Saturday, October 14, 2006

THE DEPARTED: Discussion

“When I was your age they would say, 'You could become cops or criminals.' But when you’re facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?” - Jack Nicholson as FRANK COSTELLO

This quote at the beginning of THE DEPARTED sets everything up so perfectly. Right away it establishes a sense of moral ambiguity within the film, and it parallels Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) directly to Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). And that's really what this whole movie is all about in my opinion... that these characters are essentially two different sides of the same coin. Costigan and Sullivan are almost exactly the same person, they're just coming at things from opposite angles.

The way Costigan gets introduced is a really great example of this parallel between characters: We first meet him via a montage sequence of Costigan and Sullivan going through training at the Police Academy. Possibly together... possibly not. Personally, I thought this sequence was very confusing as I was watching it. Sullivan is introduced talking with Frank Costello (Nicholson), but now he's a cop... Does that mean he's a good guy now? What's the relationship between Sullivan and Costigan? Do they know each other? Are they in cahoots? Are they even aware of each other's existense? Nothing is clear about this sequence except for one piece of information... both these men are going through the same experience.

Another scene that does a really good job of subtly hinting towards a connection between the two main characters is the scene where Costigan receives his undercover orders from Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Lt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). Everything Dignam says to Costigan during that meeting; every quality he mentions... about how he's a chameleon... How he grew up on both sides of the tracks and played multiple roles. How he used different accents. How he doesn't want to be a cop, he just wants to look like one... All of those things are also true about Sullivan and they come out within his character as the movie progresses.

Visually, I think the most striking sequence that illustrates a parallel between these two characters is where Costigan tails Sullivan through the streets after meeting with Costello. There's so much great stuff going on in this sequence! I love that shot where Costigan looks through the store window with all those mirrors inside, and among his many reflections he spots Sullivan's eyes staring back at him. Also, all those great shadows and smoke-filled alleyways! That neat shot of Costigan's silhouette being superimposed over a billowy cloud of smoke! And the fact that both characters physically looked the same as well; both wearing black with hats. It became hard to tell who was tailing who!

But there is one major difference I noticed between the presentation of Costigan and Sullivan in THE DEPARTED, and that's pertaining to the concept of virility. Scorsese definitely suggests that both Sullivan and Costello are impotent in this film... After Sullivan and Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) have sex (we never actually do see their sex scenes) she says something to him like, "Don't worry about it. It's actually very common among men." And then we see him going into a porno theater, and I know I was thinking, "Man! That poor guy really is having trouble down there!" But Sullivan isn't going into that theater for the reason we think. He's actually there to rendezvous with Costello, our other impotent character in the film, who assaults him with a giant rubber phallus! What do you think that's saying???

And there seems to be a correlation between these characters' impotence and the violence that they create. Right before Costello and Sullivan try to blow each other's heads off, Costello says to Sullivan, "I always thought of you as my son." To which Sullivan replies, "Is that what this is all about? All those years of p***y and you never got an heir?" BLAM!

Costigan, on the other hand, is verile. He gets the only sex scene in the movie, and it appears as though Madolyn's pregnancy is because of him, not Sullivan. Meanwhile, Costigan never kills a single person throughout the duration of this film. Even when he can and should kill Sullivan, he doesn't... and he pays the ultimate price as a result.

That seems to be the key difference between these characters... Everyone's living in a murky world of moral ambiguity, but Sullivan and Costello are destructive men by nature, while Costigan is constructive. Costigan and Costello kill people for no reason and don't ever think twice about doing so. They face the loaded gun for personal gain and power, while Costigan faces it somewhat selflessly in an attempt to better society.

What do you guys think? Feel free to comment on this particular topic, or write about anything else you may have found interesting about THE DEPARTED!


Brooke said...

It's been a while since I have seen The Departed and I did enjoy it a lot more than some other Scorcese films that I have viewed however there was something tiresome about this movie. I thought this film was ending about an hour and a half in. At that time I even thought, "Hey great movie." But then the film kept going...and...going... I grew weary of all the talk of rats. I got the point. Everyone is a rat. Trust no one...didnt X-Files teach us that? And the rat running across the window sill...come on Martin. If this is supposed to be mocking how much you spoke of rats...I'm still not even laughing on the inside.
But I will agree with one common overall consensus...the cast of this film is phenomenal. My two favorites: Alec Baldwin and Marky Mark. I'll take that funky bunch in any film after seeing their appearances. The scene in the stakeout room where Alec Baldwin is covered in sweat (the only one mind you that is even breaking a sweat) "I'm gonna go have a smoke right now. You want a smoke? You don't smoke, do ya, right? What are ya, one of those fitness freaks, huh? Go fuck yourself." Delivery- astounding. Anyways I have ranted on long enough. Go see it, if you have time for a film that is 2 1/2 hours long, feels like it's 4 hours but is ultimately a fairly rewarding experience.

up-late said...

Good comments. Marty keeps adding to the genre. But did he have to ruin the ending by using that "cheesey" shot of the rat as his final image? Not too subtle.

up-late said...

Good comments. Marty definitely advanced the genre. But did he have to ruin the ending by using that "cheesey" shot of the rat as his final image. Not too subtle.

M-Dawgs said...

Alec Bladwin's smoking rant was, for me, one of the most entertaining moments of any movie this year. Truly Oscar-worthy. Hey, if that skanky Ellen Burstyn can get nominated for 15 seconds' work...

backporchpolitics said...

I didn't mind the rat at the end. Maybe I just fall right into the spectacle of the cinema and buy eveything they throw at me...

Anyway, I thought the movie was fantastic and it was good to see Jack get away from the romantic comedy character...

Andrew Cheesman said...

I totally agree - I think the distinction between the two main characters in terms of their virility is essential, and thrilling. The idea of virility is a huge one for a lot of literature, and for me, it seems to be the most important judgment that the movie makes. There's all this talk about cop and rat being the same, but in the end - when it comes to being a real man - Costigan is the winner. Totally satisfying, electrifying, even.

Aside from that, I will agree that the film went on a bit long, though I don't really see how it could have been done in any other way. I think the rat was appropriate for the ending, as well - it's definitely cheesy, but so are a lot of the ideas and images in the movie. It's the film's "over the top"-ness which makes it so great.

Also, great first post...

Anonymous said...

I think the main point here is being overlooked. There is one piece in the movie that brings everything you have mentioned together under the same theme. Scorcese does set up the obvious "two sides of the coin" with Leo and Matt. The quote in the beginning poses the question "... when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the differemce?"

The whole movie develops the characters slowly so that you see them as very much the same at first, and slowly the differences emerge until you see two completely different characters on either side of the moral line.

Yes, the virility is important, yes the violence is important, but is that really what is the difference when each man is facing a loaded gun? Doubt it.

Th answer is found in two places in the movie. The title, "The Departed", and the card that Nicholson leaves at the funeral of Leo's mother. It reads "Heaven holds the faithful departed."

This is where the film derives its name. And this answers the question "What's the difference?" Quite simply in the end, the difference between these two men --- after each receives a bullet to the head, after each has been given a full honorary funeral, after each has been hiding out in a world other than their ow --- the difference is that heaven holds the faithful departed.

pjo said...

I kind of thought that Costello and Sullivan's "sexual condition" was more a result of their heavy consciences, which they don't even realize they have.

I absolutely loved the ending; mainly because Scorsese is such a genius with the music he choses. Using Roy Buchanan's "Sweet Dreams" after having used Patsy Cline's at least 3 times earlier in the film finally reveals the CHEESE we rat-want-to-be's are all seduced by!

What a great film. I recommend it to everyone, but not for the kids.

Anonymous said...

The impotence aspect was pretty interesting to me. There are a several references to it.
- Madolyn says that he shouldn't be embarasssed the night after staying with him for some problem that happens to a lot of guys.

- When his boss tells him geting married is a good way to get ahead, he says "... an women know you cock still works" at which point he replies a bit defensively "oh, it working, overtime."

- He is rather uncomfortable in the porno theater.

- At the end, as Costello dies, he says "thats what this is all about, all the fucking and killing..." It is as if sex is a pretty bad reason for him to do anything in Sullivan's mind.

I don't think there any reason to suspect Sullivan as being gay, so much as sexually dyfunctional. He may have been molested, perhaps by the priests as an altar boy (the priest is revealed as a child molester).

Besides dressing nicely and the innuendo of the realtor, he doesn't really indicate that he's gay and more than a few times flirts with women.

It is an interesting character. An amoral schemer that probably has no real morality besides wanting power.

timur said...

the chinatown scene was great i remember walking through chinatown and the movie did a great job at recreating the neighborhood

Kevin said...

Just watched The Departed for the second time and I'm still feeling like there are at least 3 unanswered points in the film. 1. When Sullivan (Damon) graduates from the Academy, Costello gives him a gift, but we never see it - what was it? 2. Was Delahunt a cop? That question is never answered. 3. What was in the envelope that Costigan gives to the shrink? He tells her to open it if anything happens to him, then he gets his head blown off and there's no mention of her opening it. What's up with that? Anyone have answers to any of these questions? I love ya Marty S., but this stuff just seems sloppy to me.

fozzzzi said...

to kevin,

1) That is a good question. We were never told what it could be. Perhaps it could have been the new mobile phone that was given to him (Sullivan had two phones, one was possibly from Costello).

2) Delahunt wasn't a cop because if you hear correctly, Costello says to Fitsy: "The cops are saying he's a cop so I won't look for the cop..."

3) Another good question. There's been talks on other boards about this issue. A lot of people seem to think that what was contained in the letter was evidence that Sullivan was the rat and it says to inform Sergeant Dignam.

I hope these answer your questions at the least. :)

squish said...

to fozzzzi:

1) I, too, think that the gift was the phone, considering it's importance in the movie; and why else show the scene if we can't see what he is receiving?

2) delahunt could have been a cop since he did not tell anyone in the gang about costigan's identity. I mean, he knew he was dying, so why not reveal the rat to the others?

3) the envelope's content had to be information for dingham revealing sullivan to be the rat.

Anonymous said...

i think jack nicholsons character was molesting sullivan not the priest

Anonymous said...

I think you're all a little off with the molestation talk. The sexual impotence stuff has nothing to do with molestation (at least not in the way it's begin suggested here). Read this, and I'll think it'll get you closer to what you're looking for:

Ben said...

1) I think the gift Costello gives Sullivan on his graduation is the keys to his new apartment that overlooks the State House on Beacon Hill. Sullivan moves in instantly and tells the estate agent that he has a co-signer, which can be no one other than Costello.

2)I think Delahunt is a cop. He delibaretly gave Costigan the wrong address to protect him. There is no reason why the cops would tell the news he was a cop. If he was a criminal, he would expose Billy as the rat immediately.

3) the envelope clearly contains information that implicates Sullivan as a rat.

Anonymous said...

I have one question, why did Costello give Colin another mobsters information that he thought was the rat despite the fact that Billy walked out without giving his info?