I was beginning to think that Americans could only stomach comedies. By comedy, I mean movies that end happily. I know a number of people who hated The Breakup, with Vince Vaughan and Jennifer Aniston just because people can’t stomach a movie in which the couple stay broken up. The Departed was truly a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions and that is what I liked about it. It showed the true connections between sin and death in a way that might have made Flannery O’Connor take notice.
Kelli and I dashed through the rain to our local two screen movie theatre and bought two tickets at $5 each to see a first run movie. It’s ridiculously cheap to go to the local cinema, compared with the $9+ elsewhere. We snuggled down with our cheap popcorn and drink to watch a movie that was fast-paced, true to life and thought provoking. It is not recommended for the faint of heart, the young, or those who think that all art should be G-rated.
The characters are Irish and proud of the fact that they are Irish and from Boston: we see racism, blind ambition, lies, betrayal, violence, sex and drugs in the suburbs of that city. ‘The Departed’ refers to the words spoken and written over the graves of the Catholic cemetries when characters in the movie are buried. You feel, in the tense action of the movie, that each character is not far from death. When each one dies, there are no long speaches by the villains, no explanations by the ‘good-guys’, just reactions that are consistent with the characters and their values.
The villains seem to be looking out for number one, they pursue pleasure, they climb on the backs of those around them. There is some honour among thieves. As Jesus once said, talking of Satan’s kingdom, “a kingdom that is divided can not stand.” However, in the police force and the underworld there is division caused by rats. Somehow we justify the lies told to the mob by the police informant, but we condemn the lies told to the police by the mobster rat. Both series of lies bring them to death.
I question whether evil can be overcome with evil. Is there another way to infiltrate a mob, to bring it down without deceit and trickery? There are plenty of lies in the movie and none of them leads to a positive conclusion. The values that pragmatism forces on American law enforcement results in death. I wish that I could say that it was death of innnocents. It is not. Most of us would rather pretend that espionage was not a game of deceit. We would prefer to think that intelligence is gathered honorably. Is there a case for sinning for a good cause? Are there times in our fallen world when we will be reduced to choosing which of two wrongs we must choose, because the consequences of doing right are too awful to allow?
We wish for the redemption of the undercover cop. He wants out. He wants to reform. He wants his life to be normal. I wonder why the character didn’t just run away across the world. Are we stuck in patterns that result in death because we lack the creativity or motivation to lay hold of a new life? He is stuck. He is stranded in a cycle of sin and fear which ends abruptly when he seems on the point of redemption – but his own redemptive plan leads him to trust the untrustworthy and he is suddenly shot through the head and his story is over.
All the characters are flawed. All the characters are real. Money tempts the the corrupt and the cops to their death. Vainglory draws cops to an imagined life the learned from TV. Drugs and sex draw pleasure-seekers deeper into corruption.
There is no man-made path to redemption – sinful decisions do result in death. We have all sinned and we all get what is coming to us. When payday comes, it is death who comes after us. Sin is a dark disease for which there is no human cure. When pressured, poor, and desperate we become the banshees and goblins that we wish we were not – but who we truly are. Like the witches who peel off their beautiful facades to reveal the warty nose and the green skin that is more truly them. The ugliness of our self-righteousness is stripped away under pressure. The Departed shows us naked and we should know that there is a condition in all of us that without divine aid leads to death. Death is holy. Death is righteous. Death is just.
Let mercy triumph over justice.