Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One director Christopher McQuarrie recently explained his decision behind killing off one of the major characters in the Mission: Impossible franchise.
Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust is killed off in the film during a duel with Esai Morales’ Gabriel on a bridge in Venice. Her death was predicted by Gabriel who taunts Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt informing him that either Faust or Hayley Atwell’s Grace will be killed.
Faust ends up saving Grace who ran right into the clutches of Gabriel after fleeing a nightclub. After Gabriel throws Grace from the bridge, Faust shows up with a sword and attempts to kill Gabriel, who wields one of Grace’s knives. Gabriel comes out the victor.
Ferguson’s Faust has been a mainstay in the franchise. She first appeared in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation back in 2015. She would appear again in Mission: Impossible – Fallout in 2018.
Speaking with USA Today, McQuarrie noted her death was “a really tough decision.” However, he went on to explain why it needed to occur, “But it was one we knew we had to make for the movie to have stakes and for the movie to remain Mission.”
He continued, “Mission is primarily Ethan’s journey (and) there is this continuum that the people closest to him, he tends to lose them. It was a really tricky conversation for us to have, and we knew that there would be some reactions to that, but we also knew this is the reality of the world that’s been created over seven movies.”
In all honesty, it’s debatable on whether her death was necessary to have stakes. The two opening sequences provide the stakes where they show a Russian submarine’s new artificial intelligence, technology destroy the submarine it is housed in. Following this sequence a giant exposition dump occurs where it’s revealed just how dangerous this new artificial intelligence — or the Entity as the movie refers to it — is and if it is controlled by any number of nefarious entities it can reshape the entire world by manipulating what the truth is.
You don’t need a character death to increase the stakes, they are already there.
Rather, in the actual film Faust’s death is more of a test of Hunt’s convictions. To compare the film to Dune, it’s his Jom Gabbar test to determine whether he will be ruled by his emotions or he will stick to his principles.
The film makes this very clear as both Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell and Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn point this out to him. He has to ensure that Gabriel does not die because Gabriel claims to have information about the Entity’s whereabouts and Hunt will need that information if he plans to destroy it.
Hunt already has personal motives to want vengeance against Gabriel as the movie reveals Gabriel previously killed a woman who was close to him and pinned the murder on him. That murder accusation led Hunt to join the Impossible Mission Force (IMF). With Faust’s death he has even more of a motive to want vengeance against Gabriel.
In fact, Stickell speculates Gabriel was chosen specifically by the Entity to try and entice Hunt into killing him in order to protect its whereabouts even if Hunt is able to acquire the key that unlocks the Entity’s physical location in the submarine.
Thus part of the impossible mission at the end of the film, not only requires Hunt, Grace, and Dunn to recover the full key, but they also want to keep Gabriel alive, and discover more information about the Entity specifically where it is located.
So you’ve got not only the physical mission that is typical of Mission: Impossible films, but they also incorporate a spiritual and mental challenge as well. It’s a callback to the first Mission: Impossible film where Hunt is faced with a number of moral choices as he’s being framed and hounded by the CIA with the biggest making a deal with arms dealer Max Mitsopolis that would expose the identities of numerous undercover CIA agents and put them in mortal peril.
What do you make of McQuarrie’s explanation about the death of Ilsa Faust?