'Killers of the Flower Moon' an unforgettable cinematic experience

Martin Scorsese's latest masterpiece dives deep into the human psyche, exploring the complexities of greed

Directed by Martin Scorsese, 'Killers  of the Flower Moon' stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone (photo: IMDb)
Directed by Martin Scorsese, 'Killers of the Flower Moon' stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone (photo: IMDb)

Subhash K Jha

Killers of the Flower Moon

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro , Lily Gladstone

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Rating *****

All his life, Martin Scorsese has championed gangsterism in classics of the crime genre.

We don’t need to name them. A Scorsese film is never forgotten.

His characters are, more often than not, vile and violent. They don’t care whether we like them or not. Neither does Scorsese.

This time, though, is a first time.

In the poetically titled Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese cares deeply for the victims of unrepentant violation and plunder. In fact, the most poignant moment in this lengthy (but never cumbersome) story of greed and murder is when Scorsese himself appears on screen as part of a live performance to tell us whether the immoral land grabbers of the film got their comeuppance.

They didn’t. Not what they deserved.

Where, except in the movies, do the villains get what they deserve?

This celluloid moral truism skirts Killers of the Flower Moon by a wide margin. 

Not that the guilty are not punished. But their punishment is not equal to the crime. It cannot be, when the crime is against humanity, when the guilty are so soaked in blood that they can no longer recognise themselves in the mirror.

The setting is the Osage county in the 1920s. This is the land of supreme evil, where the capacity for rapacity is infinite. 

Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of the gullible, malleable gold-digger who marries an native American for her oil-spilling land is so authentic that I felt this might be DiCaprio and Scorsese’s best collaboration to date.

Till the end, I waited for the character’s redemptive curve. Where does avaricious ambition stop?

DiCaprio ‘s Ernest, however, tells us that greed has no full stops. His uncle William Hale, known in Osage county as King and played by the renewably  redoubtable Robert de Niro, is a more identifiable breed of evil. His very DNA is wired for evil. It is a way of life for him.

The epicentre of purity and absolution in this tale of irredeemable evil is Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone). She is smart but sadly vulnerable. As the movie unfolds, we witness her slowly succumb to Ernest’s monstrous, murderous machinations.

As the tribeswomen of Osage county fall in love with White men, and then  fall with a thud out of love, Scorsese leaves us with a profound sense of grief and loss. The film made me wonder why human beings behave so badly with one another. For as Gladstone’s Mollie falls prey to the most unimaginable greed, the film weaves a gossamer web around the endangered community of indigenous people who are targeted for their land.

This is where the real relevance of Killers of the Flower Moon broadens into a far wider spectrum than that of the native Americans in Osage county.

Scorsese’s film is a plea for the preservation of cultural heritage in every part of the world where usurpers are on the prowl. Its defining parameters go far beyond the immediate scope of the epic. The flawless narration throws forward an exceptional array of possibilities and probabilities pertaining to the shapes that life can take when the gods allow the greedy a free hand.

This is a film that should not be talked about, however.

It just has to be experienced — and seen not once, but at least twice. Once, to just absorb its unique and stunning blend of the bleak and the beautiful, and then again for the unspoken clues that are skilfully strewn out for the characters in their journey to damnation.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a film that will be talked about, of course — in hushed tones, for many generations to come.

As for the performances, let’s not insult the brilliant actors in smaller roles by singling out the three extraordinary  principal actors. But yes, Lily Gladstone is heartbreaking.

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