Editor's Note: This article contians spoilers for Killers of the Flower Moon.
As the credits came on screen and the applause started in my theater last night, I sat for a minute and blinked for what felt like the first time in over three and a half hours. For me, going to the movies feels like a religious ritual, and with the best movies, a religious experience.
If cinema itself is God, then Martin Scorsese is tantamount to St. Peter. The message he was delivering through Killers of the Flower Moon was not one of salvation but about the demons we live with every day and the evil that lures us in.
But let's back up. Today, we're going to explain the ending of Killers of the Flower Moon and dissect what that final scene means.
There will be SPOILERS for the movie to follow. So read at your own risk.
Let's get started.
Killers of the Flower Moon — Official Teaser Traileryoutu.be
What Is the Plot of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’?
This movie, adapted from the non-fiction true crime book written by David Grann, delves into a series of crimes known as the Osage Indian murder investigation.
But Scorsese's story starts with the Osage people, as they're driven to a reservation in Oklahoma, and find oil on their land. This makes them the richest people per capita in the world.
Of course, with the oil flowing and money rolling in, there's a fair share of people who come in to try to exploit them.
One such person is cattle rancher William 'King' Hale (Robert De Niro), who becomes rich in his own right by pretending to be a friend to the Tribal Nation while pulling strings behind their backs to try to control their oil claims.
His nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), comes to work for him. Hale sets him up to be a cab driver and eventually drives him toward a romance with an Osage woman named Mollie (Lily Gladstone), whom he falls in love with and marries.
But Mollie's family controls many of the oil claims, and Hale wants them out of the way. So he and Ernest, along with Ernest's older brother Byron (Scott Shepherd), begin to systematically kill Mollie's relatives one by one.
During this, Ernest falls deeper in love with Mollie, but when she starts making noise and wanting a real investigation into these murders, William convinces Ernest to slowly poison Mollie through her insulin shots to keep her quiet.
Ernest regrets doing this, but never crosses his uncle and continues to make his wife very sick. Their love is still there and palpable, but inside she knows something is not right with her medicine and suspects Ernest of poisoning her. But before Mollie falls too ill, she heads to Washington DC, where she asks the President of the United States to send someone to solve the murders in Osage country.
An FBI investigator named Tom White (Jesse Plemons) comes into town, and he quickly and easily figures out that the Burkharts and Hale are behind dozens of murders in and around town. They're all arrested, and Tom gets Earnest to flip on his uncle.
William tries to pressure Ernest into not testifying, but after Ernest's daughter dies and he sees how upset Mollie is, he agrees to flip if he's let out of prison to be with his wife and children.
Meanwhile, Mollie, now not being poisoned, grows stronger and is able to get out of bed and see what her life is like without the poison. This confirms in her mind something has been happening to her.
Ernest testifies and tells the truth, along with many of his cohorts, and William and Byron are sent to prison. But when Ernest is confronted by Mollie about whether or not he's told her the whole truth about what has been happening, both on the stand and in their marriage. Ernest lies and says he has. Mollie knows he's lying and leaves him.
The Ending of 'Killers of the Flower Moon''Killers of the Flower Moon'
Credit: Apple Original Films
The film then cuts to an old-time radio show, where they tell the story like it's an entertaining romp in front of an all-white audience.
We find out William Hale eventually left prison and lived to be 87 years old. Ernest and Byron also were let go early and wound up living back in Osage country together. Mollie was eventually killed by her diabetes.
Martin Scorsese himself comes to a microphone and delivers Mollie's eulogy where we learn she was buried next to her family and that the Osage murders were never mentioned in the newspaper upon her death.
After that, we do a slow zoom-out as the Osage people dance on the plains where so much blood was once shed. Then, we fade to black.
What Does The Ending of 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Mean?
#osagenation language consultant christopher cote shares his complicated feelings about #martinscorsese’s #killersofthesunflowermoon #killersoftheflowermoonmovie
On the red carpet for the premiere of Killers of the Flower Moon, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Christopher Cote, the language consultant on the movie who taught the Osage language to the cast.
Cote gave possibly the most eloquent answer I've ever heard when it comes to his feelings on the movie.
Cote said that his feelings were mixed. He said, “As an Osage, I really wanted this to be from the perspective of Mollie and what her family experienced, but I think it would take an Osage to do that ... I think that’s because this film was not made for an Osage audience, it was made for everybody, not Osage.”
So, why am I starting an explanation of the ending of the movie with that quote?
Well, I think it holds in its heart the story of this film. The final two scenes are our focus today.
We'll start with a 1932 episode of "The Lucky Strike Hour," the radio program where we hear the summation of the crimes and punishments in the movie. Of course, the fact that Hale and his nephews got away with most of this is appalling.
But the way Scorsese delivers this information is through entertainment. He knows that for white people of any generation, the way we're approaching these stories is through one of thrills and chills. We'd want to know the salacious details of the crime and be entertained from the comfort of our own homes like this radio hour does.
Even in what should be a sympathetic radio broadcast, the voices of indigenous people are mocked through Pidgin English. These victims are tokenized and otherized to be consumed by an audience who may forget them as soon as the broadcast ends.
As Scorsese comes out to deliver Mollie's eulogy, his tenor and breaking of his voice is a reminder that we are the wolves. We have preyed on these stories as forms of entertainment, without remembering the murder or justice needed.
He's standing before us as an artist saying, "Look at what we leave out," and is begging us to not forget this story, to not forget the history that's been ripped from our textbooks and glossed over by so many others.
The movie then transitions to an Osage ceremony. Martin Scorsese may have the last lines of the movie, but the last voices we hear are Osage.
Their story has not ended. In fact, if we start listening now, it can continue on, even after all the devastation. It's on us to listen to them and give them the space needed to tell their stories with their voices.
Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese on the set of his new film 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/AppleTV+
This is all just my take, and I'm sure you have opinions and ideas as well. I want to hear them. This is a movie that begs to be talked about, and I hope to spend the rest of my time with it reading and listening to the thoughts and opinions of others about it.
Martin Scorsese is our greatest living filmmaker. Like I said at the top, this for me was not salvation but a reckoning on what I could do better as a person and as a storyteller, and how we have to do better as a society.
Let me know what you think in the comments.