Watch Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon" with Attention to the Resilience of Native WomenBreaking News
tags: film, Native American history, Osage Nation
The beginning scene of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” is remarkable.
Warning, spoilers ahead.
Taken verbatim from the book, “A Pipe for February,” by the late Osage author Charles Red Corn, the film opens as the Osage people have decided to give up their old ways, their religion, and to bury their ceremonial pipe as they embrace a new way of life in the white man’s world.
The scene is heartbreaking, but beautiful filmmaking. The Nonhonzhinga (medicine man), played by Talee Redcorn, prays in Osage as two women, Margaret Sisk and Moira RedCorn, sit behind him crying. The scene is a precursor of what comes next.
The film then explodes into the Roaring ’20s. The discovery of oil on Osage lands, the wealth that makes Osages the richest people per capita in the world, and unsolved Osage murders go uninvestigated while their oil money is left to their killers and henchmen.
Fresh out of the war and right off the train steps Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s picked up by Henry Roan, played by William Belleau, and taken to see his domineering uncle William Hale, played by Robert De Niro. Hale prefers his nephew call him “King” and Ernest bows his head in servitude. It’s clear from the start that Ernest is what Osages call Waux.pah.thi^, meaning pitiful.
While the opening scene of the film may be verbatim from “A Pipe for February,” the film Scorsese has made is definitely not a simple adaptation of Grann’s book, but an adaptation that’s magnified.
The film is told from the points of view of Mollie and Ernest Burkhart, as if the viewer is a fly on the wall in their lives. Mollie is a full blood Osage woman from Grayhorse with three sisters and a mother when she meets and falls in love with Ernest, her handsome taxi driver.
Mollie is played by the incomparable Lily Gladstone. She steals every scene she’s in. Her presence, her depth, her control, the nuances she brings to the role, she’s brilliant. In person, she’s as kind as she is beautiful. She deserves every accolade she receives. If you’re wondering if you should go see this film, at least go see it for Gladstone’s performance.
The script was originally 200 pages long, said Scorsese, with the film’s focus primarily on Tom White, the Texas Ranger who leads the investigation into the killings of Osage tribal members. DiCaprio was originally cast as White but as the film changed direction, the role went to Jesse Plemons.
Scorsese said the original script read like a movie he has seen many times before. He decided he wasn’t the director for the job. That is until he visited the Osage community of Grayhorse in 2019. At that fateful dinner, he listened to the community about their experiences and what they knew about Ernest and Mollie Burkhart. It was then he knew the story was more than just a crime drama, it was about complicity.
“That night was the one. That’s what did it, when they [Grayhorse community] got up and spoke, all of them. I think Brandy Lemon got up and she spoke and talked about Ernest and Mollie and I realized, because I was wondering, why this guy had done this,” Scorsese said.
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