Recommended Re-Viewing is a series in which we make the case for re-watching an old film or TV series which you can stream without leaving your house. It might be a plot that's so bad it's good, a scene which deserves more interrogation or a director's underrated gem.
This time, Esquire's copy editor Josh Bolton digs into the Easter eggs in Martin Scorsese's gangster epic 'The Departed'.
Naming your ultimate Scorsese movie is a test. What on the surface may seem like a harmless conversation has the potential to raise eyebrows.
Yet after re-watching The Departed during lockdown, my once-wavering opinion became entrenched. It was clear that as well as drawing career-best performances from its unrivalled cast and featuring Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy Matt Damon hissing “fuckin’ cahksucka” in a menacing Boston accent, this unnerving mob thriller is a masterpiece that can only be fully appreciated on second viewing.
First there’s the panic attack-inducing cat and rat plot that never surrenders its tension or threat. Then there’s that bullet-popping, body-dropping conclusion that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tarantino movie; a frantic finale that on first experience feels somewhat at odds with the carefully structured narrative that came before.
But should this cop-offing crescendo really come as a surprise? Had you been closely following the signs — quite literally in this case — then you’d have anticipated many of the film’s brutal exits. As with the placement of a recurring, grim-reaping Easter egg, which takes the form of an “X” hidden in specific shots, Scorsese brilliantly foreshadows his character’s whackings.
It’s a motif that sees the director pay tribute to one of his favourite films, the 1932 gangster epic Scarface, a black-and-white picture that garnered further fame when it was remade by Brian De Palma in 1983.
The first X appears just 45 seconds into the film, as Frank Costello delivers the opening monologue over the top of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. As Costello strolls through his auto shop imparting wisdom, he passes behind a steel structure in the shape of an X. He’s a marked man there and then, but it would be another two hours — and some 30 years in the film’s events — before the mobster would meet his blood-spattered demise. Talk about showing your hand early.
Following on from this, there are at least 16 further instances in which an X haunts a scene during the film’s two-and-a-half-hour run. Some are used to spotlight a character for death soon after their introduction — see an X in the frame when Collin Sullivan admires the view from his apartment balcony; a collection of steel lattices placed over a shot of an imprisoned Billy Costigan. While others prepare the viewer for impending death — an X made out of industrial tape is visible in the elevator taken by Costigan and a bludgeoned Sullivan; two red ones are patterned in the hallway carpet seen before Sullivan enters his apartment for the final time.
And as well as props, these Easter eggs are also produced through character action. Take Costigan erasing the incorrectly spelt “Cittizins” with a hand-drawn X, or Sullivan hurriedly deleting Costigan’s identity file by clicking X. Even the final image of a slain Costello has him gloriously sprawled in digger bucket, evoking a Christ-like cross or X.
Of course, the seasoned Scorsese viewer will say the likelihood of a gruesome offing is always around the corner in any one of the director’s mob dramas — especially one where the film title references a funeral prayer. But as The Departedim电竞官网- deals with the intertwining paths of good and evil in modern-day Massachusetts — and notes how these paths are easily blurred — the presence of a fatal X provides a finality that whether good or evil, cop or criminal, all immersed in this violent saga are destined for the same, impartial ending.
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