Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we dig into the conclusion of The Old Guard.
Movies about immortals can make eternity seem like a drag. At some point along their neverending journey, the deathless protagonist encounters despair. We, experiencing a finite timeline, will allow these eternal characters a moment or two to wallow, but by the end of the credits, they better embrace their perpetual lifestyle. We have to confront death every day, so don’t you dare try to teach me something by saying eternity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Own it, love it, kick-ass while in it.
The Old Guard, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and adapted by Greg Rucka from his own comic, puts a unique spin on these walking-talking everlasting gobstoppers. The film does not focus on one woe-is-me imperishable soldier. Instead, in the spirit of comic book superteams, we meet five avengers
Andy (Charlize Theron) is the eldest, and as such, she’s the one most prone to sulking. Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are second eldest, two soldiers who met on opposite sides during the Crusades but found bliss in their extended millennia together. Next comes Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), the Civil War soldier who can’t remove himself from the pain caused by watching one loved one after another fade away while he remains.
Finally, there is the new kid on the block, Nile (KiKi Layne). She exists to remind Andy of the thrill of discovery. While the group constantly reminds Nile of all she has just lost — her family stamped with an expiration date — she throws herself into battle with newfound gusto. She’s King Kong, a titan. The jealous humans on the hunt for their genetic secret mean nothing to her. She’ll happily help them skip to their end.
During the film’s climax, we also learn that Nile serves another purpose. Her appearance on the world stage as an immortal also means Andy’s time on the planet is almost up. In fact, these creatures are not immortal at all. They’re more like cats with their nine lives, and Andy is running on her last one.
When Andy’s wound refuses to heal and for the first time in thousands of years she requires medical attention, she receives an electric shock of adrenaline. She can die. Life is precious. You got to make with it what you can for as long as you can. In the final moments of The Old Guard, the story injects preciousness and urgency. We’re watching Andy on her last quarter at the arcade. She has no more reboots; there will be no respawning.
Yet, even that narrative switcharoo is not what separates The Old Guard from other films of this ilk. It’s the romance: those that have it, those that had it, and those that don’t.
Booker betrays his friends to the sadistic pharmaceutical executive Merrick (Harry Melling) because he is sick of his long life. He cannot handle the pain he experienced when his son died cursing his name, and how the agony only grows over time. Booker wants Merrick to end their boundless suffering.
He uses the love between his comrades Joe and Nicky against them. Booker says they don’t understand his hurt. They have each other, and their endless love spares them the pain that he and Andy have experienced. But witnessing his friends transformed into lab rats as Merrick’s team poke and prod delivers a good dose of guilt and regret. Booker shifts back.
The immortals do what they do best. They take up arms against Merrick’s goons. With the extra energy provided by the newborn Nile, they obliterate dumb pharma by going full medieval on his skull with Andy’s battle ax before Supermanning him out his skyscraper’s window.
Joe and Nicky are obviously upset regarding Booker’s treachery, but what do you do with a (kinda) unkillable enemy? You banish him for a hundred years, hoping that he learns a lesson or two while away from your company. Despite countless examples of humanity disappointing them, Joe and Nicky remain optimistic even in their punishments. Their love for each other gives them an eternally sunny disposition.
While she doesn’t say it outright, Andy understands Booker’s motivations better than Joe, Nicky, and Nile. She’s felt Booker’s hurt over and over and over again, but never more painfully than with the loss of Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo).
As we see in a few strategically placed flashbacks, the women fought and played together throughout the Middle Ages. Once upon a time, they were tried as witches. When they failed to die via hanging, Quynh was imprisoned within an iron coffin and tossed into the ocean. As an immortal, she was cursed to drown endlessly while Andy could never recover her from the bottom of the sea. Where would she even begin to look?
The Old Guard ending leaves us with Booker returning to his Parisian apartment, where Quynh is waiting inside. “It’s nice to finally meet you,” she says. She takes a sip of water, but its Booker who gulps.
How did she free herself from her seafloor prison? When did she free herself from her seafloor prison? How does she know about Booker? What does she want from Andy?
The answers reside in the comic books written by Rucka and illustrated by Leandro Fernández. In the recently released sequel series, The Old Guard: Force Multiplied, the relationship of Quynh (called Noriko in the book) and Andy is revealed to have been a passionate love affair, similar to what Joe and Nicky experience in the present. During her time below the water, her love for Andy soured, and insanity transformed her passion into hate.
Considering how closely The Old Guard adheres to the narrative of the original comic and how Rucka served as screenwriter on the film, we can surmise that any Netflix sequel will fall lock and step with Force Multiplied. The follow-up, free from evil scientists, is a much more painful and personal endeavor. Andy does not have much time left. Can she unburden her one-time lover of the poisonous insanity that brewed below the crushing ocean?
While the film dabbles in Andy’s past, the comics relish her history. The sequel offers more opportunity to fill out the life that leads to the hardened figure played by Theron. We need more moments of the blissful times to understand the purposeful deadening of the soul. Nile helps Andy break free from that misery, but Quynh had no one with her in that coffin.
As Booker twisted into a wretch craving death as a result of so many years denied oblivion, the repetitive drowning equally gnarled Quynh. She doesn’t hunger for death; she thirsts for revenge. Seemingly abandoned by Andy, Quynh wants her, and everyone, to know the hell she lived through for so many years. The root of her pain, as is the case for both Booker and Andy, is the romance she experienced.
Love in the moment is euphoric. Love in the past is torture. Love in the future is hope.
Force Multiplied is a fight for the future. Andy vs. Quynh, one still-mending soul, attempting to heal the other. To repair a relationship after it’s shattered, especially in such a violent manner, is a nearly impossible feat and equally as compelling as any gun battle.
The Old Guard is not a touchy-feely franchise. It knows we showed up to watch Theron and company demolish fleshy chumps, but it leans into the melodrama of its fantastical situations. Bram Stoker knew that the delight of Dracula comes in the tears that mix with the blood. Rucka continues with the tears and blood, but tosses in a good pile of bullet casings as well.