Violence, duty, and heritage passed down from one generation to the next. But muddled even in the passing. “ One day you’ll understand.” But Amsterdam’s understanding will only be partial. He will not understand in full because He is not his father.
Stepping outside the scene for a moment a crucial line that many miss in the film is when Amsterdam mentions that he has lost his regional accent in the orphanage. It could be taken as a line covering up DiCaprio’s, um dubious skills at accents (“Duhly Ahpointed Fehduhal Mahshaals) but it serves a larger purpose as well. Though he labels himself Irish, and is thus labeled by his enemies, to those in the home country he wouldn’t pass. Whether or not he likes it, Amsterdam is an American.
“Some of it I half remember. The rest I took from dreams.”
One of my favorite lines in film. Or any film. Though DiCaprio's voice over will occasionally become intrusive, the dreamy melancholy way that line is spoken is perfect.
Our first look at Neeson. Significantly we never see him in full until after he has dawned the costume of “Priest”. Like Amsterdam he exists in our minds as a larger then life figure, we have no memory of him as a man. Only as a Legend.
“Now Son who is that?”
“WHO IS IT?”
“And what did he do?”
“He Cast Satan Out Of Paradise”
My distinguished colleague Peter Lenihan in his excellent (and now sadly absent from the blogosphere) essay on the film, stated that it is in Gangs that Scorsese admitted that he was more interested in Catholic Iconography then Catholic Theology. With all due respect to Peter this always seemed to me to be off the mark. And more then a little bit. There is hardly a film in Scorsese’s Ouevre (Last Temptation Of Christ being the rather obvious exception) that is powered more by Religion in general and Catholic Ideology in particular. It is at the heart of virtually every character. The thing that drives them, that frames their struggle in the mythic light they need in order to continue it.
Of course the irony of the film is that both Priest and Bill consider themselves the inheritor of the story. Both see themselves as Saint Michael and the other as Satan. Just as everyone who has ever fought to define what America means cannot help but see themselves completely in the right. Though given Bill resides in a place called Satan’s Circus, it’s not too tough to see where the film’s loyalties lie.I love Neeson's face in the above picture.
Note the mural of the Madonna and Child in the Celtic style on the back wall. The film blends the iconography of paganism and Christianity over and over again. To startling effect.
In speaking of the blend note too our first look at The Dead Rabbits. As with the Saint Michael Parable the link between Social Identity and thus social action and Religion is made explicit.
Gangs has a reputation for ultra violence that is at best half earned. It’s bloody no doubt. But rarely shows you as much as you think it does (More on this later). It’s just that the potential for violence is so clearly etched in the bedrock of every scene that at times it feels down right oppressive.
You can't have shots of weapons like that, and men like those and not remember that there is an excellent chance that the latter may begin to use the former.
Once again the wicker cross, the blending of Ireland’s two religious traditions. The wild haired Priest with the blood of Christ. It’s a darker wilder religion that is practiced by the characters of Gangs Of New York.
I treasure cinema’s ability to bring me to different worlds. And no film I know does that better then Gangs Of New York. Gangs Of New York has such a vividness to its sense place that it’s damn near hallucinogenic. That first journey through The Warren a staggering montage of sound and image never fails to leave me literally breathless.
Hardly have I ever seen a place so alive.
The Rabbits even look smaller. No longer shot from low angles, their heads brushing the ceilings. This is not their terroritory.
Pulls Back for the swing...
"You can do this all with computers now." George Lucas told Scorsese when he visited the sets of Gangs Of New York. Continuing his contest to be the most hateful filmmaker in the world...