12 Questions For Kristen Stewart’s Character In American Ultra

By  · Published on August 21st, 2015


Even more than Rob, I enjoyed American Ultra quite a bit. It’s far-fetched and fuzzy in much of its logic, but it’s also funny and filled with a lot of sweet moments between leads Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. I recommend it, especially if you like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, 30 Minutes or Less and the clever characterizations of screenwriter Max Landis, who we now know was the better half of the team that made Chronicle. Go see it as soon as possible so you can read the rest of this post without being spoiled by its SPOILERS, which begin now.

In American Ultra, Eisenberg plays a stoner with crippling anxieties who turns out to be an asset of the US government, specifically a deadly super soldier along the lines of Jason Bourne, complete with the amnesia. Stewart has the role of his girlfriend, and she’s just as surprised to learn about the top-secret killing-machine identity hidden beneath his pot-fueled personality as he is. Or is she? Halfway into the movie, we learn she’s also a CIA agent. Or was (I think she tells him she is CIA, but then she turns out to be ex-CIA). In fact, she was his handler.

I kinda saw this twist coming, but it was still confusing given everything she did and said up until that point. That’s why I now feel compelled to pose some questions to her directly. The character, “Phoebe Larson,” that is, not Stewart. Or Landis, who I’m giving a pass to because he made me laugh out loud a bunch, and that isn’t common with new movies lately. Or the director, Nima Nourizadeh, for whom I have other kinds of questions (such as, should the movie look like it’s shot through a haze of smoke even when nobody is smoking anywhere near the scene?).

1. Did you really think you guys were going to get on that plane to Hawaii?

Even before the revelation, you knew Mike couldn’t attempt to leave town without constantly throwing up. But as an ex-CIA agent in charge of him you knew his situation and would have at least presumed he has a block put there by someone at Langley to keep him from going anywhere. Basically you just wasted money on two likely very expensive plane tickets.

2. Why did you get mad at him for it?

Maybe you thought you guys could beat the block this time and get on that plane, but then when it didn’t happen you shouldn’t have acted shocked, and you shouldn’t have gotten mad. Your poor boyfriend doesn’t have any idea what’s wrong with him. You can be disappointed without taking it out on him.

3. Where was that airport by the way?

It looked like a big airport you guys were at. I know it was really in New Orleans, but for the sake of the movie’s plot, was it supposed to be Charleston? Actually it doesn’t matter. The reason I ask is because Mike shouldn’t even be able to leave town, but there’s no way you were at the “Liman Airport,” because there’s no way that little town has its own airport. At least not one with direct flights to Hawaii.

4. Why were you so unfazed when Mike called and said he killed two guys?

At first you seemed to have just not been paying attention, although I think you’d be easily triggered if you ever heard your secret assassin boyfriend – whom you know is a secret assassin but he doesn’t know – say that he killed anyone. You ought to have been immediately alarmed by the fact that he’s clearly been activated.

5. Why weren’t you at least alarmed when you got to the scene?

Maybe over the phone you believed he might have just killed two guys trying to mug him out of self-defense. When you got to the convenience store parking lot, though, you had to have realized that he did perform super-solder maneuvers and that you needed the two of you to get the hell out of there. Even if you didn’t get that the two guys were also CIA assassins and that the government was looking to eliminate Mike (and you, but why they didn’t initially hunt you to is a question for them, for another day), you’d want to keep him safe from being found out or exposed.

6. Why didn’t you tell him about himself and/or yourself sooner?

When you got to the parking lot, why didn’t you immediately explain to him why he was able to so easily kill those guys? Or after the police station incident, when he felt like he was going crazy and thought he might be a robot? Or when you both were with possibly friendly drug dealers and could have explained the whole thing to everyone? And then you could have explained your own background and everything could make more sense, which might make everyone do more rational things.

7. Did you have a loyalty to the CIA?

But you quit and don’t care about them.

8. Were you mandated to uphold an agreement of keeping Mike from ever awakening from his super soldier slumber?

This seems plausible. When you quit your job with the CIA to go domesticated with their secret super soldier you had been handling and know too much about, surely they made you sign things stating you wouldn’t leave town, you wouldn’t tell anyone about yourselves and you wouldn’t tell him about himself. Makes sense.

9. But wouldn’t you also have been expected to phone into the CIA?

Even if you were no longer CIA, if you had some arrangement with them it would presumably have also involved calling them if he started showing signs he was activated or malfunctioning or whatever. If you’re not going to run, you’d have to tell. If you’re not going to tell, you’d have to run.

10. Why did you quit anyway?

So you were in love with the guy and you didn’t want to go back to Langley and leave him alone. You probably didn’t really need to, because if the CIA would let you quit and stay with their asset, they should have just not let you quit. Which leads us to…

11. Why did the CIA let you quit?

The CIA would have wanted you there, continuing to handle Mike and be in touch if need be. A life assignment, one that would easily keep you employed and paid in spite of your lack of doing much CIA work, a drop in the bucket compared to what was likely spent on him and the rest of the Ultra project. But you quitting and staying with him sounds sketchy. And you trying to go to Hawaii with him, well, who knows where you’d go from there? No, you’d better both be on a proper leash as far as National Security is concerned. Maybe wipe your memory, too, just to be safe.

12. Did you have to lie to Mike at all?

Everything turned out great in the end, with you and Mike surviving a government hit, getting engaged and winding up an international spy duo, but what if he had never forgiven you because you actually lied to him about who you are? Not just kept those top secret things about you being ex-CIA and he being a US-owned human weapon but actually lied to him about your background. Things that you didn’t have to lie to him about for the sake of the secrets. You didn’t need to tell him your parents are dead. You obviously don’t have much of a relationship with them anyway (or maybe you do but just by phone, not that there’s any reason for them not to visit you unless they know you’re CIA and might spill the beans and you’d rather they not do that, so could just tell them so), so why not just tell him that? You’re lucky that he forgave you.

Related Topics:

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.