Flower Moon Killers

Anna Boghiguian, A Myth, 1994


Commentary on Martin Scorsese's film, showing in cinemas.

For those who like cinema and are interested in the history of societies, Flower Moon Killers, by Martin Scorsese, is possibly the biggest film of the year. Set in the 1920s, in the land of the Osage indigenous nation, it brings such a load of information, electrifying action and human drama that its three and a half hours pass in an instant.

To sum up a complex story: at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the Osage find oil in the barren territory where they had been pushed by European colonizers, in the state of Oklahoma. The situation then reverses. It is the whites who begin to covet the wealth obtained by the indigenous people, trying to reach it in a double way: by marrying Osage women and killing whoever is in the line of succession in possession of the wealth. In the meantime, they submit themselves to working for wealthy indigenous people as drivers, waiters, carpenters, etc.

It is in this context that the dim-witted bushman Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives in the region, returning from the First World War, who is under the guardianship of his uncle, the powerful landowner Willam Hale (Robert De Niro). It turns out that the cunning Hale intends to use his nephew to increase the family's wealth, and to do so encourages him to marry the Osage Mollie (Lily Gladstone). Several murders of Mollie's relatives then began to occur, prompting agents from the nascent FBI to be sent to the region.

Epic without glory

From the non-fiction book by David Grann Killers of the Flower Moon, where this story is told, Martin Scorsese has crafted an unglorified epic that mixes Western, gangster film, detective film and courtroom drama. At 80 years old, he displays an enviable vigor and full command of the narrative and expressive resources that made him the last great classic filmmaker in the United States, without the irregularity of a Coppola and the often foolish sentimentality of a Spielberg.

In the last instance, Flower Moon Killers can be seen as a parable about the idea that, in capitalism, money has no color, race or ideology. This myth is tested to its limits in the film: the Osage have the oil dollars, but they continue to be indigenous, that is, a people who are discriminated against, besieged and, in the “final solution”, exterminated. Not under cavalry shots and bugles, as in so many westerns, but through more insidious and treacherous paths, like in mafia films.

Martin Scorsese moves freely and sovereignly through the codes of all genres, apparently at ease in this environment that mixes the rural and the urban. A car race through the dirt streets of the small Osage town attests to the almost youthful euphoria with which this veteran shows us unusual images.

Everything is entertainment

The poetic and respectful look that this white, Catholic artist, of Italian descent, raised on the dangerous streets of New York, dedicates to the Osage people and their culture deserves special attention. The death of Mollie's mother, Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal), for example, is presented in a double vision, that of the ascension of her spirit according to indigenous mythology and the raw, prosaic view of a routine wake. In another passage, the goofy Ernest says to Mollie, thinking he is being flirtatious: “Her skin color is beautiful. What do you call this color?” She responds: “My color.”

Finally, without going into any spoilers here, the appearance of Martin Scorsese himself, in the role of a radio program producer, reinforces and updates a recurring idea in the director's work (see the king of comedy and even the end of Taxi driver): that in North American industrial culture everything becomes commercial entertainment and mass catharsis. His own film doesn't escape this, of course, but at least it has the no small merit of drawing attention to the trap. It rocks us and pinches us at the same time.

*Jose Geraldo Couto is a film critic. Author, among other books, of André Breton (Brasiliense).

Originally published on the website of Moreira Salles Institute


Flower Moon Killers (Killers of the Flower Moon)
USA, 2023, 3h 26 min.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily gladstone, Robert De Niro

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