Sunday, March 27, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Early on in this 1948 film directed by John Huston, Howard (Walter Huston) talks about how the search for gold ignites an all-consuming fire inside a man, his greed always wanting more, never satisfied with his original declarations of what would be sufficient. While the man just wants to take the gold, the desire for the precious metal takes his soul. But, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) questions if the gold changes a man or whether the man is already soulless. The movie explores these arguments by following three men who go off prospecting together.
We find Dobbs broke in a Mexican town. Shots are more important than words many times in a screenplay, and the look of Dobbs coveting a thrown away cigarette in the street conveys how destitute he is. He begs for money, and receives gold coins three times from an American (John Huston). The gold currency emphasizes for Dobbs what he doesn’t have, and what he needs to get in order to be on the other side of the begging situation. However, when he cleans himself up with the money he received, he dismisses the Mexican boy who tries to get him to buy a lottery ticket. So, we can see immediately that Dobbs is a taker, not a giver. He succumbs to the boy’s persistence, purchases the cheapest ticket, and eventually wins a small amount on the number he thought would be unlucky, thirteen. He now feels himself to be fortunate, and uses the money to help buy the gear and supplies needed to search for gold with Walter and another impoverished American by the name of Curtin (Tim Holt), who joined Dobbs doing some strenuous work for a cheating boss. These early scenes demonstrate how poor these men are, and why they would go to extremes to better their lot in life. As it eventually turns out, the lottery number is not lucky for Dobbs.
Walter is an older man who caught the gold prospecting bug a long time ago. He knows the pitfalls of the greedy pursuit, has gained and lost fortunes, and continues on these type of adventures anyway. But, he has a philosophical way about him that tempers the search for wealth with an enjoyment of the prospecting itself. He says they want to go where few have traveled since that is where undiscovered gold most likely will be. But, this fact also means that they must go where there is no civilization, where there are bandits and the dangers of being out in the wild. There, they are tested to see if they can maintain their humanity. Dobbs is surprised how difficult the trip is. He is not prepared for this trip. He can’t even saddle his burro properly. He thought it would be easy money. As he says, he expected that he would just pick gold nuggets off of the ground and bring them to a bank. Instead they have to dig a mine and rig up a water stream to flush out gold dust. Howard had said before that gold was valuable not because it was rare, but because it represents how much work so many men performed to find it and dig it up. Obviously, Dobbs’ personality does not allow him to appreciate the scarifies he must make to get what he wants.
He and Curtin find pyrite and think they discovered large chunks of the precious metal. But, Howard points out that it is just “fool’s gold.” Perhaps the desire for huge amounts of wealth is a foolish mission, instead of seeing what is really important. When they wash off the sand to see better what they think is gold, Howard points put that water is more valuable than what they seek under the circumstances. A very revealing scene about the characters in the story takes place when they talk about what they will do with their fortunes. Curtin remembers how much he enjoyed being on a peach farm when he was younger where people liked being around growing things, and thinks he will become a fruit farmer. Howard says he will be done with prospecting and maybe open up a hardware store. Each sees himself content immersed in a simple life. Not so Dobbs. He sees himself relishing a life of excess. He will buy the most expensive clothes, and order everything on a fancy restaurant’s menu. He will then send the food back as unacceptable, even if it is excellent. Dobbs is an example of the corruption of wealth on those who use it to lord it over the less fortunate.
Dobbs’ greed starts to warp his mind. He sees treachery wherever he looks, thinking that the other two men want to steal his stash, He refuses to go into town for supplies because he is paranoid about being away from his gold. His lust for the metal makes him want to divide up the gold as they acquire it, unlike the trusting Curtin, who says they can get their portions when they finish their work. Dobbs begins talking to himself about the conspiracy against him. Even though Curtin saved Dobbs’ life in a cave-in, Dobbs greediness has poisoned his mind and he thinks Curtin is after his portion of gold. Curtin goes to town instead, and another American, Cody (Bruce Bennett), follows him back to the prospectors’ camp. He wants to become a partner. He is a guest for the night, but when Hobbs wakes up the next day, he accuses Cody of stealing their water. Cody says he thought he was among civilized men. Dobbs then says “Who’s not civilized?” and then precedes to show how he has become uncivilized by punching Cody.
Dobbs convinces the others to follow him down the barbaric path by saying that Cody is a threat who will make each of their future shares amount to less, and who may divulge their luck to claim jumpers. The three men are ready to shoot Cody when bandits, who say that they are government soldiers, led by a man they call Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya), whose name signifies the same desire for wealth, attack them. Gold Hat’s famous line that they do not have to show “no stinking badges” points to the absence of civilized laws in this wilderness where selfishness reigns. The bandits kill Cody while he is, ironically given what the prospectors have planned for him, helping to defend the other three. They discover a letter from Cody’s wife which says he was a poor farmer with a child. She misses him. Her words annunciate the theme of the film. In the letter, she says, “No treasure, no matter how great, is worth this separation.” Their love and family are worth more than gold. She has decided that they, “already found life’s true treasure.” But the selfish Dobbs, only thinking about his own skin, responds to Cody’s death with the complaint that now they have “one less gun” to help fight off the bandits. In contrast, Howard and Curtin’s response is that they want to give up a portion of the gold to Cody’s widow.
The real Mexican soldiers show up and drive off the bandits. Some villagers seek help from Howard, who has some medical knowledge, to save a boy who is unconscious after almost drowning. He saves the boy, and the tribe requires that he accept their hospitality, or else, they believe, the spirits will be angry. Howard goes off with the villagers, trusting the other two men to take the burros, supplies, and the gold to Durango. Dobbs at first gripes that they have to be burdened with Howard’s belongings, but then proposes that they take his gold. Curtin says he will protect Howard’s share. Dobbs then thinks that Curtin wants it all for himself, and shoots Curtin. He thinks the man is dead, but Curtin drags himself off. Dobbs must now confront his demons, trying to quell his conscience, afraid to bury Curtin, fearing that his accusing eyes will still be open. Huston then provides an image of Dobbs’ camp fire building to a symbolic raging blaze, indicating the hell in which Dobbs now resides.
On his own, Dobbs looks exhausted and ill from the toll the trip to Durango takes on him. His greed was about getting gold for himself, and now all he has left is himself, with no help from others. He runs into the bandits again. He doesn’t mention the gold, and says he is on his way to sell the burros. Gold Hat recognizes him as one of the men who shot at his gang, and he then kills Dobbs with a machete. They dump the bags of gold dust, thinking they are filled with sand that will make the burros seem heavier, thus fetching a higher price. When the bandits reach town, the brands on the animals’ hides show them to be thieves. They are executed by the soldiers. So they, along with Dobbs, are examples of how self-destructive greed can be. They are the ones whose ways are fertile soil for greed to grow and take over their souls. Curtin and Howard, although desirous of wealth, hold onto their civilized humanity.
Howard is living a life of ease as the villagers pamper him. The villagers come across the wounded Curtin, and bring him to Howard, who, with the help of others, nurse him back to health. The idea that “it takes a village” of people for all to get by in life is illustrated here. The two men learn that Dobbs was killed. They go to the site of his death in a wind storm, and all the gold has been blown away. Howard laughs heartily, seeing it as a big cosmic joke, where their folly has been exposed by the universe.
Earlier, Howard said that they had to fill up the mine they dug because they must heal the wound in the mountain that they inflicted. Now, at the end of the tale, nature has taken back what the men thought would bring them happiness, but which obscured what was really precious in life. Curtin gets the message, and joins in the laughter. He will go visit Cody’s widow, maybe becoming a farmer there. Howard will live a happy retirement in the embrace of the worshipful villagers. Their last words are to wish each other “luck” – not as for monetary gains but for what really counts in life. The title of the film emphasizes that the “treasure” belongs to the land, not men, and that humans should seek a less materialistic type of reward.
Next week’s film is Syriana.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Director David Lean was a maker of intelligent epics about culture clashes and the conflicted characters that mirrored those battles within themselves. Sometimes the war was within a single country, such as in Doctor Zhivago, and sometimes between very different civilizations, such as in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and in this 1962 Oscar winning film.The movie begins with Lawrence’s death in a motorcycle accident in 1935 in England and his subsequent memorial service. Many people are asked who the man was, which turns out to be a difficult question, since he combined so many often opposing characteristics. One man, the reporter Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy), who covered Lawrence’s exploits, says “he was a poet, a scholar, and a mighty warrior. He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum and Bailey.” The film explores these different facets. The title of the movie suggests the two worlds which collide in this story. T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole in probably the most impressive film debut ever) is a British officer who assigns himself the task of bringing together the disparate Bedouin tribes to form a united Arabia. He tries to accomplish this goal during World War I when the British explore the possibility of helping Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks. We quickly verify Bentley’s opinion that Lawrence is well-read by his learned references. He also voices a craving for a chance to exhibit his abilities. He receives his opportunity when the military assigns him the task of assessing Prince Faisal’s situation.
When Lawrence meets Faisal he says he has allegiance to England and other things, which in this case is the freedom of the Arab people. Faisal questions this split loyalty. He says, “The English have a great hunger for desolate places. I fear they hunger for Arabia.” Lawrence tells him that he must deny the English his land. So, Lawrence does go rogue when it comes to the British agenda. But, Faisal is an insightful man, and tells Lawrence, “I think you are another of these desert-loving English.” That is why Lawrence doesn’t “go native,” converting to the Arabic way of life. He is an Englishman, and the English have a long history of pursuing imperialism. This predisposition includes a condescension toward the peoples in the colonies, thinking that the rulers are the civilized ones who know what’s best for those they lord over.
Lawrence shows this condescending attitude in his superior posturing, even if it is for admirable reasons. In his first meeting with The Bedouin leader, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), he says, “So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people – greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.” But, his egoism exhibits a private imperialism which goes beyond the influence of his countrymen’s ways. He says that the Arabs should have their freedom, but he patronizingly states, “I am going to give it to them.” He at one point says that he comes from a fat country with fat people, but that, “I’m different.” He reveals his extreme self-centered nature and exhibitionism, and his potential to be a warrior, on several instances. When he lets a burning match singe his fingers, an act he has performed before, he says he is able to do it because the trick is not minding the pain, which he feels he can rise above. He is shot by a Turkish soldier in the arm after leading the Arab tribes in blowing up a Turkish train. When asked if he is hurt, he says not at all: “They can only kill me with a golden bullet.” He says to Ali, “Do you think I am just anybody, Ali? Do you?” And when questioned by another Arab tribal leader, Auda Abi Tayi (Anthony Quinn) about the recklessness of crossing the Sinai desert, Lawrence shows his megalomaniac perception of himself by comparing himself to Moses. (He even isolates himself in the desert, like a biblical hero, purifying his resolve, when deciding his course of action). Auda breaks Bentley’s camera because, as Lawrence says, he believes it will steal the Arab’s soul, which may be a cautionary reference to how the seduction of fame can undermine one’s moral center. But, Lawrence has no problem being photographed, as he strides over the derailed train, above the others, his enlarged shadow literally overshadowing his followers.
His hubris can be dangerous, however. He thinks he can infiltrate a Turkish fortified town, despite his blonde, blue-eyed fair-skinned appearance just by wearing Bedouin dirty clothes (more condescension). When going through the city’s streets he says to Ali that there is nothing to worry about because he is “invisible.” This self-delusion of invincibility gets him caught by the men of the sadomasochistic Turkish Bey (José Ferrer), whose persistent cough is symbolic of his diseased nature, and who strips off Lawrence’s upper clothing and fondles him. When Lawrence hits the Bey the latter orders him brutally beaten. This incident so humiliates Lawrence that he no longer considers himself extraordinary, and just wants to be an ordinary soldier. But the British General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) wants to use Lawrence, so he flatters him and brings his egoism to the fore once again. However, his hunger for hero worship blinds Lawrence from recognizing how it can lead to abusive power. He subsequently gives in to his blood-lust when he needlessly goes out of his way to lead his men in the slaughtering of Turks on the way to Damascus.
Lawrence does show how he is truly an extraordinary person, brave and a born leader who actually does care about the Arabs. He wins the admiration of the Bedouins, including Ali, who slowly shows respect for Lawrence, and eventually admires him, honoring him by giving him his tribe’s robes after burning the soldier’s British uniform and thus symbolically showing the substitution of Arabia for England. For instance, despite his recent exposure to the desert, Lawrence will not drink water until the others drink. He shows amazing daring when he leads the Arabic tribes in crossing a brutal desert to conquer Aqaba by land. He rescues a man against all odds who has fallen from his camel in a punishing expanse of desert. (It is ironic that in order to keep the peace between the tribes Lawrence executes the man he saves because the man committed murder, showing that Lawrence must give life and take it away in a God-like manner). Ali admits that Lawrence is one of those rare fate-defying men for whom, “nothing is written unless they write it.” But, despite his charasmatic presence, he is not able to unify the tribes in Damascus so that they will not come under British rule following the defeat of the Turks. Both the British and Faisal used Lawrence to overthrow the Turks, but they now must negotiate and compromise, because Faisal needs the help of England for practical matters, and England wants the Arabs under their colonial influence. Faisal tells Lawrence, “There’s nothing further here for a warrior.” After the war is waged, “old men make the peace.” And the vices of old men are “mistrust and caution.”
Lawrence’s usefulness is at an end to those who are really in charge. His vision of a united, independent Arabia, a place which he said he loved, is now a fleeting realization. Lawrence rides in a staff car to go back to England. The driver says to Lawrence that the promoted colonel is going “home.” But, Lawrence has no true home now, at odds with his country of birth, and exiled from his land of opportunity. A motorcycle passes the car Lawrence is in, an omen of the nothingness that awaits him.
The next film will be The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from this 2005 film directed by Bennett Miller. It not only illuminates the connection between the two main characters but also points to the duality in what author Truman Capote saw existing in America. In the quote, Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman in an Oscar-winning performance) responds to his life-long friend, author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) about his feelings for convicted killer Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.). He says, “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.” Although Capote steered away from the criminal possibilities inherent in that house that Smith could not escape, they both retained the potential for redemption and perdition.
Capote originally was just going to do a New Yorker piece about the effect on the townspeople following the killing of the Clutter family in Holcomb Kansas by two men. But when he sees Perry, his focus centers on the criminal himself, and the quote above shows how he sees similarities between the two. He says he wanted to write about the horrific murders because, “two worlds exist in this country: the quiet conservative life, and the life of those two men - the underbelly, the criminally violent. Those two worlds converged that bloody night.” But there is a convergence of these two worlds within both Perry and Capote, too. On the surface, Perry appears vulnerable (he has painful legs), almost sensitive with a quiet voice, and a victim. He uses words like “effectuate,” “mendacious,” and “exacerbate,” in an attempt to show that he is an intellectual. But these words sound pretentious and forced in the contexts of his situation. His history does not allow him to gain social acceptance. Perry is part Cherokee, so at that time, he is an outsider. His mother was an alcoholic. One of his sisters and a brother committed suicide. Capote, an acclaimed writer who associates with celebrities and dresses fashionably, has his underside. He confesses that his mother wandered around with him as a child, chasing men. She locked him in a hotel room in their travels. His mother eventually abandoned him, and later killed herself. His aunts in Alabama raised him, and that is where he met Lee. He, too, is an outsider, because of his short stature, high-pitched voice, and the fact that he is gay.
These traumatic histories behind their facades create dark undersides in these two people and engender deadly behaviors. When Capote first meets Perry, he is in a holding cell. The criminal asks for aspirin for his legs. As the author hands him the pain killer, he says if Capote came too close, he could kill him. Perry’s other sister later tells Capote not to be taken in by Perry’s surface sensitivity and hurt looks. She says he would as easily kill someone as shake hands with him. When Perry finally tells Capote about the night of the killings, his duality is evident when he describes his actions. He says that he stopped his partner, Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) from raping the Clutter daughter. He also says that he tried to make Mr. Clutter more comfortable, and even though Hickock said there should be no witnesses, Perry hoped that they could just leave the family tied up. But, he says that he saw in Mr. Clutter’s eyes that there was fear there, and Perry could not be redeemed. So he played out what was to him his destined role. He reveals his conflicting personality when he says, “I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.” Capote, while looking at photos of the victims, saw that there was a pillow placed under the boy’s head, and the young girl was tucked in while in her bed, as if there was a gentleness existing in the midst of the terror. But, Perry then went through the house and shot the rest of the family, almost in anger that he could never be part of the legitimate world, and wished to obliterate these members of a society that judged him unworthy.
Capote, too, has an egotistical, self-serving, manipulative, and in the end, destructive personality. He says in a story about writer James Baldwin that one should just be honest. He says to Lee that he doesn’t lie. But, he is constantly deceitful. He bribes a train porter to say how great a writer he is. He acts like he cares about the people of Holcomb, but is only there for his book, whose prime purpose is to garner him more fame. He is able to ingratiate himself with the Holcomb residents, changing his clothes to fit in, bringing gifts and flattering those who can help him in his research. He uses his celebrity to get close to the investigator of the case, Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) through the man’s wife. Lee and Capote’s lover, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) are the moral chorus in the film, calling Capote on his lies. She realizes that he bribed the porter. When he says that there wasn’t anything he could have done to save the convicts, Lee says, “Maybe not. But the fact is, you didn’t want to.” She knows that that their executions supplied a dramatic ending for his book, which he wanted finished so he could gain literary success. Capote didn’t want the two to die before he could get his information to write his book. So, he pretends to care about the killers’ defense to gain favor with Perry by finding him a good lawyer. After he tells Jack that he wants to find the two inmates the lawyer, his insightful life companion responds by saying, “You’re finding yourself a lawyer.”
The person Capote is most untruthful with is Perry. He acts like his friend, feeding him baby food when Perry is starving himself in jail. Of course, Capote doesn’t want him to die before he can get the story from him for his book. He says to Perry he doesn’t have a title for the book, when he already has told Dewey that it will be “In Cold Blood,” (a title which can refer to capital punishment as well as the acts of the killers) because he wants to continue to have Perry think that he is writing the story to champion the convict’s cause. When Perry asks if he can read what he has written, Capote again lies because he doesn’t want Perry to know its content. He tells him that he hasn’t written hardly anything, even though at that point it is two-thirds finished. He tries to get Perry to open up about the night of the killings by acting like he is forging a reconciliation with his sister. He brings family photos and says that his sister misses him – another lie. When he wants the closure needed to end his book which result from the executions of the criminals, he stays away from Perry, and doesn’t provide any legal help in their appeal, writing to Perry that he couldn’t find another lawyer. At an earlier point when Capote visits him, Perry says that Hickock is not to be trusted. But, it is the man right in front of him that he should realize is untrustworthy.
Those that lie usually do so for selfish reasons. And this film depicts Capote of having a self-centered, egotistical nature. He loves holding court for all his admirers. When he does a reading he wants to know why he hasn’t heard praise from someone, and wants to be assured that Tennessee Williams liked what he wrote. He says he wants to return the Clutter son to the realm of humanity through his writing, which sounds praiseworthy, but it also shows that he sees himself as being God-like, capable of resurrection. He brags about having a 94% recall of spoken conversation, which Lee mocks at point because of the times he brings this boast up. When she asks him if he liked the movie version of her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, he says out loud to himself “I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” which shows how he can’t even be happy for his friend, who helped him research his book, but who is now a literary competitor. He is so wrapped up himself he forgets that Lee is visiting him and Jack in Spain right after she has become famous, and he neglects Jack, who is supposed to be the love of his life. His selfishness eclipses the misery of others. He at first says to Dewey that he doesn’t care about who they arrest for the murders, to which Dewey replies, “I care.” When he relates to Jack about seeing the bodies of the victims, he emphasizes only how it will always affect him. As the two on death row wait for their deaths, Capote says how he is being “tortured,” waiting for their deaths so he can finish his book.
But, there is that other civilized, human part of Capote that made him walk out that front door. He breaks down in tears when he visits the two at the time of the execution, after Perry humiliated him by forgiving the writer for being out of touch for so long. There is a sequence earlier in the movie where Capote brought in photographer to take stills of the convicts. One of the pictures is of Perry on the left and Capote on the right, (symbolic of their back and front door paths?) Miller’s shot emphasizes the connection between these two seemingly different people. That empathy with Perry and the experiences of his literary journey took an enormous toll on Capote’s conscience, and he never finished another book. The epigram that was to appear at the beginning of his unfinished work was, “More tears are shed for answered prayers than for answered ones.” That sounds very much like be careful what you wish for, you may get it. In Cold Blood brought its author enormous fame and critical acceptance. Just as he hoped, it changed how people write, and it still does. But, Truman Capote paid for his sins and his success by dying of complications of alcoholism in 1984.
The next movie is Lawrence of Arabia.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
As one can see by reading some of the posts on this blog, I am partial to movies that contain irony. I suppose I am drawn to these types of motion pictures because irony explores the rich contrasts and contradictions in human behavior. There certainly is a great deal of those complexities in this Martin Scorsese directed Oscar-winning film.
There are two main characters here. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a cadet at the Massachusetts’ State Police Academy who has family on his father’s side with connections to crime. His uncle was killed because of his criminal associations. However, his father remained inside the law, working as a bag handler. His mother’s side of the family was more upscale. Costigan is a smart fellow, receiving high scores on his SAT tests, and later we hear him quote Nathaniel Hawthorne. He wants to escape the dark shadow cast by his family by becoming a state trooper. He has an interview with Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) of the Special Investigation Unit run by Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin). Dignam rips into Costigan, referring to his family and the fact that the young Costigan has a temper and was arrested for assault. The Staff Sergeant ridicules him for his hypocritical split life, living upper-middle class during the week and then dropping his “R’s” when he returned to the Southie projects in Boston on the weekends. The irony here is that Costigan wants to rise above criminality, leave his family legacy behind, by using his intelligence to accomplish that, and these men tell him he will never be a cop because he is too smart, and he’ll always be associated with crooks. They use him as a covert operative to infiltrate the Irish criminal gang run by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). But, in order to carry out this job, they force him into becoming the one thing he doesn’t want – a criminal. He is dismissed from the state police and it is made to look like he is convicted of assault, which is in keeping with the past he wanted to distance himself from. To keep his mission from being leaked, only Queenan and Dignam know that he is undercover. When Costigan gets out of prison, he connects with a cousin who deals drugs and eventually comes to the attention of Costello, who knew his family.
The other main character is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). As a youth he encountered Costello, who saw how smart he was (the boy knows a quote from James Joyce, and later identifies a quote from Freud). Costello exploited the boy’s poverty (his father was a janitor) by lavishing groceries on him, promising that there was more where that came from. Sullivan’s family was poor, but law-abiding. The criminal Costello must turn a legitimate person into a mole to work for him inside the police. Because of Sullivan’s supposedly squeaky clean background, Queenan ironically tells the new detective that he will have a successful career inside the police force, which is supposed to protect the people from someone like Sullivan. There is more irony when at one point Ellerby says Sullivan has an immaculate record, like himself, which people don’t trust, probably because it is too good to be true, which in this case it is. The world has become so corrupt that a seasoned captain like Ellerby can’t even see a crooked cop right in front of him.
So, what we have here are mirror images in the characters of Costigan and Sullivan. The former has a shady family background and must pretend to be a criminal to work for law and order. The latter works for a criminal boss, but pretends to be a legitimate policeman, ironically hunting down the person he works for, Costello. To pile on the irony, because Sullivan alerts his hoodlum boss to police tails and raids, it becomes obvious to the cops that there is a mole; and who do they pick to find the traitor in their midst – Sullivan! He literally is investigating himself. In any case, each character must live a life of lies in order to “rat” on the people who supposedly employ them.
Other characters also are involved in deception. Madolyn (Vera Famiga), who is the psychiatrist Costigan must see as part of his parole, also counsels policemen. She begins to date Sullivan, moves in with him, and they become engaged. (There is a bit of contrived plotting here that the two men become involved with the same woman). In one of Costigan’s session Madolyn confronts him about not being honest, but he turns the tables on her and says he knows that all people, including her, lie. When he no longer is her patient, they see each other socially. In one meeting, she says people lie to keep things on an even keel. When he asks her if her boyfriend saw them together would she lie, and she says, yes. She says that people should decide things and stick with their decisions. But, she knows there are problems with her decision to be devoted to Sullivan. He is secretive, and is impotent with her, which is an indication that living two lives is placing a strain on him. (Costigan also feels like he is going to crack because of his split lifestyle, and can’t sleep and has panic attacks). Madolyn sleeps with Costigan, so she too, lives a double life, acting like she is committed to Sullivan, but harboring doubts about their relationship, and cheating on him. When Sullivan asks her why is she doing the work she does when with her background she could get paid much more, she says she wanted to do a public service. But, her work puts her in touch with both sides of the law, implying that her life also is torn between the legitimate and the illegitimate parts of society. Her moral vision becomes clouded by the deception around her, like Ellerby and Queenan, and she can’t see the devious nature of Sullivan, the man she supposedly loves.
Perhaps the one character who comments on the fraudulent nature of society in terms of good and bad is crime boss Frank Costello. At the beginning of the film he says that Italians used illegal brutal means to get what they wanted. The Irish had the useless Catholic Church, which he says meant that they only had each other. He tells Costigan that the church tells you what to do, and they have no right considering they are full of pederasts. But, he was a very bright student, knows literature, and tells Costigan he should wake up and pursue more education. He said to the young Sullivan that the fact that he was a criminal and an educated person meant he was a “paradox.” Thus, he has insight into the complexity of his nature, using his mind not for civilized means, but for illegal ones. For him, when there is the threat of death, it doesn’t matter which side you are on. He reflects this belief when he says that we are all on our way out, so “act accordingly.” And, he tells the youthful Sullivan that when he was a young Irish boy that he was told that you could become a criminal or a cop; but when a gun is pointed at you, “what’s the difference?” Given the immoral nature of humankind, Costello has no problem double-crossing even his own men by being an informant for the FBI, which is why the Feds never closed a case on Costello, and which implicates the Federal Government with unlawful activity. When Sullivan finds out about Costello’s treachery, he allows a police raid of one of the boss’ operations to occur. He confronts his gangster boss, a man he calls father in coded calls to him, but which also reflects, at least in Sullivan’s mind, their relationship, with Costello’s betrayal. The latter pulls a gun on Sullivan, and the “cop” kills him, ironically completing the task his phony boss, the police force, assigned to him.
Sullivan was told by Queenan to follow Costello to find the mole in the police department. He takes this police maneuver and demonically subverts it by tracking Queenan to find out who the mole is in Costello’s organization. He does not find out about Costigan at that point. After Queenan is killed by Costello’s henchmen, Sullivan takes over the investigation into the police mole. He communicates with Costigan by using Queenan’s cell phone. They meet, and Costigan says he just wants his identity back. But, what is his identity? He has acted like a criminal for so long, it is difficult to imagine what his life will be afterward, since, as Queenan said, he won’t be a policeman. Costigan finds an envelope on Sullivan’s desk with Costigan’s writing on it, and knows it came from Costello. He also receives recordings from the now deceased Costello’s lawyer which implicates Sullivan. (Why these recordings don’t surface later, along with the information Costigan gave Madolyn about Sullivan, is unclear, at least to me). Costigan’s plan to bring Sullivan to justice is thwarted when he is killed by another of Costello’s plants, Officer Barrigan (James Badge Dale – that is an ironic name), who says that Costello was going to rat him out to the FBI, too, and that the two of them have to stick together. Barrigan was a cadet with Sullivan, who had no idea about his being a Costello operative – another indication of the twisted morality in this world. We’re not done with double-crossing, because no sooner are the words out of Barrigan’s mouth, that Sullivan kills him, and says the officer was the mole (which is true, only he doesn’t say he was the only one). At least in a post-mortem sense, Costigan has his record cleared by Sullivan, saying the “departed” was on the trail of the mole and killed him. We do get justice, since the last scene has Sullivan walking into his apartment with Dignam waiting for him. He executes Sullivan, but in this environment, the sentence is carried out outside of the judicial system.
At one point, Costello’s right-hand (or should we say left-hand?) man, Mr. French (Ray Winstone) says, “It’s a nation of fuckin’ rats.” Scorsese’s last shot of the film has a rat walking along the railing of Sullivan’s apartment, the state capitol building in the background, the association tarnishing the building’s gold dome, with an indictment of society for its ethical emptiness. Why is the movie called The Departed? Well, there are many people who lose their lives in this story, and the tale is a sort of obituary for them. It could also indicate that all civilized activity has left the country. Or, maybe it means that the only escape from this corruptible world is in the grave.
The next movie is Capote.