Posts Tagged ‘Martin Scorsese’

The Departed – Martin Scorsese

to Matei Vlad

I have to start with the short history of the feeling I had when I saw the pre-credit sequence of The Departed.

I first experienced this feeling when reading one of my favorite books; Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before. The master of semiotics swept me off my feet with his use of words to such degree that I read each page two times in a row. It was a double reading in one session. The choice of words, the alternation of short and long sentences, the punctuation, the rhythm itself had the effect of the best cake ever.

I am not comparing a novel with a film but I had the same feeling while watching The Departed. I had to stop it when the opening credits appeared and play it again. I actually watched the movie again as soon as it ended. I needed more of that cake!

D.W. Griffith wrote in 1926 that American filmmaking follows the “human pulse beat”. Sometimes the heart beats calmly, steadily, sometimes races dangerously and sometimes it stops “in moments of pregnant suspense”.

But how should a film director tune in with the audience’s heartbeat? But, more important, why should he/she do it? That’s the whole magic and pain of “cinema d’auteur”, of director’s personal style. Film authors they simply cannot care about the audience, they have to tell the story the way they feel it and if the audience cannot open up to receive and follow the author he just could not care less.

When the gap is too big the audience, feels bored, ignored, annoyed or/and stupid. The filmmaker may feel bad as well; misunderstood and part of an obscure, penniless élite. Thank God all directors have their fans and thank God for “film d’auteur”, the best thing that ever happened to this art!

Scorsese has succeeded several times in combining his personal style with audience’s and studios’ expectations. When audience and studios turned their back on him, he had Time on his side to prove the legitimacy of his esthetic choices.

With The Departed he is back in the gangster business and some of us, snobby, up-tight cinephiles would sigh in disdain: Oh, not again! The premises of the film are even “worse”: It’s a remake of a Hong-Kong movie! With an all-star cast! Run and hide in an art house cinema!

But Scorsese plays the “tune the pulses” game on us brilliantly. He is one of the few who can really master this technique. He starts with a demonstration of his own pulse; opens with a street fight shot in amateur style then a short documentary style sequence and then he hits us with close-ups of significant items, expressive headshots and clean angles and shows the top of the iceberg of a fascinating plot.

He soon takes control of our heartbeat. For the sake/waste of our hearts he accelerates and slows down and even changes the chronology of some scenes, almost imperceptibly, with the use of a childhood photo. How delicate, but what a burden lies now on the previous scene, that happens actually later in the story!

The directing wears the crown in The Departed, even though Jack Nicholson gets to rephrase the Shakespearean line.

When we close our eyes we usually see the most significant image we saw before closing them. We see its negative, whitish and/or colorful shape. After watching The Departed I saw this:

. . . _ .

These are merciless, precise full stops. This is how The Departed ends in structure and substance as well. What are these dots? Punctuation, musical notation and bullets in the head.

The cast is magnificent, of course. The Departed is a star vehicle and everybody gets his/her share.

The story’s ingredients are some of the American school’s classics: Gangster life, father figure, good cop, dirty cop and one gal torn between the two. Yes, the western genre too is invited to add its spice to romance and justice rendering. But love, truth and justice don’t get to bravely ride into the sunset; they sneak out like thieves leaving behind the incriminating mark for those who want to see the sign.

The result is far from being conventional but it may become a classic.


Shutter Island – Martin Scorsese

This one is filled with spoilers, mixed up, accidentally hidden and crystal-clear spoilers. If you didn’t see the movie and hate spoilers, don’t read it but you should definitely see the movie. If you saw the movie than scroll over the trailer and read if you feel like it. You are more than welcomed to place a comment.

Stuck in the middle of nature, humanity is, absurdly, not in equilibrium but off-balance. Only animals and the gods, if gods exist, are in harmony with the world, their violence and goodness are extreme, never controlled, sublime.

Our brain is the tool that can help us find an equilibrium that won’t hurt us, our surroundings or the others. It is also the tool that can make us perfectly violent. In the same time, our brain is the first to stop us in achieving perfection be it in goodness or in violence.

We don’t use our brain to make our existence truer. Day by day we exhaust it building the scenario in which we’re the good guy – sometimes the victim, sometimes the hero – who always fights for the right cause. All our actions have perfect alibis. Our brain is working overtime on that.

Cinema is one of the many reasons we are all prisoner of our self-absorbed, escapist scenarios. This form of entertainment was the opium of the people throughout the 20th century. The scars of this century were continuously looked after by cinema; healing them and opening them repeatedly.

Cinema offered much stronger illusions, released more powerful violence, feed more effectively the frustrations than any other force that influenced the masses. Because cinema it’s not the judging, finger-pointing church, nor the ruthless economy, nor the humiliating politics. It washes off class-boundaries, moral values and offers everybody a personalized ecstasy pill in the dark. It offers the illusion of freedom in a damp, dark room.

Today, even if one’s not a cinemagoer he or she would still build up the conscience-appeasing scenario resembling to film scenarios of the cinema’s golden era, because the silver screen left a prominent mark on our day-dreaming language.

In the same way cinema abducts us and melts our brain into whatever story we are watching, the scenarios we build up every day to overcome our pettiness, cowardice and harm we inflict on the world, alienate us from our true selves, they alienate us from the truth about our actions. Luckily, like any form of art, cinema learned to offer the opposite too, to expose our weaknesses, to work as a wake-up call.

What does it mean to be true to oneself? Art, religion, secular law, philosophy and even sports talk about freedom, honesty and fair-play. We brag about all this things when we feel mistreated but do we use them effectively in our relationships with our fellow human being?

Freedom is probably the most uttered word in human history, it is the star concept of human kind yet we seem to be most afraid of using it. Because freedom means to choose between those two sublime extremes only animal and gods can reach: pure violence and pure goodness. If we practice the first we’re locked away, if we practice the second we’d probably end up crucified. So what’s a human to do with freedom? What does it mean to be free on a human scale? How do we become free? Once free, can we still be active in society or even alive?

If we are lucky, as the main character in Shutter Island is, we’d have a few people (or experiences, or accidents, or studies) around us who’d conduct on us an intervention at the end of which we’d become self-aware, able to recognize our defense mechanisms, our disgraceful and our honorable traits etc. If we accept the intervention – we’ve already found an honorable trait; courage – we have the chance to free ourselves from our alienating dream, to take a few steps back and have an objective look at ourselves. Now we are free to choose to live without illusions, exposed or we can choose to reenter our cozy, illusionary cage. Either way, we become free to choose.

For us, the “sane” ones, who commit but trivial crimes-that sometimes hurt like torture, sometime feel like murder – what are the choices if we want to have choices? To head for the lighthouse or to stay in society’s ever reshaping cage which will never turn us into perfect lambs, the cage which will only continue to frustrate the lonely wolf within and will always tolerate our numbing scenarios.

Shutter Island is a heartbreaking psychological journey from the illusionary scenario to self-awareness. At the end of it there is freedom to choose between recognizing the harm inflicted on the world or to have a good old-fashioned transorbital lobotomy.

The movie is perfectly built; its architecture has the foundation on one person’s perspective; the music, the surroundings, the cast, the special effects all play along a perfect tune. That one character, whose perspective Scorsese masterly follows, is played by Leonardo di Caprio never off-key.

This escapist story could have not reached its goals in another art form than cinema. A book, a painting, a music score could never conquer our brains as totally as the pervert cinematographic tools do. That’s why Shutter Island is another perfect movie, for it can’t be anything else.

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