Gangs of New Yorki is the exquisite product of Scorsese departing from his familiar brand of Scorsese-realism in favour of an excursion through out-and-out surrealism. I am convinced that the man did this deliberately and knew what he was doing.
Meanwhile, surrealism is like Camembert : perhaps offensive to the palate fed exclusively on brie ; sometimes good, some other times bad, never bad merely because it is runny. Even should it be runnier than you'd like it, sir. Consequently, various parts may well offend your sensibilities, chief among which the ridiculousness of the female character, and of the actual characters' relationships to her. Yes, incredibly nonsensical, all of it - this not because women aren't people, but because this is how females do in fact look through this particular surrealist lens. Can't be helped. Diaz does her best in a miserable part, playing yet another version of not-woman. Doing her best is what makes an actress ; the end result being fine in context is what makes a great one. Diaz is certainly closer to the latter than the former.
But this was a discussion for independent minds with a minimal aesthetic education. For the majority of the anglophone cattle, what will offend sensibilities is the showing of one particularly if inexplicably popular traitor without the official trappings and certifications indicating him to the mob as a proper object of worship. To see Lincoln well hated and reviled, as he was, and for perfectly fine reasons, among the very yankees that supposedly supported him all as one is not unlike seeing De Gaulle as yet another terrorist, oppressing an otherwise disinclined population. To see the notion that the Civil War was won through anything other than wholesale shipping of poor immigrants arriving in New York - for work and a future straight into the mouth of the cannon, maybe fed, maybe not even fed - derrided, and the precious "principle" involved not even mentioned ; to see the coffins come out as the new sfortunati climb into the bowel of the great beast ; to hear Linda Thompson sing "Here's to you boys, now take my advice, to America I'll have ye's not be going. There is nothing here but war, where the murderin' cannons roar and I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin." and to see the crippled white man confront the black with a "I lost an arm for you" only to receive a "That's a good start" in return - these are all things that will offend the usual suspects, because they would require one to think. Nay, not merely "think", not the way they usually do it. Actually think, where one's in danger of coming to unflattering conclusions about oneself based on the history of the past. Offense, feigned, imaginary or truly believed is always cheaper, and what's again the difference betwixt the three ?
All the offenses aside, the film does treat some fundamental questions, which is what a film should do, and how a film remains - because yes, I count this above most anything in Scorsese's long and merituous career. Let's attempt a list.
For one thing : the man that can't look the other in the eye on the day of his death - can't die. Simple as that, death isn't for everyone, and I do believe the reason most everyone's stuck befouling this world is that they aren't worth the next. If you recall that ancient discussion as to why Africa sucksii, the same principle applies. What exactly else than "pop music" and "talk into the clown head for your food pellet" would you expect out of the sort of retards that couldn't find their way out of the thinnest paper bag ?
For another thing, the man whose eyes betrayed him sent the offending item wrapped in blue packing paper, and in his own words "I would've cut them both out if I could afford being blind". He celebrates every year the day of his better's demise, in a strange sort of Thanksgiving cum circus act, and raises an orphan girl for pity, but has a problem. That problem is insoluble, properly speaking, and it goes like this :
- Bill, deliver these good and fervant folk to the polls. And there will be a handsome price for each vote that goes Tammany's way.
- My father gave his life making this country what it is. Murdered by the British, with all of his men, July 25, 1814. You think I'm going to help you befoul his legacy by giving this country to them who's had no hand in fighting for it ? Why? Because they come off the boat crawling with lice and begging you for soup?
- You're a great one for the fighting Bill, I know, but you can't fight forever.
- I can go down doing it.
- And you will.
- What did you say?
- I said, you're turning you back on the future.
- Not our future.
Quite exactly so : for the aforestated reasons, there's nothing the great democratic machine of Tammany Hall can possibly offer men, nor any possibility of anything other than that abomination on God's green earth. And no, it hasn't changed one bit since forever, nor is it going to change. Between an item you can't want and an item you can't have, what'll be your choice and how's ethics (ie, the science of making correct choices) going to help you ?
Certainly most important of all : female nudity, and indoor life is correctly depicted. Yeah, that's how a party looks, among sane people. You obviously can't have that, which obviously makes you not merely less, but couldn't-ever-be-more-than-nothing in front of one William Cutting, a butcher by trade, burried somewhere in a grave long lost to grass.
At least there's something on sale, though. Right ?———
- 2002, by Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and an excellent Daniel Day-Lewis [↩]
- Distillation - everyone who didn't suck left. Sticking around is easier than leaving, so over time this ensures the shit's left behind.
You can try this experiment on your own, pour yourself a glass of your favourite drink in the morn, let it sit through the day and attempt to drink it as a nightcap. Still your favourite drink ? [↩]