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The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Killers of the Flower Moon: An Artistic Review

Photo+from+Apple+TV%2B
Photo from Apple TV+

“Can you find the wolves in this picture?”

These words, gravelly, dissonant, uttered with an almost childish timbre and curios naivete from an even more gravelly Leo (as Ernest Burkhart), hang in the air throughout the teaser trailer for Martin Socrsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon (2023). For the months leading to the eventual release, this was my sovereign association with the movie; it looked amazing and dangerous.

“Can you find the wolves in this picture?”

These words hang in the air like the stench of stale cigarette smoke and whisky backwash that permeates the film’s three-and-a-half-hour runtime. Predators in the sun-lashed presence of nature, a painting in a hardbound book; there’s great care in this composition, the exposition is obvious but conjures this morbid curiosity; Leo’s Ernest Burkhart is a blunt instrument of a man, simplicity tattooed on his face sits under the tutelage of his uncle, William King Hale (Robert DeNiro) whose menacing gait is soothed through a kind, folksy veneer. Ernest is getting an education on the Osage people, a cultivated ancient wisdom, culture, and rituals distilled into a childishly reductive educational text. William (“King”), as he’s to be known, is preparing his nephew to enter the family business, and what a dirty business it is…

Martin Scorsese’s energy is robust, thoughtful, and meditative with his incisive penchant for bursts of shocking violence; killings are methodical, deliberate, and yet so messy. It’s one of the many great insults waged against our indigenous peoples, and its haphazard, slapdash, blatant handling emphasizes the injuriousness of that insult. It’s the tragedy of American history that makes our past feel like a sickness rather than a blemishy omission from the history books. Greed, displacement, betrayal, crime, history: Killers of the Flower Moon is a multifaceted exploration, but the exploration of systematic barbarity is like a boot to the neck, and I kind of feel like that’s the point. Not a face-rub, Scorsese isn’t smug,
nor is there any whiff of a white savior; it’s a white apologist. Scorsese’s affinity for the Osage people is genuine; he produces a hard, bright light
into a past that is not so remote. We’re set in the era of cars, indoor plumbing, and electricity. This progress doesn’t lend us security. There’s this queasy mood of indigenous homogenization; much of the tribal body is donning Anglo-regalia, everyone’s a converted catholic, and their health is warped with alcoholism, diabetes (huge plot point), and melancholia. And their worst enemies are dug into them like ticks, buried so deep in their
skin that they eschew detection.

Martin Scorsese has finally made a western; this is also film noir. It’s a western by way of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Days of Heaven (1978), or There Will be Blood (2007); he can’t help but channel his undying admiration for the old guard: John Ford, Howard Hawks, Elia Kazan but there’s little in the way of winking homage. We congratulate Scorsese’s authorship, but you can’t deny the collection of talent amassed here; Thelma Schoonmaker, one of our best editors, has cut and spliced this epic of emulsion into the feature before us; it is hard to imagine the director oeuvre would resemble what it is today without her. DP Rodrigo Pierto, who, with Panavision, innovated custom lenses for the film, evidenced by the startling visuals therein, echoing the visual language established in his other credits around this, including The Irishman (2019), Silence (2016), and Barbie (2023). Lily Gladstone is the headline; she has this classical vibrancy ala Olivia DeHaviland and yet carries this poise of regal wisdom, all the while summoning our attentive gaze with a heart-wrenching honesty. You don’t feel her emotive arcs, you know them in the way she can
secure your attention with a mere glance or gesture. Leonardo DiCaprio’s scowly, grunting Ernest Burkhart is fascinating. Somehow, he’s contorted his muscles into this upside-down U-shaped grimace; it’s transformative and somehow, in this murky narrative, finds unlikely gasps of humor; maybe it’s imagined or projected as an anecdote to the darkness on screen, but its respite can’t go on unchecked.

Now that Netflix has bankrolled The Irishman & Pretend It’s a City (2021), and Apple has ponied up the cash for Killers of the Flower Moon, which streaming service do you think is next in line to cut Scorsese a blank check?

Maybe we’ll see “Mubi Presents” or “A TubiOriginal Production…”

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