. While the movie is a bit more claustrophobic because of its unwillingness to do anything but follow The Killer.
In the comic, The Killer also interacts with way more people. You spend more time with his girlfriend. He has co-workers and side adventures. He’s not some lonely dude who barely speaks. He’s a lot cooler. Fincher really stripped things down and leaned into an exaggeration of loneliness and brokenness.
Is he a hitman or an assassin?
Is there a difference?
What’s The Killer’s real name?
We hear him called a thousand different fake names. But when he withdraws his money from the bank, the last name on the account is Jefferson. It seems likely that might be in his real name.
What are the chapters?
Chapter 1: Paris, The Target
Chapter 2: Dominican Republic, The Hideout
Chapter 3: New Orleans, The Lawyer
Chapter 4: Florida, The Brute
Chapter 5: New York, The Expert
Chapter 6: Chicago, The Client
Epilogue: Dominican Republic
What’s the intro with all the kills?
I imagine the implication is that those are all the ways the protagonist has taken out targets in the past. So we’re essentially getting a streamlined look at what’s earned him the title of “The Killer”.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about The Killer? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!