A week from today, I will be home for Thanksgiving break, and one of the few movies that I’m looking forward to seeing with my family when I go home is “Hugo”, the new 3-D family adventure movie from legendary director Martin Scorsese. …Wait. Martin Scorsese directing a family movie? It can’t be. He doesn’t do that. Well, ladies and gentlemen, now he does. This Thanksgiving, Martin Scorsese, the director of such violent dramas as “Taxi Driver”, “GoodFellas”, and “Gangs of New York”, is releasing for the first time in many, many years, a film that families can go see. And I’m personally pumped to see it—I haven’t seen a whole lot of Scorsese films, but even though they’re all pretty dark, they have all impressed me with their style. You’ll probably only know what I’m talking about if you actually go see a Scorsese movie.
And today, continuing our “Light in the Darkness” series, I’m giving you an excuse to see one. Scorsese’s last film to gain acclaim at the Academy Awards was 2006’s “The Departed”, a crime drama that finally earned Scorsese an Oscar for Best Director. Like filmmakers John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock, by whom Scorsese has been strongly influenced, Martin Scorsese is a Catholic who uses images and themes of his faith throughout his movies. But on the other hand, he uses a lot of blood, drugs, and F-bombs throughout most of his movies, too. And I’m still not sure what his reason is for doing so. Realism? Maybe, but I mean it, these movies are pretty graphic sometimes. Which is the biggest reason why, in our series on finding good lessons in dark movies, we’re looking at “The Departed” today.
“The Departed” teams up Scorsese with lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who has worked with Scorsese on four films in the past nine years. DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a young man training to be a Massachusetts state policeman who is asked by the head captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his less-enthusiastic staff sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) to go undercover to investigate the local mob. That mob is led by Irish mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who we see in flashbacks trains young Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) to infiltrate the Massachusetts police. So mob mole Sullivan becomes a leader in the Massachusetts state police office, while Costigan becomes a hit man with the Irish mob.
Throughout their “jobs”, we see both Costigan and Sullivan in their private lives. And ironically, they fall in love with the same woman. Sullivan first starts a relationship with Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga), a psychiatrist who happens to have Costigan as a client. Eventually, Costigan falls for her too. But Madden still moves in with Sullivan, who won’t tell her anything about his work. But then, one day, someone in both parties realizes that there’s a rat in the police force and a cop in the mob.
How do they find this out? Long story. Go watch the movie. But eventually, the police find Costello and his crew, shooting most of them up. Sullivan goes to “find” Costello, and this is where the big theme of the movie starts really becoming prevalent. Sullivan found out earlier through Queenan’s diary that Costello is an occasional FBI informant. Weird side job for a mobster. Anyway, Sullivan confronts him:
SULLIVAN: You’re an FBI informant? Are you kidding me?
COSTELLO: Grow up! Of course I talked to the FBI.
SULLIVAN: Do they know who I am?
COSTELLO: I… I never gave up anybody… who wasn’t going down anyway. Nobody knows nothing.
SULLIVAN: Frank… Frank. Do they know about me?
COSTELLO: I know about you, Colin. You know I'd never give you up. You're like a...
SULLIVAN: What, like a son? To you? Is that what this is about? All that murdering... and no sons?
Bang. Costello shoots at Sullivan and misses. Bang. Sullivan shoots Costello and kills him. So Costello is dead, Sullivan is praised, and Costigan is let off the hook as an undercover cop. But then Costigan starts finding out files that reveal that Sullivan knows about Costello and his men. And just like Sullivan was shocked at Costello’s undercover work, Costigan is shocked at Sullivan’s. And he starts tracking Sullivan down and almost threatening him. He finds tapes of conversations that Costello had with Sullivan and sends them to Madden, who upon listening to them leaves Sullivan.
And then, on top of the three characters that are revealed to not be trustworthy, the list just goes on. Costigan meets with Sullivan and handcuffs him on a rooftop, just when another trooper Brown (Anthony Anderson)—who Costigan actually trained with at the police academy—almost shoots Costigan, who tries convincing Brown that it’s okay, that Brown knows who he is. Then, on the way downstairs, another trooper named Barrigan (James Badge Dale) shoots Costigan and Brown and tells Sullivan that he wasn’t the only mole in the police force. Sullivan shoots Barrigan, reports him as a mole, and recommends Costigan for the Medal of Honor, which he receives at his funeral. At the funeral, Madden ignores Sullivan for the last time, and Sullivan goes back to his apartment to find Dignam waiting to shoot him—not out of any double-dealings, but out of a feud that the two of them had days before.
So now, a bunch of people are dead, and nobody’s trustworthy. What a wonderful message. Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking, this is a dark ending, and there’s nothing redeeming about this movie at all. But to me, there is. We’ve seen all these characters that lead two lives and in the end can’t be trusted. But think about it. How many times have people failed us even in small ways that made us unable to trust others? I know that for me, it’s hard to trust people that don’t always follow up on their word. But whom else can we trust?
For the Christian believer, it can be a struggle to trust in God for every part of our lives. But He is the only One who is bigger than all our lives. If you grew up in Sunday School like I did, you probably memorized Proverbs 3:5-6, which tells us to “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” People may fail me sometimes, but God will never fail me. It may take time for my prayers to be answered, but they will be—I can’t think of any time when I was going through a struggle that God didn’t use it to help me grow.
My prayer for you is that you will be willing to trust in God for whatever you’re carrying today, and that you would not put your faith only in people but in Him first.