“Wake up and smell the coffin.”
Venomously delivered by Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Departed,” this line was cut from the film but remains a deadly wake-up call for an unsettling number of the characters. Now that “The Departed” is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, it’s worth discussing the most troubling part of Martin Scorsese’s morbid crime drama: the ending.
(That also means it’s time to put up the yellow police caution tape marked “spoiler alert” around this article.)
Scorsese finishes his tale of false identities and informants in a sudden, bloody fury, making the deleted “coffin” statement the “definitive line of the movie,” according to screenwriter William Monahan, who’s nominated for best adapted screenplay.
“Nobody gets forgiven in this one. Nobody!” Scorsese told The Associated Press, reveling in the gory ending.
A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs,” “The Departed” draws heavily from the original. They both center on mirror-image moles: a crooked cop (Matt Damon) spying for the gang of Frank Costello (Nicholson), and an undercover officer (Leonardo DiCaprio) deeply embedded in the gang.
The final scenes of “The Departed” make a notable addition to the denouement of “Infernal Affairs” — adding one more murderous twist to a film already full of them. Then, on the last shot, the camera pans away from the final corpse, catching a lone, symbolic rat scampering through the final frames.
Thumbs down on the rat“A lot of people don’t like the rat at the end,” says Monahan, 46, who was a successful novelist (“Light House: A Trifle”) and journalist (as an editor at Spy magazine) before dedicating himself to screenwriting. “In the Jacobean stage, you’d have this tremendous bloodbath at the end of a work, and then the next thing that would happen is the clown would come out. And everyone in the theater would laugh and it would take the edge off the intense experience.
“I tell ya, people would leave the theater feeling a lot different if it wasn’t for that rat.”
Still, some have lamented the rapid double-crossing and vengeful murders that precede the final flourish. New Yorker film critic David Denby wrote of the quick disposals: “shock gives way to disbelief and even laughter.” AP critic Christy Lemire said the film “nearly morphs into self-parody, with characters literally standing around, waiting to get shot in the head.”
Says Monahan: “In an alternate universe, I’m teaching Shakespeare.” Thus his adaptation accentuated the tragedy of “Infernal Affairs” with a bloody climax, followed by a comic, cathartic rodent.
The reasons for this approach extend from Monahan’s original intentions for “The Departed” — to present a larger story about South Boston. Having grown up in and around the city, he immediately knew he wanted to set the film in his hometown and infuse it with Irish Catholic culture.
“The Chinese story sort of clicked really well with the known culture of corruption in Boston,” says Monahan, who worked on his adaptation only from a translation of the “Infernal Affairs” script. (His perfectly accented dialogue and memorable one-liners can be dissected on the DVD for “The Departed,” due out Feb. 13, including deleted scenes like Costello’s “coffin” line.)
Based on a most-wanted manNicholson’s mob boss character was partially modeled on James “Whitey” Bulger, a mobster who controlled much of the criminal activity in Boston for decades. Like Costello, he was eventually revealed to be an FBI informant. Bulger has been on the lam since 1996 and is currently listed alongside Osama bin Laden as one of the FBI’s most-wanted men.
This era of corruption is what “The Departed” seeks to repudiate in a domino-effect massacre. It’s not unlike the violent finale of Scorsese’s classic “Taxi Driver,” when Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) goes on a deranged spree out of disgust for 1970s New York.
Little wonder Scorsese was convinced to make “The Departed” by Monahan’s script.
“There’s a sense of a kind of post-Sept. 11 despair about the film, which is very interesting, countered by this extraordinary humor,” the director says. “And primarily it’s all about loyalty and betrayal — every scene is about loyalty and betrayal. And they’re all lying. And their lives depend on it. Their lives depend on it!”
In the end, the only man left standing is Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). Now, Scorsese and Monahan are considering a sequel that will focus on the foul-mouthed cop.
“It’s a strong possibility,” says Monahan. “This is really a world I kind of established and like to write about. There are further things I’d like to explore about Boston. As ‘The Departed’ was sort of a departure from the material, I think if it came about, (the sequel) would be a departure from ‘The Departed.”’