The Irishman: An Existential Mob Movie

Image retrieved from IMDb

Spoilers for The Irishman!

The thing about Martin Scorsese is that a lot of his movies tend to feel similar to each other because they deal with similar kinds of people learning similar lessons. Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, and even The Wolf of Wall Street to an extent all have similar messages. This isn’t to say they aren’t great movies – each of the four movies I just listed deserve at the very least four out of five stars – it’s just that when it looks like The Irishman is going to be more of the same, you can’t help but worry just a bit.

As it turns out, the first 2 hours and 30 minutes of this movie are more of the same. There is violence, tough guy gangsters doing tough guy gangster things, and much of Scorsese’s unique stylized filmmaking. But almost without you noticing it, the last hour of this movie turns into something wholly unique and unexpected.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know of my love for the movie Silence. It is one of Scorsese’s most underrated movie, probably because it is nearly three hours long, set in Japan, and deals with Jesuit priests. But it deals with some of the heaviest spiritual themes I’ve ever come across in a film, and that means a lot for me. So when Scorsese was able to combine the entertaining and kinetic nature of something like Goodfellas with the deep thoughtfulness of Silence, you know there is a special movie.

The outcome of this combination, of course, is The Irishman.

After a life of crime, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) has to deal with the consequences of all of the terrible things he’s done. It is almost as if every choice Frank makes throughout the film is the wrong one. Because of his actions, including and certainly not limited to killing his best friend because of a gang grudge, he finds himself to be the only one of his friends left living. His life is now spent searching for any sort of meaning.

Was it all worth it?

What will happen to me now?

Is there any hope left for me?

These are just some of the questions Frank contemplates in his seemingly endless free time. One of his only remaining wishes is to reconnect with his daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin), who has no interest in having any connection to him due to all the things she saw him do, as well as the horrible things she could never imagine, that she knew he did. It is something so simple that he could have been working to rectify over the decades, but he chose not to. Instead, he left an ever-lasting scar on his daughter’s life.

Interestingly, Frank tells the priest who comes to talk to him that he doesn’t feel sorry for all of the things he’s done wrong in his life. The priest tells him, “We can be sorry even when we don’t feel sorry. Being sorry is a choice of our will.” It takes Frank’s being sorry for him to end the film on any semblance of a positive note.

This line seems to strike a chord with him, because the very end of the movie is him asking for the door to his room to be kept open. Frank is then framed in almost total darkness with a bit of dim light coming from his lamp. It’s refreshing and even heartwarming to see Scorsese end his movie this way. There is a sort of uncharacteristic hopefulness that you will walk out of the movie feeling.

Frank is really beginning to feel sorry, due to the fact that he decided to be sorry first. The door being cracked open is obvious visual symbolism to the fact that there is still that chance for him to come all the way around. He still has hope. His life can be salvaged, even with all of the terrible things he has done.

Turning your life around starts with yourself. Frank gives himself that bit of hope. He has at least some determination to be better in the future. If Frank Sheeran, the man who paints houses, can find hope in his life, then just about anyone can.

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