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Arts Express

Thu, Nov 23, 2023 9:00 PM


Screening Room: Movies So Bad They're Good

Killers Of The Flower Moon: Same White Savior, Different Day

Where does one begin. Perhaps in assessing what was discarded for this historical drama, with the original title of the adapted book - deleted both literally and figuratively beyond the nearly three and a half hour running time. Namely, the politically upstaged cheerleading 'Killers Of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders And The Birth Of The FBI.' 

While tucked away in this glorification of  J. Edgar Hoover - rather busy as well at the time with the persecution and mass deportation of the left known as the Palmer Raids - is the actual Oklahoma Osage Tribe. Victims relegated as seemingly extras, behind the front and center story of charismatically conceived white psychopathic villains engaging in their serial race slaughter.

Whether subconsciously or not on the part of director and co-screenwriter Martin Scorsese's lack of capacity to identify with the 'other' racially, or a question of pandering to the primarily white audiences, what results is a continuing genocidal 'manifest destiny' denial of official US history - in this case as the falsified 'end' of history when it comes to the continuing injustices perpetrated by this country.  While no less than the telling clueless co-scripting of the film by Forrest Gump screenwriter, Eric Roth. 

Which might call into question as well, Gladstone as the choice for the film's female protagonist, rather than an actress with an indigenous appearance. And bringing to mind that historical rejection of dark African American actresses in favor of light skinned Dorothy Dandridge - which would seem by now to have been a deplorable relic of the past in Hollywood. And Gladstone as not only part European, but a distant cousin of 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone.

While in yet another buried US history, this one the slow motion genocide of the Osage people of Oklahoma, a conspiracy of white settlers to steal their fortunes derived from the chance discovery of immensely lucrative oil on the Osage land - ironically a case of barren territory where they were driven, after being cast off fertile Kansas land. And because a legal system was in place moving into the 1920's, slaughter and white land grabbing was more problematic - resulting in schemes to bypass the laws by marrying into the Osage families, then murdering them to inherit their wealth.

One true story back then, and which is the central narrative of the film, concerns the questionable marriage of bottom feeder Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio, somewhat the retro-western version of an equally sinister though weirdly whimsical Travis Bickle, with his old school vintage taxi) to wealthy indigenous Mollie (Lily Gladstone). As disappearances and serial murders abound, while Ernest plots to murder Mollie undetected, by slowly poisoning her.

Needless to say, her devoted cluelessness towards Ernest even as her family members succumb to their demise around her, and his emotional outbursts professing his love for his wife, lack a hint of irony not to mention any rational explanation over the film's three hour duration. While the many loose ends are conveniently resolved with a hasty postscript prior to Scorsese himself weighing in as a radio personality - apparently substituting on air comic relief for comprehension, let alone candor.

And in effect rendering film critics and commentators alike with the task of filling in the many blanks, in particular historically. And a challenge to the original book's blurb - the whitewashing assertion that Hoover's operatives stepping in for the convenient happy ending displayed  'heroism and a nation's struggle to leave its frontier culture behind and enter the modern world."

And a peculiar western tendency by the white settlers to this day, asserting in unusual numbers their partial ancestral Native American heritage - actually a popular practice back then no matter how racist those making claims might be - with such assertions being quite legal and not requiring proof, in taking over land belonging to subsequently displaced Native Americans.  And with the film bypassing not only the enormous popularity of the socialist movements at the time in Oklahoma, including their elected officials - but the tremendous surprising recognition back then of heartland Socialist candidate Eugene Debs, campaigning from jail.

All of which would seem to render Killers Of The Flower Moon a killer of historical truth as well. And a seemingly unavoidable connection, between the dropped title of the original work declaring ' The Osage Murders And The Birth Of The FBI' - and the United States continuing that not unrelated pseudo-messianic declaration, as millions around the world have been slaughtered by this country in that deplorably bid to 'save democracy.'

Prairie Miller



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