The final part shows us Carlos as a bit past his prime. With the end of Communism, the various countries where Carlos has set up camps aren’t as hospitable. The Middle Eastern countries are a bit embarrassed by his presence as well. There seems to be no place that will welcome him– except Sudan. He has lost control of his life. He begins to get a paunch. His life doesn’t have the excitement it once did. In time, Sudan will betray him and he will end up in a French prison.
Carlos isn’t so much the hero of the film as he is a tragic figure. There is a sense in which Carlos’s life parallels the life of many. While a young man he is focused on his career (bloody though it is). He is trying to prove himself – to his superiors and to himself. He may be in a bit more treacherous business than most of us, but he is on his equivalent of the corporate ladder. In part two, he is at the top of his game. He isn’t happy being an understudy; he wants to star. The fame and fortune that come to him, he believes, is his due. But soon he moves into middle age and the kinds of insecurity that follow. Although he still sees himself as the young gun of his youth, viewers can see that the fire isn’t there anymore. He was once a legend, but now no one will even talk to him. It is interesting to watch this career arc and see how similar Carlos’s experience is to so many other people.
Another point of interest is how idealism is treated in the film. Although Carlos can spout all the right words, he never seems to think they are very important. At times we see a more intense connection to idealism in some of the other characters, but compared to Carlos, they seem naïve and almost foolish. Carlos believes himself to be a Marxist involved in an international struggle. He and his colleagues often speak deridingly of the petit-bourgeoisie and imperialism. Yet they have no contact with the down-trodden they claim to be fighting for. Instead they live very comfortable lives. He and most of the other characters don’t notice that they have become the very thing they believe they are fighting against.
One of the advantages of a film of this length is that it allows you to see more than one side of a character. We are never sure if he is truly a player on the world stage or just a pawn. We wonder if in his womanizing he can honestly love any of the women in his life. He can be cruel, but can also be quite tender. He is pragmatic, but never really seems ready for the problems that come up. He is undisciplined, but expects total discipline from those under him.
In a lesser film, all this confusion of character might be a drawback. Here, though, it manages to give us a deeper look into this man that continues to represent some of the darkest aspects of humanity. That Carlos is so like us in many ways may make him a bit more understandable as a person, even if his actions are so abhorrent. The similarities may also give us a chance to see parts of ourselves in his character.