First impressions of Killers of the Flower Moon
Scorsese's new epic features some of the strongest and most conscientious work of his career. But the fact I'm opening with words about him here hints at what gives me mixed feelings about the film.
Ban this teaching, Ron DeSantis. I dare you.
(Apparently Oklahoma is working on that very thing.)
Did you know that the peak of Google searching for “Mike Pence” happened when a fly landed on his head on national television? That fly may be the most famous of its kind since the fly who landed on Paul Freeman’s face and appeared to crawl into his mouth during a key scene in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I want to know how director Martin Scorsese managed to track down the Mike Pence Fly and then, in the production of Killers of the Flower Moon, direct it to land symbolically on the heads of characters whose hearts have gone dead. I need a journalist to ask the big questions! And let's get that bug a supporting actor nomination!
But seriously, I have trouble believing the appearance of a fly on the head of Sheriff William Hale — during a scene in which he is feigning concern for local Native Americans, and covering up his conspiratorially murderous endeavors against those same people — is just a coincidence. (No, that’s not a spoiler, unless you’re new to the idea that the First Peoples have been the targets of a genocidal strategies since so-called “American history” began.) There are other moments later in Killers of the Flower Moon when flies buzz about the heads of other criminal characters as if to draw attention to their cold, dead hearts, and their distinctly American malevolence.
Killers belongs in the genre we call “True Crime,” a longstanding tradition of American entertainment that the movie eventually acknowledges—and, before it’s over, explicitly dramatizes. The film, like the book by David Grann that inspired it, in an exposé revealing crimes against humanity that white supremacists and Christian nationalists would rather erase from school history classes—carefully documented conspiracies that have gone unpunished and that contradict the very principles that patriotic Americans have typically boasted about. It reveals that, for all of our self-congratulation over defeating the Nazis in World War II, we are equally capable of—and guilty of—race-based genocide.
And Scorsese isn’t just focused on what white settlers, with the cooperation of their “by the white people, for the white people” government, have done (and continue doing) to Native Americans. There’s a smart glance sideways, as this story’s violence unfolds, toward news footage of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The movie is not subtle in suggesting that if we don’t ever—even now, in 2023—face fully our moral failings and complicity in this violence, if we can’t take action to make amends, we encourage the undeniable swelling of Nazism and other tumors of hatred and violence within the bodies of our own communities and cultures. So long as we support, enable, and make excuses for criminals in positions of power—as Pence did for Trump, and as our weak-willed protagonist does in this story—we are bound to increase a debt of depravity for which the bill will someday come due.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Give Me Some Light to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.