Before elaborating, we can state the conclusion in advance: Martin Scorsese’s new film failed. One of the highest-ranking film directors in the world, a great author whose name has been recorded in history, the new film “Killers of the Flower Moon” was surprisingly disappointing. Although major European and American media have included it in the top ten of the year, compared with Martin’s previous works, it is somewhat out of control in terms of length, rhythm, characterization, and completion of expression. Its current Douban score is 7.3, which is at the bottom of the list of Martin’s major directorial works. Indeed, this is not the level we expected from Martin.
But to some extent, Martin’s failure is easy to understand. After all, when making this movie, there were too many interests to balance, too many appeals to consider, and too many ethical taboos that should not be touched. Torn apart by various forces, it was not easy for Martin to be able to offer this gift to the Native Americans. There are a lot of necessary things that he failed to do with this movie, but there are some urgent things that he did do with this movie.
”Killers of the Flower Moon” is adapted from a true event that has been almost forgotten for many years: Oklahoma, the Native American Osage people were originally displaced by white people, but in the 1920s they became the world’s most populous people. A group of wealthy people, the reason is simple: a huge amount of oil was discovered on the land where they lived, and this also brought disaster to them. Over the next three or four years, dozens of Osage people (mostly women) died, and all their rights to the oil fields were transferred to white Ohioans, but the local police and government ignored everything until the FBI ) intervened, and the truth gradually became clear: this was a systematic murder of the Osage people, masterminded by William Hale, a powerful local figure, and executed and acquiesced by almost all local white people.
This is a disgraceful page in the history of the United States. It was once trumpeted by Edgar Hoover and the FBI as his achievements in eradicating evil. However, after it lost its use value, it was quickly and completely buried by the power system. David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction bestseller “Killers of the Flower Moon” turned the tables, drawing the world’s attention back to this period of history, and making Hollywood realize that this IP was “lucrative.” But it was the Osage people who ultimately made the decision on the filmmaking process of history. They invited Martin Scorsese to visit the tribe’s habitat, listen to the tribe’s history, and decide whether to make a film adaptation of it. And we all know now that Martin agreed.
But Martin is not the kind of director who pretends to understand the “other.” This destined him to be unable to narrate history from an Aboriginal perspective, and could only cut into the story from a white perspective. He had two choices: cut into it from the FBI’s perspective, or cut into it from the perspective of a white murderer. The first draft script of the film chose the former, but as the filming approached, Martin realized that this perspective was too similar to the white savior-style American main theme story. He could not shoot this kind of story, and he could not dig out the humanity from the just and perfect people. What he can understand best is still gangsters, thugs, hypocrites, and villains.
This is also why “Killers of the Flower Moon” takes on what it is today: the film is told from the perspectives of Hale (played by Robert De Niro) and his nephew Ernest (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). This narrative perspective is sincere and can intuitively reflect the guilt that Martin and Leonardo and other creators, as white people, feel towards the indigenous people, but the form it presents is still too much like Martin. A crime/gangster film that I have made before. So much so that we feel that De Niro is relying on inertia to continue playing his role in “Goodfellas”, while Leonardo is continuing to play his role in “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
This story originally had so many dimensions to present – the collision of two civilizations, the confrontation of two values, the battle of two faiths, and in the marriage relationship between white men and Aboriginal women, white Protestants versus Aboriginal people and Double exploitation of women by men. But these dimensions are only briefly touched upon in Martin’s films. For most of the two-hundred-minute film, Martin stayed within his comfort zone, unhurriedly presenting Hale’s anti-human cognition and Ernes as Hale’s tool of violence. A very cowardly and self-deceptive mediocre evil.
Martin is great at humanizing villains and thus making the audience empathize with them, but in this story, the audience doesn’t have to empathize with the villain, and depth as a villain is no longer an option. At the other end of the scale is Martin’s lack of understanding of Aboriginal people. Because of this lack, the film can only project a tender, respectful, but ultimately unintelligible gaze on its Aboriginal characters. The characters, both positive and negative, lack depth, making the whole story a flat narrative. This kind of tameness and flatness makes the audience feel particularly tortured when the film is over two hundred minutes long.
Under various limitations caused by his own and external conditions, Martin was really constrained in his creation this time. One obvious manifestation is that the fierceness he has always shown in his creations is almost gone this time. Martin has always had a razor-sharp audio-visual language and observational gaze. He is not afraid to look directly at and present any cruel things, whether it is the common greed and vanity of mankind, the extreme trauma caused by war, or the futility of people in the face of death. But in “Killers of the Flower Moon”, Martin’s eyes and tone became so soft for the first time. He didn’t even dare to use the gallows humor that he often used before to show the perpetrator’s extreme disregard for morality, perhaps because he was worried that it would evoke more traumatic memories for the Osage people.
Masters don’t always produce great pictures, and masters also make mistakes. But the master’s works will eventually have a magical touch. If you can survive the long first 193 minutes of the movie and wait for the bitterly ironic ending, you may be able to understand Martin’s underlying intention in making this movie. He used a radio drama of less than four minutes to completely deconstruct the narrative of white criminals being imprisoned and aboriginal victims being acquitted. He satirizes the way mainstream America in the 1950s entertained the plight of the Osage people and used it to make the world forget about them, and this is exactly the risk that “Killers of the Flower Moon” faces – through a film Movies produced by Apple and starring Hollywood stars simplify history into a story of good triumphing over evil, thereby giving audiences superficial satisfaction and thus forgetting history again.
Martin falls into many traps in Killers of the Flower Moon, but at least he avoids the most sinister one. He was very clear about what he wanted to express with this film: history is still repeating itself, the pain is far from healed, and more people who should be held accountable have not received the punishment they deserve until their death. The heroine Molly’s sisters all died at the hands of white people, and she also died at the age of 50 due to her husband’s chronic poisoning. But in her obituary that year, there was not a single word about the murders. This incident deserves people’s anger and deserves to be remembered forever. And this is what “Killers of the Flower Moon” finally achieved, although it was a little too late, after more than three hours of wandering.