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Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

“Killers of the Flower Moon” showcases Scorsese’s voice for the Osage people

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Spoiler Warning 

Martin Scorsese’s film “Killers of the Flower Moon” debuted on Oct. 20, detailing the historical event in which members of the Native American Osage tribe were murdered for oil money in 1920s Oklahoma. 

The film takes off with Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) reuniting with his uncle, William Hale (Robert De Niro), whom he goes on to live with after returning home from war. William offers Ernest a small piece of advice: marry a rich Osage woman, and then you get her land. From this on, Ernest Burkhardt gets caught up in a lot of destructive behavior, like robbery, fraud, and even murder. 

The murders of the Osage tribe were a monumental yet overlooked part of history. Scorsese’s film gives the Osage people a voice. It is based on David Grann’s novel “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” though the movie is a little more dramatized than the analysis in the book. 

Towards the start of the movie, there is a brief list of people whose deaths were never investigated. As a viewer, I did hope Scorsese would have included a full list of every Osage person who died because of this event by the end. Recognizing those who died as a result of this tragedy would put into perspective just how many lives were lost due to government inaction. 

Throughout the film, the violence against the Osage people is heavily conveyed—from plotting murders to stealing land. 

At times, the violence depicted was graphic, illustrating how Scorsese could have spent more time actually addressing the murders throughout the film. Much was left out of the story, including how the Osage people lived in the aftermath and how the government took land, money, and resources from every single tribe in the United States. 

Cinematically, however, the film is a masterpiece. Through intense acting and beautifully crafted scenes, the movie is incredibly engaging. 

Arguably, the best scene was the one depicting a fiery field outside of Ernest Burkhart’s and Mollie Burkhart’s house. The goal of this scene is for William Hale (Robert De Niro) to collect fire insurance money on his farm, but it’s ultimately one of the most visually beautiful scenes. The scene is full of orange and yellow hues, and multiple different farmhands with shovels and different tools. Their silhouettes are shown digging and hitting the ground while surrounded by flames. William Hale is filmed standing on the balcony of a house staring out at the flaming field, licks of fire in the reflection of his eyes. 

The reflection in Williams’ eyes helped portray how he truly was the mastermind behind the devastation and destruction that happened to the Osage Tribe, including planning their murder and arranging for ways to inherit their fortunes. The artistry of the scene depicts the tragedy of the events truly. 

During the scene, Ernest Burkhart has tears streaming down his face as he realizes what he has done and how destructive his actions truly were. The realization of the condition of his wife strikes him, and he decides that he is going to poison himself with the same “medicine” that he gave his wife. 

Raw emotion, paired with masterful cinematography, makes this scene a stellar example of the internal conflict that Ernest faces—should he kill his wife as a form of self-saving, or risk his uncle, William, exposing his actions and even killing him? 

Gladstone had one of the most captivating performances, including vulnerable performances each time she learned that one of her family members had passed. 

In one scene, Mollie Burkhart is in the basement of her house with her children and their maids after hearing an explosion outside. Ernest Burkhart, her husband, goes to investigate when he sees Mollie’s last living sister lying in a pile of rubble that was once her house. When he returns to inform Mollie of the incident, the audience hears a piercing shriek. Gladstone’s depth was heart-shattering. 

Although her character does not always put words to her feelings, Gladstone’s facial expressions and vocal inflections show how her character is reacting to events throughout the movie.

In one very moving scene, she confronts her character’s husband about his involvement in the murder of the Osage people. Her betrayed and hurt expression, although not overly apparent, subtly makes it more realistic. While on-screen reactions can often be overdramatized and seem unlikely, Gladstone does an exceptional job making sure that her reactions are measured and appropriately dramatized. 

Another instance of Gladstone’s powerful acting skills is when she attends her family members’ funerals. Some of the Osage people targeted and murdered throughout the film are her mother and sisters. Being a very wealthy oil family, William Hale arranges for her and her family to be killed to obtain their money. At her family members’ funerals, it is apparent on Gladstone’s face that she is in pain, but trying to remain strong and identify any possible killers at her family members’ services. From teeth grinding and jaw locking to silent tears, Gladstone’s depiction of pain and agitation is apparent, despite not being explicitly stated. 

DiCaprio also had an incredibly heartfelt and touching portrayal. His character struggles with a moral battle throughout the film, constantly shown at an impasse between what is right and what is wrong, especially when it comes to things that directly impact his wife. 

Ernest is depicted as being terrified of his uncle, as he seems to be unable to refuse any task Willam gives him. The most clear case of this is towards the end of the film when Ernests asks for protection against his uncle when he decides to testify against him in court. 

Audiences can see DiCaprio’s body language change as he becomes more and more involved with the murders of the Osage people. DiCaprio’s character shifts from an excited returning soldier to a killer, and it is incredibly apparent in the way he holds himself. 

Scorsese’s film offers a brief insight into what the Osage people experienced, but there is no way to do justice to the true extent of pain and suffering endured. Scorsese offered at least some exposure to the topic because, although I did outside research about the topic before and after watching the movie, not all audience members did. Including more events and information, such as the exact death toll and even the full investigation, would have been helpful for viewers.

There were times towards the beginning of the movie when there were a couple of awkward time jumps, but other than that the film moved incredibly smoothly and did not at all feel like three and a half hours. 

Scorsese’s film “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a good start in bringing awareness to the violence Native American people have faced and face even to this day.  

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About the Contributor
Kaitlyn Smitten
Kaitlyn Smitten, Staff Writer
Kaitlyn Smitten (she/her) is a freshman journalism student from Red Deer, Alberta. Canada. Kaitlyn is a part of the Emerson College softball team and enjoys traveling, reading, and listening to music. She aspires to be an investigative and/or breaking news reporter.

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