The Departed: Movie That I Love, and You Should Too

The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese, is one of the greatest movies produced in the 2000s. Possibly ever. The film is a crime drama set in Boston. An undercover state cop has infiltrated an Irish gang and tries to disrupt the operation. The mobsters themselves have a rat within the police department, and the entire film is centered on the two sides. I hope you enjoyed that “Cliff notes” version of such an incredible film. This film is one of the greatest for two distinct reasons: the acting, the writing.

Leonardo Dicaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, Ray
Winstone, Anthony Anderson, and Martin Sheen make up an impeccable cast. Should I even bother continuing? Are you still reading this? No? You’re watching the movie now? Ok, good.

Dicaprio, Nicholson, and Wahlberg were nominated for Golden Globes for their acting, and the entire cast was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. I can’t name one other film I’ve seen that I remember more than five of the actors’ names. The Departed, however, displays these notable actors at their best. And they are memorable. This cast is full of professionals, that which isn’t disputed, but if you are not left in awe at the end of this film you are a soulless, unappreciative slug. These actors have it easy; however, they were given an incredible story.

The screen writing for this film is likewise phenomenal. What make a great story are great characters, and The Departed is not lacking by any means in this category. Instead of telling you the story itself, I’m going to tell you the effect it will have on you. I cannot give it away; it’s not fair to you. This story will move you and it will make you appreciate the history behind the story. It is a true story about an Irish gang, and the way William Monahan brings these characters to life is beyond the simple story. The complexity of the plot will keep you scratching your head, but the intensity will keep you wanting more like an unfamiliar fruit. I’m not comparing the film to modern-day art, but instead, the film represents an early form of storytelling unfamiliar to audiences. It challenges the idea of story structure and forces you to ride a motorcycle before you’ve tackled training wheels.

Darwin once said that “it’s not the survival of the strongest or the most intelligent, it’s the ones most adaptable to change” that are most successful. Art and film are susceptible to change. We live in an ever-changing world. Monahan, Scorsese, and this cast are all present-day Darwin’s. They are our lens into what we want to know of a story. They provide us with a story, a film that represents an emotion that is unique to the viewer.

The film is above entertainment. It is the unknown and it is intangible. But art is the unknown; art is the antidote for quiet desperation. This film is art, and a solace for deep thought for those that want to escape.

The Greatest Film Scene Ever (*Not Up For Debate)

Pulp Fiction
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Won– Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Nominated-Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Travolta), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Samuel L. Jackson), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Uma Thurman), Best Director (Tarantino), Best Film Editing (Sally Menke)

The scene embedded above is the last scene of Pulp Fiction, a film by Quentin Tarantino. This scene is also the greatest. Ever. I’m not saying the scene is the greatest in this film, but rather, the greatest scene ever, in any movie, ever. It is important, however, to understand the context of the film before you watch the clip. For thematic reasons, this scene doesn’t make much sense until you’ve seen the film in its entirety. For an abundance of reasons this scene is unparalleled including its cinematography, acting, the story/script development, lighting, historical perspective, and sound aspects.

What makes a film more aesthetically pleasing than others is its adherence to certain cinematographic principles. This scene has a plethora of different camera angles that highlight perspective and authority among the characters. The different angles also help keep the viewers interested. The colors are vibrant. Color variation is played with throughout the film, and here we see a variety of colors (e.g. Ringo’s Hawaiian shirt, Jules’ blue shirt, Yolanda’s purple shirt, and the orange seats in the diner) that add to the brightness of the scene’s intensity and the film’s colorful language. Another principle that is unspoken but contributes to a cinematically “good” scene, is the rule-of-thirds. While we only subconsciously appreciate the adherence to the rule-of- thirds, this scene does as good a job as any at applying this rule.

Moreover, It is no surprise that this film was nominated for its acting. In this last scene, Samuel L. Jackson makes viewers believe that he has changed as a character and as a person. Watch this film and I guarantee you will lose yourself in the realness of the fictitiousness. During this scene, nothing else exists beyond the walls of the diner because the scene is that believable. Where Jackson showed growth, John Travolta showed consistency. It is an intense scene but credit is due to Travolta’s congruent nature. He never sways out of character (and neither does Ringo or Yolanda). It is clear Tarantino had the whip out during rehearsals because this scene is flawless.

I’m not arguing perfection here, but the reason this scene, above others, is so memorable is because of its relevance to the story and plot structure of the film. The film begins in the same diner with Ringo and Yolanda planning to rob the restaurant of all its money. It ends here as well. The brilliance of this film is its intertwining stories. Different characters from different stories never meet-until the end-but their stories are always connected somehow. What is most important is how Samuel L. Jackson’s character can help Ringo through a difficult time. Two people that were never meant to meet. Or maybe they were? This film is about Samuel L. Jackson’s (Jules) transformation as a character in a period of American nihilism. This scene displays just that. And it is beautiful.

Moving on to more technical aspects of the film: lighting and sound. These two I’m clumping into one category because they are similar. Similar in how they can negatively affect a film, that is. If a scene has poor lighting it can be hard to see what is happening. If a scene has poor audio than it can be difficult to hear what is happening. Both of which can detract from the enjoyment of a film. Tarantino uses light specifically as a metaphor (in the briefcase), or to convey emotion in someone’s eyes (shadows on Ringo’s face represent his lack in understanding or knowledge). There is no music playing in this scene. Ambient background noise is all. However, the tone in which characters speak is representative of their mood. Jules talks calmly and slowly to Ringo, trying to guide him towards “the light.”

Lastly, the historical perspective of the film is quite significant in understanding the meaning of the story. This plot is set in late 20th century America where people, in this case, Travolta and Jackson, make sense out of their lives through pop culture icons like a Quarter Pounder. Life is stricken by an inherent belief that life has lost all value and meaning. This film is about violence and redemption at life. Redemption can be earned or given, but nevertheless, it is liberating. It is evident Jules is dealing with issues of self-purpose, which further elucidates why this last scene is the greatest. It is satisfyingly complete, like a good sneeze, or finishing a puzzle, or a tasty Quarter Pounder with cheese. That kind of satisfying.

What is a Bagel Without the Hole?

It is hard to think of performance art without first considering Allan Kaprow. Kaprow, who died in 2006, was an American artist at the helm of the first creations of performance art. Kaprow completed his undergraduate studies at NYU and received his MA from Columbia University in art history. However, he began his career in New York in 1947, working at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, as an abstract painter where he admired the likes of Jackson Pollock and John Cage and focused on the concept of “action painting” in his work which inevitably paved the way for the performance artists of today. This idea of action painting that Kaprow explored in the 1960s was directed toward the idea that the process of making art was more important than the piece itself. This sort of avant-garde approach to art gained Kaprow a great deal of popularity. Kaprow, however, did not welcome his popularity lightly because he believed his ideas were marred by the presence of journalists and photographers. Beyond his work as an artist, Kaprow also taught at many universities: Rutgers, Pratt Institute, and California Institute of Arts, to name a few. While teaching at Rutgers in 1958 Kaprow coined the term “happening” for the first time in his essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock.” This term later became the moniker of his works of art. Kaprow’s “happenings” were essentially an art form that was a combination of performance art and action painting and poetry and spontaneous interaction with canvas that had no clear message but somehow excited people. For example, viewers may find a Kaprow piece “in which performers walk with boxes on their feet, douse themselves with buckets of milk, or roll back and forth across the stage.” In other words Kaprow makes viewers think deep about life through unique and indiscernible metaphor that blurs the line between art and life.

Kaprow asks us to question the meaning of life through his work. What is the meaning of life? Really? In one of Kaprow’s essays he tells the story of Mike and Harry in which Harry claims the meaning of life is the hole in the bagel. (Read the story here if you’re interested: However, it isn’t about bagels, it was never about bagels. The meaning of life, what Kaprow is encouraging us to see, is that bagels have two parts: the hole and the bread. Some of us are Harry: we crave to find meaning in the every day and have an insatiable lust for the unknown. We love to travel, and we enjoy messages and images and story and love and the inevitable downfall. We question everything. We are the hole. We will never be satisfied with the reality in which we are given. We are the hole in the bagel. The rest are Mikes. Those that read books and stick to the script and keep the Harrys of the world in balance and remind them that the tangible aspects of life are safer and concrete. Mike reminds us that We are the hole in the bagel, the intangible nothingness. The absence of bread, the beautiful metaphor that makes a bagel a bagel. Without the hole, the bagel is just bread. Boring bread. We need Mike and Harry in the world. That is the meaning of life: this symbiotic relationship that doesn’t exist without Mike, nor exists without Harry. Which are you?