Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Limits of Control

Go To

This is not a film about what happens. It's a film about arresting images, atmospheric sounds, and how they work together to create something beautiful.
— (Review by Christianity Today)

The Limits Of Control is a movie by Jim Jarmusch released in 2009.

A man without a name is given a mysterious assignment in an airport. He takes a plane to Madrid, goes to a high-rise flat, waits, goes to a café, orders two espressos in separate cups. He goes to a museum and stares at a painting of a violin. The next day at the café, a man with a violin case comes and asks him if he speaks Spanish. They exchange matchboxes. Inside the matchbox are instructions that he memorizes and then eats. He goes to the museum and stares at the painting of a nude woman.

Back at the flat, a naked girl with glasses waits for him. She asks if he likes her ass and suggests they have sex. He says, "Never while I'm working". The next day, at the café, a woman with a cowboy hat and a white-haired wig comes up and asks him if he speaks Spanish. They exchange matchboxes. She tells him, "The best films are like dreams we're never sure we really had." He gives the matchbox to the naked girl; it contains diamonds, which, we are reminded, are a girl's best friends.

He takes the train to Sevilla. A Japanese woman asks him whether he speaks Spanish. They exchange matchboxes. Instructions, etc. He goes to a hotel room and waits. He goes to a club and watches flamenco dancers rehearse. He goes to a café and orders two espressos in separate cups. A man with a guitar comes up and asks him whether he speaks Spanish. Matchboxes, etc. He keeps the guitar. He takes the train to a small village. A man with a cowboy getup asks him whether, etc. He gives the guitar. He is taken to an abandoned hamlet and given a map. He walks in the desolate landscape and arrives at a fortified and heavily guarded compound.

Back at the hamlet, the naked girl is asleep in a bed with a matchbox in her hand. He somehow infiltrates the compound. An angry executive type in a bunker asks him how he did it, and he says he used his imagination. Then he kills the man, using a string from the guitar. Then he goes back to Madrid, changes his clothes and disposes of them, and disappears.

Contains examples of:

  • Arc Words: Everyone asks the main character whether he speaks Spanish.
  • Black Helicopter: A convoy watched over by one appears as the Hitman observes the Compound.
  • The Cameo: Several of them: Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Bill Murray, etc...
  • Celibate Hero: The main character remains indifferent to the charms of the naked girl, even when she spends the night curled up against him.
  • Drone of Dread: Some of the soundtrack qualifies, as it contains songs Sunn O))), Earth, and Boris, three of the biggest bands in the genre of drone metal.
  • Epigraph: The film opens with a quote from Rimbaud: "As I descended impassible rivers / I no longer felt guided by the ferrymen."
  • Expy: The main character is a black hitman-for-hire who hardly ever speaks, maintains a poker face throughout the whole film, follows an Eastern philosophy and goes through life like a ghost. In other words, he's just like the main character of an earlier film by Jarmusch, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Which the actor was in.
  • Fanservice: The naked girl swimming, wearing glasses...
  • Foreshadowing: The paintings that the main character stares at provide clues as to his next encounter.
  • Hannibal Lecture - The American gives one to the hitman.
  • Hitman with a Heart: The main character. Though his demeanor remains coldly businesslike throughout the film, we are led to believe that he is motivated by (unspecified) noble intentions.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Played with. The main character wears three nearly identical suits in succession, until the very end when he puts on generic streetwear.
    • And let's not mention the naked girl's even more limited wardrobe. It consists of a completely transparent plastic raincoat and nothing else.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The Limits Of Control is the title of an essay by William Burroughs.
  • Lost in Translation: The first scene involves a man speaking in creole French and another man translating into English. But at one point he says "How could I translate that? It didn't make sense even to me!"
  • No Name Given: The main character, and in fact, every single other character.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The hitman manages to completely bypass a compound security entirely off screen.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: The American repeats just about everything the hitman's contacts discussed with him. May be a briefing method on part of the contacts.
  • Straw Nihilist: The American's rant at the end apparently touches on his plans on wiping out entertainment and fiction, as it "poisons" people's minds to reality, where nothing matters.
    • The song the hitman listens to directly after the hit has the lyrics of showing a man what life really is: worthless, like a handful of dust in a graveyard.
  • Toros y Flamenco: Mostly averted. The film's depiction of Spain is stripped down to a few undoubtedly Spanish but non-cliche locations. Though there is flamenco involved.
  • The Voiceless: The main character hardly ever speaks.