The Old Guard: the questions it asks, and what that ending means.
Warning: If you’ve come to this via a search engine, and don’t want to know what happens, leave now! My review is here.
First up, an overview. Immortals can die – they just stop healing and are no longer immortal. Andy realises she is no longer immortal when she stops healing.
We find out during a flashback that Quynh, Andy’s lost love, was thrown overboard during the witch trials, encased in a metal coffin, destined to repeatedly drown and reanimate forever, something that would surely drive her to madness. Andy had looked for her for years on the seabed, but had been unable to locate her and had then given up.
Copley is working for Merrick and has been told to bring in all the Immortals – he’s driven by altruism (he wants to help find a cure for killer diseases) because of his wife’s death from ALS. After helping bring them in, he finds out Merrick plans to keep hold of the Immortals and lock them in a vault for ever; they will be his “proprietary data”.
Nicky and Joe are kidnapped and taken to be experimented on by Merrick’s scientists.
Nile decides to walk away from the team when she, Andy and Booker are about to ambush Copley. Andy gives Nile a handgun that Booker has just given her; Nile leaves for the station, but when she gets there discovers the gun is empty and realises Andy has been set up.
It’s Booker who betrays Andy, because he thinks if Merrick can find out why they are immortal he might also find out how they can die, and he’s sick of living. He turns her over to Copley and shoots her. Andy has been losing her immortality, and doesn’t heal, but isn’t dead.
Merrick has them taken back to his HQ. Nile arrives there and frees all four Immortals as they’re experimented on. They fight their way out and Nile kills Merrick by throwing herself out of a window, pushing him first. Landing on a car below, she returns to life and the five of them leave.
Copley shows them the wall of articles, papers and yellowing photos of them that he’s collected from the last 150 years, showing the good the Immortals have done in every conflict. He’s also followed family trees of people whom they saved and discovered huge benefits for mankind brought about by them and their descendants.
Andy tells Copley he will now have to work for them, erasing their every footprint so they can continue their work.
Later we see the team drinking in a 500-year-old London pub on the shores of the Thames; Andy, Nicky, Joe and Nile are deciding on Booker’s punishment for betraying them. The final decision is that he must leave, but they will all meet up at the same spot on that day in 100 years’ time.
Booker tells Andy he hoped for less but expected more – he knows being alone is worse than death. Then we jump six months ahead, and a drunk Booker staggering back to his lonely flat. Inside is Quynh, who tells him she has been wanting to meet him.
Presumably this is setting us up for sequels, with two factions of Immortals (one good, one bad). (Unless they are prequels! I haven’t read the graphic novels The Old Guard is based on and don’t know what ground they cover or how closely the first film sticks to the plot.)
Nile is reinvigorating them, and may well come up with different answers to the questions that their immortality raises – the others have been living this life so long and even immortals may fall victim to group think. Perhaps she will add a different spin as well as giving the group new oomph in their fight for good.
I talked about utilitarianism in my review – the idea that the right course of action is one which brings the greatest utility, or happiness, to the greatest number. Merrick uses it as a justification for what he’s going to do (though in reality is only in it for the money and the glory). Copley genuinely believes it.
What I thought was interesting was that Copley had a great list of examples where the Immortals saving one person had exponentially good effects later on. But like I said in my review, there’s no mention of saving someone who might (or whose descendent might) become a dictator, torturer or master criminal, adding more pain to the world.
Maybe their immortality includes some kind of innate understanding of what is a beneficial action, or maybe it’s saying that good is an absolute and not in fact century-dependent (Nile asks early on if they are the good guys, and she’s told, half-jokingly, that it depends which century they’re in).
While Andy herself wonders if they are even doing any good in the grand scheme of things I don’t recall her feeling melancholy because they might have inadvertently done harm; though by the end she has renewed vigour in their purpose and even suggests to Booker that she might see him in 100 years, when he is allowed to rejoin them.
Or maybe any sequel will have her grappling with her mortality – there’s a sweet scene in The Old Guard where for the first time she has to depend on someone else to help her heal, when a caring woman pharmacist offers to dress a wound on her shoulder.
I also wondered about their ages; presumably they remain the age they were when they were first killed (Booker tells Nile in the abandoned mine that she will always be the young woman he sees before him).
Or maybe, being an entertaining two hour movie, it simply doesn’t answer every question…
It is, after all, the areas in the shadows that are often most interesting and make us think – which is why I find Booker the most intriguing of all the Immortals. We find out so little about him and he seems so lonely.
The Old Guard is streaming on Netflix now