If the title of this article didn’t already warn you, there are major spoilers ahead as I try to answer the biggest question coming out of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE DEAD RECKONING PART I… is Ilsa Faust really dead? Please read at your own discretion.
I was not planning to write anything about MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING PART I because I knew anything I had to say about the movie was going to be spoilery. I was honestly in a very dark place and vowed never to see a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie again because they “killed” one of my favorite characters in movie history, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). On top of that, her death felt like an after thought, a minor blip on the radar with little reaction from the other characters.
But when I saw the movie a second time, I convinced myself maybe she didn’t die after all. Maybe this was a ruse to set up a surprising comeback in PART II. Below are the pieces of evidence I have that Ilsa may not actually be dead, followed by my theory as to what actually was going on. Hopefully my denial will help me make it through the next couple of years waiting for PART II.
The Evidence Ilsa Isn’t Dead
Something Felt Off… My biggest piece of evidence that Ilsa is alive isn’t factually based. I don’t know about you, but something just felt off about the way the film handled the death of one of its most important characters and a member of the “Core Four.” Ilsa has been a pivotal character in the franchise since her appearance in ROGUE NATION and has quickly become a fan favorite. However, when she is killed by Gabriel (Esai Morales) on the bridge, the film barely spends a minute of screen time paying tribute to her. Not only that, Ethan (Tom Cruise) doesn’t even really talk about or focus on her death after that; in fact, no one does. Other than Ethan half-heartedly vowing to get revenge, the reactions to Ilsa’s death are in response to Grace (Hayley Atwell) and feel a bit performative.
Another weird (but beautifully romantic) moment was when Ethan and Ilsa are canoodling on the rooftop. Ethan says, “This is my first time in Venice.” Ilsa agrees, “Me too.” I may be really reaching here, and don’t let this stop you from reading my other evidence below, but this interaction also felt out of place. You’re telling me two globetrotting spies have never been to Venice? And this is the only thing you say in this scene? I just wonder if this is going to come back up again in PART II.
And don’t even get me started on how quickly Ethan seemingly “moved on” with Grace. Ilsa is killed and five seconds later he is flirting with Grace on the train? Absolutely not. If this is canon, I rebuke it.
Bottom line: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE is one of my favorite franchises and I find it hard to believe that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and even Tom Cruise would handle Ilsa’s death so poorly on-screen; even my mom, who is not nearly as invested in this as I am, looked at me and said, “That’s it?” Something else has to be amiss… right?
“Stay Dead”: There are several moments in the movie that foreshadowed a potential return in PART II. The most obvious is in the Saudi Arabian desert when Ethan and Ilsa go up against bounty hunters that are trying to get a key from Ilsa that, when joined with another key, controls The Entity. At one point it seems like Ilsa was killed in the scuffle, but when Ethan discovers she is alive, he tells her to “stay dead.” Although she rejoins the Core Four in Venice, which seems to be against Ethan’s directive, could that statement be foreshadowing the bigger plan? Is Ethan once again using “death” to hide Ilsa from those that are coming after her?
“Nothing is real outside of this room”: When Ilsa rejoins the Core Four in Venice, she reveals that she knows more about Gabriel and The Entity than the others thanks to her continued relationship with some members of MI-6. The group starts coming up with a game plan of what to do against the all-knowing Entity. Ethan emphasizes that they are steeped in a world of lies and that “nothing is real outside of this room.” Was he implying that we as the audience also shouldn’t believe everything we see outside of that room?
The Entity Is Always Watching: In the Abu Dhabi airport, The Entity proved to the team that it was always watching them. It was able to manipulate security sensors to lore Benji (Simon Pegg) to the suitcase sorting area, where he had to decode personal puzzles in order to disarm what he thought was a nuclear bomb. It was also able to hack into their secure communications and make it appear Gabriel was somewhere he wasn’t. So the group should be accounting for overwatch/manipulation from The Entity at all times and planning their movements accordingly.
Maybe Ilsa’s “death” was a performance with The Entity as her audience, ensuring she “stayed dead” and could be used as a secret weapon of sorts in the future. After all, it shouldn’t have been that surprising when The Entity takes over the group’s comms and directs Ethan into a trap to delay him from saving Grace, therefore putting Ilsa in harm’s way. That should have been anticipated in the plan.
Fake Bridge Death Precedent: In the first MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) fakes his death by pretending to be shot on a bridge; Ethan is watching via video footage. Sounds a little familiar doesn’t it? The vibes of the scene are also very reminiscent of Ilsa’s death in DEAD RECKONING.
Thanks to Reddit user mshan95032 for pointing out this parallel!
Ethan Faked His Former Wife’s Death to Protect Her: In GHOST PROTOCOL, Ethan faked his wife Julia’s (Michelle Monaghan) death in order to protect her from the baddies that were after her. For the entire film, Ethan and the other characters make it appear that Julia was killed… until the ending when you find out the IMF faked her death. Ethan used his fictitious grief and revenge to infiltrate a prison to get more information on the film’s villain, Cobalt. Sound familiar?
Now how do I explain the large knife sticking out of Ilsa’s chest and her “dying” with her eyes open? I won’t lie; it’s tough. But stick with me here. I think The Core Four faked Ilsa’s death as part of a bigger, long-term strategy. They knew exactly what was going to happen when Ethan and Ilsa walked into the White Widow’s party. Years earlier, Gabriel killed Ethan’s girlfriend Marie and now he is threatening to kill another woman Ethan loves. It’s predictable; it’s part of Gabriel’s algorithm. So they set Ilsa up to “die” in front of Gabriel, The Entity, and Grace, making her a ghost on the chess board.
Why fake Ilsa’s death you ask? First, she will be able to move “invisibly” through the world because everyone (including the Entity) thinks she is dead. And in PART II she can come and save the day! Secondly, Ilsa performatively sacrificing herself for Grace made Grace finally decide to become part of the team and agree to help them fully. Before this, she was completely untrustworthy and constantly trying to escape; her loyalty was transactional. But with Ilsa’s death, Grace seemingly bought into the plan as a willing participant. I noticed that Luther and Ethan pretty much only talk about Ilsa’s death with/around Grace. Could this be evidence of them really trying to sell Ilsa’s death, fearing Grace is untrustworthy and actually working with The Entity/Gabriel?
I won’t go into the mechanics of exactly how Ilsa faked her death. Was she wearing a vest that prevented the knife from going all the way into her? Maybe. Did she practice keeping her eyes open for prolonged periods? Sure. But the bigger point here is that she looked dead to everyone, even us.
With all of this said, I am no longer in the dark place I was after my first watch. I have convinced myself that Ilsa is not in fact dead. Christopher McQuarrie has said there are some elements of PART I he will not discuss until after PART II… and if this is one of them (which it appears to be), I have even more hope. Mark my words, Ilsa will come in to save the day in PART II, surprising us all and proving the Core Four is really that, the most critical element of the entire franchise.