Every once in a while, a movie or television show comes along and completely takes over your life. You just can’t stop thinking about it, and you talk about it endlessly in whatever way you can. I don’t know what you’re passionately into these days, but for me, it’s The Old Guard on Netflix.
In case you’ve stumbled upon this article and you haven’t heard of the movie (or the comic book series by Greg Rucka), The Old Guard is about a group of immortals who go about their lives doing what they believe is right. They’re led by Andromache the Scythian (Charlize Theron), better known as Andy. She’s the oldest and the one most worn out by time. When she loses sight of their personal mission, a new immortal joins their ranks. Her name is Nile (Kiki Layne), and she brings a new and refreshing perspective to the group, something Andy desperately needs.
You might be wondering what about this movie fascinates me so much. To you, it might sound like a basic action movie with supernatural elements thrown in. While it appears to be just that on the surface, there’s a lot of heart and relatable emotions written into it that resonate with me on so many levels. Things like family of choice, mentor/mentee relationships, lost love, everlasting love, betrayal, regrets, and the overwhelming feeling of what can one person do to change the world?
Here are the primary reasons why I love this movie:
Relatable Story and Complex Characters
Is the movie relatable in that I can heal myself and live for centuries on end? No, but it’s relatable in a human and non-supernatural kind of way. Almost all of us, at one point or another, have felt helpless in the world we live in today. Sometimes, it feels like what we do doesn’t have a grand or lasting impact on our surroundings. It makes us feel small, unimportant, and go about our lives with a “What’s the point?” kind of attitude.
Imagine having to live that for hundreds or thousands of years. The world and its innumerable problems are going to wear you down because from your perspective, no matter what you do, change doesn’t happen. That’s where Andy finds herself in the movie, but it’s also a real and common experience. She’s a character whose cynicism has gotten the best of her. Is this approach seen too often in movies and TV nowadays? Maybe, but I’d rather have a character who’s real about herself and the condition of the world she lives in than a character who pretends she’s not fazed by anything.
Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) is another character who I love and wholeheartedly get. Out of the 4 original immortals, he’s the “youngest.” His source of pain comes from the family he had no choice but to leave behind. It’s accurate to say Booker feels his immortality is a curse rather than a gift. His lack and want for connection and his desire to end his immortality make him all the more real and fascinating to me.
Last but certainly not least, Nile embodies everything I love about a character who gets tossed into a new world — she resists, she asks questions, she tries to hold on to her old life as much as possible — and builds her way into accepting her new circumstances. I like how she essentially acts as a foil to Booker when it comes to family and attachments. She’s a young character, but her coming to important conclusions in the end shows wisdom beyond her years.
Joe, Nicky, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and even Merrick (Harry Melling) are just as captivating to me. Every scene and line of dialogue has a way of significantly contributing to these characters’ individual personalities, and they’re one of the main reasons why I keep coming back to the movie over and over.
Oftentimes, action movies focus on 1 or 2 relationships. There’s the love interest and maybe there’s a best friend. If there are other relationships present, they tend to be casual and lack depth. This movie has a variety of relationships, and it still blows my mind how they were able to capture and build those relationships in 2 hours.
There’s the familial love between the immortals, the love between Andy and Quynh (Ngo Thanh Van) as well as Joe and Nicky, the tragic friendship between Andy and Booker, the mentor/mentee relationship between Andy and Nile, and the friendship between Nile and Booker. There’s so many interesting points of connections you can make throughout the movie and extract meaningful insights from them.
Themes and Other Literary Elements
It isn’t often when I say, “Oh man, this movie would make a great novel.” Actually, after my first viewing of The Old Guard, I went online in hopes of finding a novelization because I really wanted to read the story on a deeper level. Sadly, there isn’t a novel, but this movie does contain literary elements I couldn’t help but pick out along the way.
Immortality is obviously the bigger theme, but the movie also touches on the psychology of immortality and how that affects the understanding of one’s purpose in life. There’s also loneliness as a dangerous force, everlasting love, and the inevitability and tragedy of death.
Again, some might say it’s just an action movie, but if you look hard enough, there’s symbolism scattered throughout the movie. Some of the characters wear colors that highlight their personalities and current progression throughout the movie. Nile, for example, wears a green jacket and green often symbolizes new and inexperienced.
Storytelling in the Music
There are times when movies select a decent song to go with the overall story, but it’s incredibly rare to find a movie with a soundtrack from beginning to end that complements major aspects of the story. While I do love the original score by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran, I’m specifically referring to the songs featured throughout the movie by various artists, such as Frank Ocean, Marshmello, Elle King, etc. If you sit down and really listen to the lyrics, you’ll find the music plays a huge part in telling the story.
“Born Alone, Die Alone” by Madalen Duke plays over the title and here’s a verse from the lyrics:
I’ve died a few times before
I know what it’s like
When I can’t see the light
I find a light of my own
Sh-sh-sh-shine like a diamond
Like a lonely diamond
I love how it captures the characters and the sentiments behind their struggles pretty accurately. The “lonely diamond” simile is perfect because diamonds are one of the hardest minerals on Earth, and these people are hard to kill. And even though Andy, Booker, Joe, and Nicky are part of a family, Andy and Booker know what it’s like to feel lonely in more ways than one.
Diverse Crew and Cast
Skydance purposefully searched for a woman to direct this movie, and I can’t thank them enough for taking the initiative and making that happen. Not only did they hire Gina Prince-Bythewood to do the job, but they hired her because of her successful romance movies, specifically Love & Basketball and Beyond the Lights. How amazing is that?! Women and romance movies are often overlooked and dismissed, but Skydance didn’t let preconceived notions stop them from going forward with this decision. Needless to say, Prince-Bythewood (in combination with Greg Rucka’s script) knocked it out of the park.
Add to that the amazing and talented cast as well as a post-production crew primarily made up of women, and you have a movie that actually understands the importance of representation both on the screen and behind it.
Killer Action Sequences
A good portion of filmmakers do fighting sequences with the purpose of wowing the audience, but in trying to capture something new and exciting, they lose sight of what makes it believable. This movie goes above and beyond when it comes to showing fighting sequences that feel real and more grounded. It’s less about making crazy action sequences that highlight their “superhuman” ability to heal and more about showcasing the variety and depth of fighting kills these characters have acquired over the centuries.
Additionally, in other action movies, there’s no accountability or awareness of the violence that’s happening. In The Old Guard, they make it a point to insert that awareness through Nile, so I truly appreciate how they have a soldier question those kinds of actions. It reminds of what Prince-Bythewood said in an a few interviews, where she stressed the movie isn’t a celebration of violence. These characters do what they have to do to survive and defend themselves, but at no point are those fighting sequences set up for laughs or that they’re killing out of pleasure.
The “Give Me More” Ending
Normally, I like my stories to have happy endings, especially when the characters get a renewed sense of purpose. It allows people (like me and so many others) to take over in the form of fanfiction and continue the story. The Old Guard does that and more.
As soon as the movie ended, a dozen ideas popped into my head. A lot of fans have been typing away at their keyboards and continuing the story from their perspective and in their styles. That said, it’s exciting to know we will be getting more content in the future, so not only can we, as fans, play with our imaginations, but we can also eagerly wait for the next chapter.
If you haven’t watched The Old Guard yet, please set 2 hours aside to make it happen. Will it blow your mind like it did mine? The only way to find out is to watch it and let me know!
Find The Old Guard on Netflix.
Featured Image: Skydance Media, Netflix