The wheel of life circles towards a predictable conclusion, as does Jean-Pierre Melville's cinematic masterpiece Le Samouraï. The film emits a strongly inevitable atmosphere, yet the silence, dualistic, and enigmatic narrative leaves the audience ambiguously flabbergasted far after its initial screening. The serenity that surrounds the protagonist cerebrally submerges the audience into a world where opposites coincide in an illusionary moment. It is in this moment where the thoughts conceptualize into a coherent piece of alternative reality and offer support to the power of suggestion. The blending of the fictitiously thoughtful imagination and the reality on the screen leaves the audience with a strong sense of dualism. Like Yin and Yang, the notion is further developed through the protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon) who peacefully approaches his violent profession, as a hit man. He is the embodiment of mind and body converging towards a moment of perfection, as he seeks his own path, a path similar to the samurai - the way of Bushido.
The contrasts within Jef and his environment sharply emerge in the lengthy initial scene where he rests on a bed while staring into the ceiling. Not much is in motion besides him lighting a cigarette, a canary singing in a cage, and cigarette smoke lingering in midair while the sounds of vehicles passing outside informs the audience about the continuance of existence outside. A sparsely furnished and decorated room with aged and peeling wallpaper demonstrates his humbleness, as he pays no attention to vanity or self-importance. Thoughtfully, perhaps, most likely, Jef might be seeking the greater meaning in life. The opening scene symbolically suggests that while people outside are busy scurrying back and forth in their cars to uphold a way of life governed by others' need of monetary means. Unlike the majority of the world, Jef seeks contemplative solitude, as a small tidbit of Bushido emerges on the screen stating, "There is not greater solitude than that of the samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle...perhaps..."
Whenever Jef leaves his simple apartment, he dresses himself in an exact and detailed manner, but not for narcissistic purpose. Instead, it seems as if he is preparing for battle, the beige trench coat and gray hat hint towards the idea of a samurai's armor and helmet. Every minor facet seems to be carefully calculated, as he is about to perform his profession to perfection. Words are meaningless. It is only the act of his task that matters while he carry's out his masters order with a deep sense of loyalty and respect. Despite the bloody purpose of his task, he approaches it with a great sense of benevolence and honesty to those who help him. He is to the point without intention of squandering time, yet he is adaptable to the changes around. Precision and flawlessness are also essential to the task of killing a nightclub owner, as he respects his target. To visually display his respect to the person he is about to kill he dresses in white gloves while also informing the marked man that he is about to die. Analogously Jef approaches his task to that of a samurai who would slash his sword through flesh without leaving any cutting mark until the limb slowly drift apart due to gravity.
Methodically, Melville transcends the American gangster cinema into an extraordinary combination of French New Wave and traditional Bushido that leaves the audience a timeless piece of cinematic brilliance. The story continues to unfold in, as mentioned before, a predictable manner when it turns into a cat and mouse game between Jef and the law enforcement. The police arrest Jef, but must release him due to lack of evidence and as one of the witnesses falsely acquits him for unknown reasons. Police inspector (Francois Perier), who strongly suspects Jef despite his watertight alibi, leads the investigation and he continues to pursue Jef. Meanwhile, Jef's criminal employer expects that he ratted them out in order to be released. This too will have consequences, as they try to have him killed before the police know too much. However, those who know Jef are aware that it is against his Bushido to squeal on superiors due to his respect and loyalty.
Throughout the film the audience will be informed of the date and time, which suggests the importance of time. The notion of seizing the day, and that time alive is overwhelming. It also offers the audience to ponder life's final solution, which often ends with an abrupt stop of the heart to experience another beat. The fear of death often devastates people's ability to fully live while samurai often contemplate the moment of death, as the moment of perfection. It is a moment where two opposites unite, as the circle of life has gone full circle from no life to life and back to no life. The use of Bushido accentuates this notion, as it draws its philosophical concepts from Buddhism, Zen, Confucianism, and Shintoism. Buddhism provides the samurai of the belief of reincarnation, which strengthens their courage and lowers the guard from fear of death while life allows them to contemplate the wheel of life. In the end, Melville presents the importance of the here and now through his anti-heroic masterpiece Le Samouraï focusing on the moment and the actions that set life in motion.
Le Samouraï offers a fascinating cinematic experience on the surface, but it is when the audience begins to reflect over the film and its depiction where Melville's cinematic gift reveals itself. The film reads like a painting, a different interpretation for each viewer. Over time the accumulation of the viewer's experiences will help decipher the film and allow the viewer to uncover their own valuable lessons. Thus, time will allow for the experience to grow with contemplation, and in time Le Samouraï will change with the accumulation of experiences to a condensed purification of cinematic virtuosity.