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A much awaited, captivating account of a white coloniser’s guilt

A much awaited, captivating account of a white coloniser’s guilt

Octogenarian filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s much awaited film ‘The Killers of the Flower Moon‘, on the murders of native Americans in the 1920s, is a detailed depiction of a white man’s remorse.

The film opens with an ‘obscure’ ritual of native Americans burying a ceremonial pipe in anticipation of white people. It cuts to Osage Nation, buzzing with people, and rich with oil resources. Native people still hold on to their land but most of the businesses are controlled by the whites. Against this backdrop, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) comes into town and his uncle, sheriff William King Hale (Robert De Niro), tells him how ‘shrewd’ coloured people are.

Ernest starts working as a taxi driver and falls in love with Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a diabetic native with a large estate. In a plan sketched out by his uncle, and assisted by his brother Byron, Ernest marries Molllie to usurp her wealth. A series of native American murders shocks the native community. Three of Mollie’s sisters are murdered and the investigations are thwarted. Will the culprits get caught?

In this brilliantly written historic drama, the director attempts to own up to the historic injustice inflicted on indigenous people. Exceptional performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro elevate the film. In the denouement, Ernest’s search for redemption makes it a convincing watch. But in a film about native Americans, their culture and resistance get little attention. It can be argued that Mollie’s character is in itself a representation of the community. But instead of keeping Ernest, a white man and murder accomplice, at the centre of the story, a coloured protagonist would have gone further in denouncing the white man’s crimes. The film also tries to depict a state investigative agency as a liberator, whereas Mollie’s efforts to get the attention of the federal government to look into the murders is just a passing reference. But despite such shortcomings, ‘The Killers of the Flower Moon‘ is definitely a film you should watch.

(Published 27 October 2023, 21:14 IST)

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