Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Killer
- The Killer spares Claybourne’s life to make him owe a debt, ensuring his silence and compliance in the future hitman’s retirement and to prevent any further attempts on his life.
- The joke about the bear and hunter reflects The Killer’s uncertain commitment to his role as an assassin, as he enjoys the hunt but grows tired of the kill.
- The use of 1970s sitcom characters as aliases suggests that The Killer is not as smart or subtle as he believes, with his failed first job exposed.
David Fincher’s The Killer ends with less of a bang and more of a quiet beach retreat. Based on the French graphic novel by writer Alexis “Matz” Nolent and artist Luc Jacamon, The Killer sees Michael Fassbender’s titular character, who remains unnamed throughout the film, finally find the man who put out a hit on him. The Killer was out for revenge and managed to kill every assassin, including his own handler, who was targeting him and his girlfriend, Magdala, after a hit gone wrong. Fassbender’s Killer finds Claybourne, a billionaire businessman, and clones his keycard to enter his home.
The Killer and Claybourne proceed to converse about the events that ultimately led the former to the hedge fund manager’s doorstep. The Killer asks Claybourne if he hired the hit on him out of revenge, but Claybourne reveals he’s new to the hiring assassin business. Claybourne says he doesn’t have anything personal against Fassbender’s character, figuring the hit on him was simply insurance to account for The Killer missing his shot. The Killer decides to leave Claybourne alive in the end, though he threatens to kill the billionaire should he even think about putting out another hit on him. The Killer then returns to the Dominican Republic, retiring to a nice beach with Magdala.
Hodges & Claybourne’s Plan Against Michael Fassbender’s The Killer Explained
Hodges, an attorney and handler to assassins, was displeased that The Killer missed his shot at the target in Paris. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Hodges put out a hit on The Killer despite their history of working together. Hodges put the plan into motion, but it was ultimately Claybourne who felt he needed to tie up loose ends considering The Killer didn’t actually finish the job he was hired to do. Claybourne and Hodges wanted The Killer to pay for his lack of attentiveness, and for also putting him in danger.
Keeping the assassin alive put them both at risk, especially since he knew too much about the job and the target was now aware of the hit put out on him. Hodges likely believed The Killer to be a liability, and so telling Claybourne that they needed to tie up loose ends lest anything be traced back to them was the most ideal course of action. Hodges was also very inconvenienced by The Killer’s error as it directly affected his reputation, indicating that the hit on the Killer might have been somewhat personal between the two.
The Real Reason The Killer Doesn’t Kill Claybourne
The Killer murdered everyone involved in the plot to kill him — from other assassins to a taxi driver — but he kept Claybourne alive. It’s possible The Killer didn’t kill Claybourne because he was hesitant about his commitment as an assassin. His dedication was called into question and, despite his meticulousness in performing his job, The Killer missed his target. But his hesitance in killing Claybourne has less to do with no longer wanting to do his job and more about leaving a billionaire in his debt. Despite his wealth and resources, Claybourne appears somewhat pathetic, dressing like a younger version of himself and clinging to materials and status symbols of the “cryptobro” archetype.
Killing Claybourne would have silenced him for good, but it could be that the assassin wanted to keep him alive so that Claybourne would feel like he owed The Killer something. With everyone else killed, Claybourne no longer has connections to the job The Killer botched in Paris. What’s more, Claybourne will now live in fear of The Killer going after him should he step out of line. That gives the billionaire an incentive to stay silent about the hit on The Killer. Similarly, it gives the assassin comfort knowing Claybourne won’t dare to make the same mistake again. Killing Claybourne would have been excessive, and would have proved The Expert’s point with her allegory of the bear and the hunter.
David Fincher explained to GQ that Claybourne posed no direct threat to the Killer, which is why audiences didn’t get their “vengeance fix”.
The Expert’s Bear & Hunter Joke Explained
When Tilda Swinton’s The Expert realizes The Killer is there to murder her, she tells him a joke about a bear and the hunter who comes to kill it, but isn’t able to. The tale is The Expert calling into question The Killer’s dedication to being an assassin. The Killer is the hunter who is unwilling to kill the bear, no matter how many times he goes up against the creature. Crucially, The Expert’s joke is about the excitement of the hunt rather than the kill. The hunter in the joke enjoys the cat-and-mouse game with the bear, but also grows tired of the kill.
Of course, The Expert is also buying herself more time before The Killer does what he came to do. In this instance, it is she who is the bear and The Killer who is the hunter. She ponders if the assassin’s heart is really in it, but she also doesn’t want to die despite being resigned to her fate. The Killer, like the hunter, seems to enjoy the hunt, but his head is no longer in the game as it once was. The bear and hunter joke is ultimately the summation of David Fincher’s film and the existential crisis the titular character works through.
Although he’s never referred to by his real name, The Killer uses fake IDs throughout the film — to travel, to rent cars, and to stay off the grid. What’s unique is the assassin’s use of characters from 1970s sitcoms. Archie Bunker from All in the Family, George Jefferson from The Jeffersons, and Sam Malone from Cheers were among several aliases The Killer employed to get from one place to another.
Felix Unger and Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple are also aliases used in The Killer.
It’s unclear why the assassin chooses these particular names, but it does suggest he is not as smart as his inner monologue suggests. After all, he doesn’t successfully pull off his first job, which becomes a problem he can’t escape later on. The Killer is far more obvious than he believes himself to be, even though he spends a lot of time telling the audience about blending in and not standing out. It’s also possible the use of characters from 70s sitcoms is a nod to The Killer Volume 1’s setting, which is believed to take place in the very era Sam Malone et al were staples of American television.
What Happens Next To The Killer Based On The Comics
The Killer graphic novel has multiple volumes, and Fincher’s film is primarily based on the first one. Whereas Michael Fassbender’s character goes to the Dominican Republic to retire after killing almost everyone involved in the hit on him, he’s drawn out of retirement in the comics. In The Killer Vol. 4: Unfair Competition, The Killer is pulled into a plan to exploit Cuban oil.
In The Killer 3: Modus Vivendi, he’s hired to kill a banker and an oil broker, but suspects there’s more than meets the eye. Four years into retirement, The Killer has a wife and son, but it doesn’t prevent him from going back to his job. So, while The Killer seems content to be retired in the movie, he is never quite at rest in the graphic novels.
How The Killer’s Retirement & Ending Sets Up The Killer 2
The Killer’s ending may see Fassbender’s hitman settling into retirement, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stay there for very long. It’s possible he will eventually grow tired or bored with not having much to do and decide to take another job as a contract killer. The graphic novels the film is based on have plenty more story to tell, and it could see The Killer embroiled in a geopolitical plot. What’s more, The Killer keeping Claybourne alive suggests he could return in The Killer 2. He might be in need of the assassin’s services, perhaps for another hit. Fincher has addressed The Killer 2’s chances after the film’s success, hinting that he is open to the possibility.
Regardless of what the reason could be, it’s rare that an assassin would remain in retirement for long. Just look at John Wick — if several sequels can be made out of his story, then the same can be done with The Killer. His story doesn’t end with retirement, and he’s bound to have angered someone else or be pulled into yet another contract job. The next time he attempts to kill could have even more ramifications than in the first film. As of this writing, The Killer 2 hasn’t been given the green light, so it remains unclear whether a sequel will happen.
- Release Date:
- David Fincher
- Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Kerry O’Malley, Charles Parnell, Lacey Dover, Monique Ganderton, Sala Baker
- 118 Minutes
- Action, Adventure, Crime
- Andrew Kevin Walker
- Story By:
- Alexis Nolent, Luc Jacamon
- Plan B Entertainment, Boom! Studios