Before we start, let’s make something clear – in this post we will not criticize, or review, or rate Mute, the most recent Netflix Original Film. We will take care of that later. For now – and considering the length of the film (126 minutes) and its convoluted plot – we will try to put together all the pieces that british director Duncan Jones (Warcraft, 2016) left for us in this movie, so we can finally see the big picture.
Without further ado, let’s start analyze and explain the so-called Blade Runner rip-off titled Mute.
1 ^ Why can’t Leo speak?
One of the curiosities of this film is that its main character, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) can not speak. In fact it is this feature what gives the name to the film, Mute.
But, do not let yourself be fooled. Leo is mute, not deaf-mute. So even though he can not talk, he can listen and understand everything that happens around him.
Leo lost his ability to speak after an accident in a boat as a child. Leo fell into the lake where he was sailing with his relatives and the propeller of the boat’s engine hit his throat.
2 ^ Why does Leo resist using technological devices? Why does he resist surgery to recover his voice?
Leo belongs to the Amish. The Amish are a traditionalist Christian religious group, whose philosophy implies resistance to modern inventions and adherence to a model of austere and simple life. Although of their European (specially Swiss) origin, the Amish currently have their largest population center in Pennsylvania (USA), so it is curious that Leo, as an Amish, is living in Germany. But since this movie is set in the FUTURE, maybe 40 years from now the Amish will conquer Europe again. You never know.
Leo could recover his voice, but his religious beliefs consolidated by his family, prevent him from using a prosthesis, so he can be able to speak.
3 ^ What was the secret of Naadirah? What was Luba doing for her?
Leo’s girlfriend, Naadirah (Sayneb Saleh) worked as a waitress in the same bar where Leo works as a bartender, The Foreign Dreams. Leo does not know much about Naadirah, despite being her boyfriend. He does not know where she lives, he does not know any of her relatives and he does not know anything about her past.
The only person who seems to know about Naadirah is his roommate Luba (Robert Sheehan), a prostitute who does not hide his disdain for Leo. Naadirah wants to confess all of her secrets to Leo, but when she does that, Leo does not let her talk. For Leo, Naadirah is important for what she is, not for what she was.
However, Naadirah has other plans. In fact, with the little money she saved and what Luba might have given to her, Naadirah planned to go for his daughter and escape. If we believe what Luba said about Naadirah, she was planning to take Leo with her.
4 ^ When and where is Mute set?
According to the script, Mute takes place in the year 2046 in Berlin, Germany. By then, the city is turned into a futuristic and bilingual metropolis, where immigrants arrive from all the corners of the world. This might explain why there is an Amish in Germany. If the situation in the United States is critical in 2046, many of its inhabitants might consider to go to Germany to make a new life there.
5 ^ What happened to Naadirah?
After saving the money, and trying to take his daughter Josie (Mia-Sophie / Lea-Marie Bastin), Naadirah is confronted by his ex-partner Bill, nicknamed Cactus who prevents her from even seeing the girl. Naadirah goes to Leo’s apartment, looking for comfort and once asleep, Cactus enters the apartment, drugs the couple, but only kidnaps Naadirah.
Once in the basement of his house, Cactus murders Naadirah by putting her inside a plastic bag where she dies of suffocation.
6 ^ Who is Cactus and why can not he enter the United States?
Cactus (Paul Rudd) is a US Army surgeon, as his best friend Duck Teddington (Justin Theroux). Cactus was stationed in the Middle East, with Berlin being its main base, however, for some reason that is not mentioned in the film, but that perhaps has to do with crimes against humanity, Cactus deserts the army and avoids by any means to return to the United States, because at the precise moment he gets checked in customs, he will be captured. That is why he needs the fake papers that Maksim can provide.
7 ^ Was Naadirah a prostitute?
No. The person who worked for Oswald and Nicky as a prostitute under the name of Naadirah was Luba. Luba got that job so he could get money to help Naadirah to get her daughter back. Luba thought Naadirah would escape with Leo and the girl.
Something interesting is that in the original script of the movie (available here) Naadirah was indeed a prostitute, and the problem she had with Oswald and Nicky was that she had NOT attended a client. This was removed from the script, perhaps to preserve the image of Naadirah as a good, hard-working woman.
8 ^ Why did Cactus and Duck kidnap Nicky?
When Leo was investigating the whereabouts of Naadirah, he found that his girlfriend had received Oswald’s address. Leo tracked down and discovered that Oswald was the one who got clients for the prostitute business that Nicky was running within Maksim’s business WITHOUT his consent.
When the robotic guards became aware of the matter, it is presumed that they informed Maksim. Now, Cactus needed the papers that Maksim could provide him to go to the United States. So in exchange for the papers, Maksim requested Cactus to take care of Nicky, who was betraying him. Duck was just helping Cactus.
9 ^ How did Leo discover where Naadirah was?
In the first part of the film, the search for Naadirah is pretty much useless:
- First, Leo finds Luba in the Massage Parlor, but Luba refuses to help, fearing that Maksim could find out that he was working with Nicky, behind his back.
- Then he goes with the Englishmen who had bothered Naadirah in the Foreign Dreams Bar. And there by chance he discovers Oswald’s address in his notebook.
- At Oswald’s house he discovers the photo of “Naadirah” and learns that she worked as a prostitute for Nicky, in a parallel business he was running.
- Leo goes with Nicky who informs him that he does not know the whereabouts of Naadirah.
- With the help of the FlyMeal drones delivery service, Leo tries to locate Naadirah’s cell phone, but the cell phone is inactive. What he does find is Naadirah’s address.
In the second part, things improve a bit:
- Leo goes to Naadirah’s house and discovers that Luba had been taking her place as a prostitute (Ugh! What a relief!).
- In the refrigerator where Leo keeps the FlyMeal he requested, he realizes that he can make calls from there. And he gets the phone number of Naadirah’s mother, Rajeeyah.
- Rajeeyah, speaking in Pashto (the language of Afghanistan), lets Leo know that Naadirah had a daughter named Josie and that her ex-partner is Cactus.
- With the help of Duck, who had been sending him cryptic messages, Leo goes with Maksim, hits everyone with the piece of wood that would be part of his bed with Naadirah and takes the direction of Cactus.
- And well, at Cactus’s house he finally finds the dead body of Naadirah.
10 ^ Why did Leo see Naadirah locked inside the plastic bag?
Well, he really did not see it. Although the editing of the film makes it look like that, in reality in the script these scenes are labeled as flashbacks, that is, they are the last moments of Naadirah from their point of view. Leo is not remembering, nor Naadirah had anything in his eyes recording the moment.
11 ^ Why Duck was sending messages to Leo? Duck was a pedophile? Was he gay?
Let’s first analyze the sexual orientation of Duck. Throughout the course of the film, there are clear elements that seem to indicate that Duck is a pedophile: he likes young girls, he makes jokes about it and records the little girls who change clothes in his office.
We also saw that he is usually very affectionate with Cactus, to an extreme in that at times both seem to be a homosexual couple. But at the end of the movie there are signs that can reveal the true sexual orientation of the villain.
In the bench on the bridge in front of the mountains, a very angry Duck shows Leo, the heart that symbolized the relationship between Cactus and Naadirah. This scene is an evidence that Duck was in love with Naadirah, and that he had hopes with her until Cactus got her pregnant. After the couple’s break-up, Duck remained in his role as a friend of Cactus, but after finding out that he murdered Naadirah, he sought a way to destroy him and take the girl with him. And that way was Leo. That’s why he was sending messages to Leo, so he could find Naadirah’s killer.
Likewise, it is very likely that Duck’s pedophile pose was simply a way to torture Cactus. Cactus lived in terror at the possibility that Duck was going to sexually attack his daughter and simply sowed the evidence. Duck knew that Josie was the only way to make Cactus suffer and at the same time he knew he could not lose his friendship with Duck, for everything they had done together, that’s why Cactus always let him go with a warning or a threat if Duck dared to even think about Josie in a improper way.
But Duck’s plan got beyond what he could possibly think: he found Cactus dying and in his last seconds he gave him to understand that he would take his daughter, to render his worst nightmare true: that his best friend would rape his daughter. However, in the last part of the film little or nothing Duck did to hurt Josie.
In short: Duck was not gay, he just loved being affectionate with other men, like his best friend Cactus. He was not a pedophile either, this was just a pose to slowly torture Cactus and make him pay for Naadirah’s death in his own way. And he helped Leo for this same reason, for revenge.
12 ^ Why did Duck want Leo to be able to speak? What does he want Leo to say?
At the point of the film in which Duck returns the voice to Leo, the American surgeon is torn between two feelings for Leo: the gratitude for having got rid of Cactus and the deep hatred for being Naadirah’s last lover.
Thus, he combines both feelings and gives him the opportunity to speak, but only to torture him. Duck wants to make Leo feel bad for being responsible for the deaths of both of Josie’s parents. Duck wants Leo to recognize that he feels bad about what happened with Naadirah and Cactus and that he recognizes it aloud.
But Leo does not give up. Here it is possible to see that Duck was not only a surgeon, but an expert manipulator, not only for what he did to Cactus, but for what he was doing now with Leo. What he did not count on was that Leo was planning to grab him by the waist and dragged him to the bottom of the water, drowning him at the end.
Somehow, Duck’s attitude reflects his inner conflict. Duck was the one who drove Leo to Cactus and is therefore responsible for his death. And to get rid of the feeling of guilt that has caused the death of the only friend he had (although he had taken the girl of his dreams, exploited him in his business for the mob and constantly threatened him) he reflected this feeling on Leo, whom he already hated because of his relationship with Naadirah.
13 ^ What’s the meaning of the last scene in Mute?
The last sequence of the film shows Leo, already neat and better dressed, next to Josie in a cafeteria, where she draws and he watches her. Does this mean that Leo is going to stay with Josie? No, Leo had told Josie that she would take her to her grandmother, so her intentions are not to keep the child.
Two things that are very significant in this scene is that 1) Leo wears modern clothes and 2) is the first time, after the death of Naadirah that he manages to smile.
Leo’s clothing implies that he has managed to be at peace with his beliefs and that – maybe – technology, including everything he used to find Naadirah and also his voice prosthesis may not be as negative as he thinks, but may serve to help other people, which is ultimately one of the goals of his religion.
The smile of Leo at the end shows that finally, after the disappearance and death of Naadirah, Leo could find a reason to move forward. If he could not save Naadirah, he was able to save Josie and he can provide a decent life for her with her grandmother.
14 ^ Is really Mute a rip-off of Blade Runner?
No. You could say that Mute is a homage, a tribute, to Blade runner keeping in mind the similarities in the way both movies portray a futuristic, crowded and punk city. And also for following the same neo-noir tropes: a beautiful young woman in real trouble with dangerous criminals, whose boyfriend, a sweet caring shy man with real issues with violence, is determined to help. But, no. No rip-offs.
Questions? Annotations? Doubts? Insults? The comments section is opened directly below this post. See you in the next installment of Ending Explained in El Sabanero X.