Q: Can you explain the end of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" for me? Why did [spoiler] kill [other spoiler]?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

Sorry for tinkering with your question (get it?), but I had to protect anyone who hasn't yet seen the movie or read the book. So, if you haven't and you plan to, read no further.

If you have seen the movie and still don't understand the end, you're probably not alone. The two best words to describe 2011's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" would be "complex" and "subtle." It's not surprising that a Cold War-era spy drama would be complex, but you could argue that the intricate political plotting and conspiracy in the film are only excuses for a rich character study, all of which is communicated almost wordlessly. And so at the end, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong, "Temple") kills Bill Haydon (Colin Firth, "The King's Speech," 2010) as much for personal reasons as political ones.

Politically, Bill, an MI-6 secret agent, was selling secrets to the Soviets, and one of those secrets got Jim shot and tortured in Hungary. Jim wanted revenge against the traitor, and so shot him down with a sniper rifle. Fair enough. But why the single tear running down his cheek as he pulls the trigger?

Because, of course (except not of course, because this is never said outright), Jim was in love with Bill, and had been since they were at college together. This is only ever hinted at in the course of the movie, by meaningful glances at the Christmas party and the fact that Bill carries a photo of the two of them together, and so it's only at the end, with that tear, that the idea is confirmed.

At least, that's as close to "confirmed" as anything is in this movie. 


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