I did not understand this scene in Unknown (2011) at all, an old guy called Rodney Cole rings up Ernst Jürgen and wants to meet. Ernst Jürgen then instead of using time between phone call and Rodney's arrival to escape, or even prepare a trap for Rodney, he does nothing but wait.

They're both old and would hardly resolve to a fight, even though Rodney probably would win due to sheer size over Ernst, yet a physical encounter never came to it as when Ernst tells Rodney he knows he is from "sector 15" he then takes cyanide powder and dies.

Why did Ernst Jürgen commit suicide??

  • 1
    This was a great scene... Jürgen had Cole figured out when Cole slipped and said he was teaching in Leipzig. When Jürgen had originally placed a call to Cole, he was supposedly with his family celebrating Thanksgiving. Jürgen looked very happy to meet his match with someone from 'Section 15'. Cole obviously knew everything about Herr Jürgen through his connections, and would have tracked him down and killed him anyway. As Jürgen stated 'Section 15' never failed in their missions. Jürgen was dying from cancer, and taking the cyanide was his last heroic effort as an 'old spy'. Herr Jürgen was ab
    – user5354
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:17
  • Great scene, great German STASI against section 15 head. Good ol way to go if you ask me. :-)
    – user6153
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 21:25
  • Even though Cole is American, why would it be imbossible for him to be teaching in Leipzig university in thanksgiving?
    – user21259
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 19:54

3 Answers 3


The answer is right there in the scene:

Cole turning to face Jurgen. Smile gone. Glint of a gun inside his jacket. Jurgen looking steadily back at him. Takes a deep gulp of coffee.

COLE: You had fifteen minutes after I called. Why didn't you run?

JURGEN: Where would I run from Section 15, Mr. Cole? I can hardly walk.

And then later on:

COLE: I want to know how he found you. I want every number, every source you've contacted on his behalf.

JURGEN: And then what? We shake hands and you go away?

Cole reaches a hand inside his jacket...

JURGEN (CONT'D): There's no need for that.

Beat. Cole's eyes flicker. Jurgen's body tightening... the coffee... the empty sachet of sweetener...

(From IMSDb.)

Cole may be an old man too, but he is armed and his ruthlessness is seen clearly enough in the later scene when he deals with Martin. Jürgen - the old Stasi man who is already dying of lung cancer - would rather die on his own terms than be interrogated then murdered.

I love that scene: two fantastic performances and a real air of mutual respect between old adversaries. To my mind it feels like a scene from a proper spy drama like Tinker Tailor grafted into an action thriller.

  • I get that he couldn't run away like he said he couldn't. Yet what was to stop him from laying a trap, or grabbing a gun himself to protect himself from at least Rodney? Its not like Rodney Cole barged in guns blazing. Just seemed like a very confusing pointless scene to me.
    – Jared
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 21:14
  • 2
    The film often makes a point of how frail he is: I guess he didn't fancy his chances in a gun fight. And you're right, Cole doesn't barge in guns blazing, but as the bigger, fitter man he has the clear advantage. For me the implied menace is far more effective than any kind of action scene would have been.
    – Mark
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 7:21

He was an ex spy so kept the cyanide in that tin behind the coffee incase he needed to kill hhimself instead of giving out any information that people such as Cole would have wanted.

He knew he wasn't going to get away when Cole phoned him so instead of trying to run and end up dead anyway, he got the kettle ready for his coffee, added the cyanide and committed suicide.


Suppose the key sentence was "where should i run from Section 15..." It looks like Jurgen decided there was no chance of escaping.

Also, suicide was probably the most pleasant option for him rather than being tortured or shot. He probably wants to protect Martin, too. I have a feeling Jurgen wants to help Martin. He also said "there's not much left in this world to interest an old spy like me", which sounds to me like he's kinda tired of life already. A combination of all these seems to be why he chose suicide.


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