In the years following the release of ‘Taken,’ Liam Neeson’s action films have become their own subgenre. A little bit of suspension of disbelief is required when you watch these movies, but to be fair, that has always been true for most blockbusters. Neeson has built up a near-mythical screen persona with his selection of roles, becoming a pop-culture legend on par with the likes of Harrison Ford and Jackie Chan. In ‘Unknown (2011)’ he plays an academic who partially loses his memory after an accident. Desperately trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t, the character finds himself in the midst of an international conspiracy involving Arabian princes, new-age biotechnology, and assassins. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Unknown Plot Synopsis
The story begins with Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife Liz (January Jones) arriving in Berlin from the US. Martin is supposed to give a presentation at a biotechnology summit, which the Saudi Pince Shada (Mido Hamada) and Nobel laureate Professor Bressler (Sebastian Koch) will also attend. After getting to their hotel, Martin realizes that they have left a briefcase at the airport. As he goes to retrieve it, an accident occurs, and the taxi he is in falls into the Spree.
The driver, a Bosnian illegal named Gina (Diane Kruger), saves him. Martin wakes up at a hospital and learns that he had been in a coma for four days. His memory is all jumbled up. When he returns to the hotel, there is another man (Aidan Quinn) with Liz there, asserting that he is the real Dr. Martin Harris. Liz supports the second Martin’s claim and firmly states that she doesn’t know Martin, much to the latter’s dismay.
After Martin loses his consciousness, he is taken back to the hospital. He starts fearing that he has false memories. But when a mysterious assailant nearly kills him, he realizes that he is involved in something sinister and tries to find out more things about himself. In his pursuit of truth, he is helped by Gina and Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), an erstwhile Stasi officer turned private investigator.
Unknown Ending: Who is Martin Harris?
One of the most prevalent mysteries in the film is the identity of its protagonist. Director Jaume Collet-Serra introduces Martin as an academic who is extremely devoted to his wife. So, when she says that she doesn’t know him, his world starts crashing down, and he begins to think that he is losing his mind. However, when he survives the first attempt on his life, he becomes convinced that his brain isn’t lying to him, no matter what others are telling him.
It isn’t until he reunites with his colleague, Professor Rodney Cole (Frank Langella), that several truths about him are finally revealed. In a very Jason Bourne-esque scene, Martin discovers from Cole that he is a professional assassin. In Cole’s earlier conversation with Jürgen, it is heavily implied that the former is an operative for Section 15, a Europe-based, clandestine assassination outfit that has a perfect success rate.
Both Martin and Liz belong to the same organization. After they were hired to eliminate an important target at the seminar, they built up an elaborate backstory, according to which Martin is a highly accomplished researcher in his field, and he and Liz have been married for five years. He even established a professional relationship with Bressler through the internet before ever meeting him in person. However, after he has the accident and spends the next few days in a coma, the organization is forced to use the back-up. Martin starts to earnestly believe his own fabricated story during this period, thinking that Dr. Harris and Liz are real people. He confronts both the Other Martin and Liz multiple times and demands that they tell the truth.
Martin goes around Berlin asking questions and even employs Jürgen to ascertain his identity. Predictably, the organization realizes that Martin has become a dangerous loose end, and Cole comes to Berlin to clean up the mess. However, right when Cole and his accomplice are about to kill Martin, Gina arrives and runs over them with the taxi she stole earlier, killing them both.
Who is the Real Target?
Martin now has to face some devastating facts about himself. In the briefcase that he and Gina retrieve from the airport, there are multiple passports, each with different names, and papers that confirm what Cole said. Martin obsessively pursues the truth throughout the film, but it almost overwhelms him when it is finally revealed.
Gina comes to his rescue, making him understand that what he does now is more important than what he used to be. They come to believe that Section 15 is targeting Prince Shada. Martin recalls that he and Liz visited Berlin three months earlier and planted a bomb in the most expensive room in the hotel, knowing that the prince will rent it when he comes to the hotel for the seminar. Martin and Gina manage to convince the hotel security with the footage from three months back.
Martin always carries a notebook with him. He says that his father gave it to him, which was also a part of the backstory. In reality, it contains important information about the target. Martin eventually realizes that the target is not Prince Shada but Professor Bressler, who has developed a variety of corn that can grow in any climate and can potentially end world hunger. The codes they found on his notebook translate to Latin names of two flowering plants, Fairy Lantern and California Bay, which Martin and Gina deduce to be Bressler’s passwords. Unbeknownst to them, Liz has already accessed Bressler’s files and stolen all his research. After hotel security sounds the alarm, Liz goes to disarm the bomb. She knows that there is footage of her from three months earlier that can connect her to the bomb.
But it detonates before she can diffuse it, killing her. The Other Martin tries to kill Bressler, but Martin intervenes. After the explosion and another brain injury, he suddenly remembers everything and easily defeats and kills the Other Martin. Their client wanted a “clean” operation and Bressler’s formula for themselves. So, Martin planned to use the explosion to make people believe that Prince Shada was the real target,, and Bressler was collateral damage.
Although the film doesn’t explicitly say who the client is, it does make some implications. As Prince Shada and Bressler introduce their strain of corn to the world without a patent or copyright costs, the stocks of agriculture companies experience a severe fall. The owner of one of these companies likely hired Section 15 to kill Bressler and acquire his formula for themselves.
What Lies Ahead for the Two Protagonists?
The last time we see Martin and Gina, they have assumed new identities and get on a train together. Considering the reputation that Section 15 has, it is likely much bigger than what we are shown in the film. Martin and Gina might have to spend the rest of their lives on the run. Sooner or later, the organization will come for them. Fortunately, Martin’s memories have now returned almost completely, so they will be prepared if and when the next attack comes.
It is also implied that the two are now romantically involved. In the course of the film, Gina comes to care about Martin deeply. Even after he gives her the money that he promised he would for her help, she comes back to save him from Cole and the other Section 15 operative, risking her own life. On the other hand, Martin is nearly oblivious to any other woman but his wife for most of the movie. When he finds out that Liz is the one who informed Cole, he finally breaks free of the self-imposed delusion. Now, Martin and Gina, two incredibly lonely souls, can find their happiness together.
Read More: Where Was Unknown Filmed?