Four character archetypes in Michael Mann's Collateral (2004)

. 2 min read

Disclaimer: all credit of this theory goes to my partner. When he was developing this theory, I only provided commentary.

Michael Mann's exceptionally perfect film Collateral from 2004 is a story of a taxi driver, who happens to get a contract killer as his customer one night. One unexpected turn of events right at the start changes the course of the entire night for the both of them, forcing the driver to re-evaluate his entire life.

The movie includes four character archetypes that the three main characters (Max, the taxi driver; Vincent, the contract killer; and Fanning, the detective) represent. The archetypes are distributed into a two-by-two matrix where the axes are disillusionment / illusion and no creative force / has creative force.

Here's what it looks like:

                                            Disillusionment                                 Illusion

No creative force    Vincent                                             Max at the start

Has creative force  Fanning                                            Max at the end

The dividing line between disillusion and illusion is metaphorized by the night (which neither disillusioned archetype survives). Vincent is a nihilist of sorts who can see the night for what it is, is indifferent of it, and takes advantage of it without doing anything meaningful (lack of creative force). Fanning sees the night for what it is and tries to solve its problems to the best of his ability (creative force).

Max, in the beginning, doesn't even admit that the night exists; he lives in denial. He thinks he has all the time in the world to start his limo business. He thinks it's happening just by looking at pictures of town cars (no creative force).

For Max, in the end, as the sun rises, a new illusion begins - a world where he lives fully and actually starts his limo business. He has gained a creative force to actually do it.

Before my partner figured this out and explained it out loud to me, I had always thought that this is just a story about Max, the taxi driver, and his character arc from someone who doesn't live into someone who lives. But that's such a shallow interpretation. Max might be the main character (due to the superior length of said character arc), but the story is much more complex than that.