Martin Scorsese discusses the enjoyment of sin and reflects on themes of violence, love, and personal growth through his unexpected presence on TikTok.

Estimated read time 12 min read


I have been conversing with Martin Scorsese for two minutes and it seems like the interview has already concluded. Our topic of discussion is his latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon, which has received 10 Oscar nominations, including Scorsese’s record-breaking 10th nomination for best director. However, he reveals that he has been promoting the film since last April. “Overall, the response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive. I am extremely grateful for that. However, I am eager to start working on a new project as soon as possible. Preferably right now. Today.”

He proceeds to stand up from his seat and depart. “Yes, immediately. I will depart at this moment.”

Er …

He resumes his seat and chuckles enthusiastically. “No hard feelings, no hard feelings,” he remarks, as I struggle to hide my sense of relief. “It’s just that they suggest: ‘You should take a break.’ Seriously? Time is a factor. The concept of existence is a factor. So, as they say, c’est la vie.”

Despite being 81 years old, Scorsese shows no signs of slowing down or retiring from his career as a film-maker. In fact, he seems to have boundless energy and is almost aging in reverse. He continues to produce ambitious and lengthy films, such as his recent work Killers of the Flower Moon which runs for nearly three-and-a-half hours. He also stays busy with various projects, including creating documentaries and TV shows, and producing films for other directors. As one of the few remaining film-makers from the golden age of New Hollywood in the 1970s, Scorsese is dedicated to preserving the art of cinema.

Against all odds, Scorsese has managed to become a social media sensation. Despite his busy schedule, he has found time to engage with platforms like TikTok, much to his own amusement. This is all thanks to his daughter, Francesca, who has been featuring her willing father in her posts. In one video, Scorsese attempts to guess the purpose of various items, such as an eyelash curler and a menstrual cup (mistaking the latter for a “flagon”). In another, he tests his knowledge of gen-Z slang (getting some wrong, but ultimately impressing). And in yet another, he screen-tests a potential new muse – only to discover it’s the family dog, Oscar. The dynamic between father and daughter is so charming that they were even hired to create a Super Bowl ad for Squarespace.

On the set of Killers of the Flower Moon with Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro.View image in fullscreen

Francis Ford Coppola recently praised Scorsese as “the best film director alive”, and now he’s creating short 30-second videos for social media. Coppola states, “It’s actually quite enjoyable. There’s a certain charm in breaking away from the formalities of interviews and events and just being at home with dogs on the floor, wearing pajamas and laughing with people.”

He is in a calm state of mind – dressed neatly as usual in a custom-made shirt and blazer, but casual and talkative. He is visiting London as part of a European tour that also involves a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. In a few days, he will also be attending the Berlin film festival to receive a Golden Bear award for his career achievements.

According to Scorsese, making a three-and-a-half-hour film is not as difficult as it may seem. He has done it multiple times before. His latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon, is based on the true story of the systematic murder of members of the Native American Osage tribe in the 1920s after they discovered oil on their land. The film took six years to make and required nearly 100 days of shooting. Despite facing challenges such as filming in hot weather in Oklahoma, following Covid restrictions, and coordinating period sets, cars, costumes, horses, and a large number of extras, Scorsese does not complain. He explains that once he is on set, he forgets about the difficulties and focuses on working efficiently, even though it may not always go as planned. He also mentions that he prefers shooting in colder temperatures because it allows for faster filming.

Making Killers was a bit of a gamble for Scorsese. Not financially – since it was funded by Apple – but politically, as it delves into a shameful and unequivocally racist event in American history (the film also touches on the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, which occurred just 65 miles away), at a time when conservative cultural warriors are trying to suppress these types of histories. “That’s precisely why it should be made,” he states simply.

DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.View image in fullscreen

“I did not purposely do that. Our goal was to shed light on the corruption and unethical practices of unbridled capitalism, which we know to be detrimental. I attempted this approach with The Wolf of Wall Street, my film about a stockbroker’s rise and fall in the 1990s, using humor as a means of expressing my frustration. However, unexpectedly, Trump was elected.”

Movies don’t often influence real life straightforwardly, Scorsese seems to be implying – yet many of his seem to have seeped into the culture in deeper ways. Not least because of his primary areas of interest: men, male power, male relationships and, in particular, men’s capacity for violence.

He claims to be unfamiliar with the idea of the “Scorsese bro” – a type of male movie enthusiast who praises his tough, brutal “drugs and guns” films while disregarding his other works. Many of these films – including Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Wolf of Wall Street, and especially Goodfellas – are considered masterpieces. However, I propose to him that these movies often adopt the perspective of the (predominantly male) perpetrators of violence, rather than the victims. Killers of the Flower Moon is no exception. While these men may ultimately face consequences for their actions, Scorsese’s dynamic, snappy, intense filmmaking style often glamorizes their lifestyles. As Scorsese himself puts it, “Sin is enjoyable.”

With De Niro on the set of Goodfellas.View image in fullscreen

“I have to confess, that has been my sole area of interest when it comes to the perpetrators,” he admits. He looks to the side, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. “It’s a complex issue, rooted in my childhood,” he finally shares. His upbringing in Little Italy, a neighborhood in lower New York City where his Sicilian grandparents and many other Italian immigrants settled after the war, was filled with guns, gangsters, poverty, and violence. The Catholic faith and its ideas of morality, sin, and guilt were also ingrained in his daily life. Initially on track to become a priest, he later became enamored with the world of movies, literature, and music. His parents, struggling financially, tried their best to maintain moral integrity and dignity in a society filled with corruption. As for the perpetrators, he finds himself intrigued by what drives people to commit crimes. “Is it possible for us to become perpetrators ourselves?”

He alludes to his own past mistakes: “Do I have the right to make moral judgments about others’ lives? No. I have lived that way.” But when I try to delve deeper into his personal history, he gently avoids the topic. Scorsese has been married five times. He ended his first marriage to Laraine Marie Brennan in 1971, shortly after their daughter Catherine was born – it seems he prioritized his career over his family. He had three short-lived marriages – with Julia Cameron, Isabella Rossellini, and Barbara De Fina – and also had relationships with actors like Liza Minnelli and Ileana Douglas. He has been married to his current wife, Helen Morris, since 1999. Scorsese also struggled with cocaine addiction, which led to hospitalization and, some might argue, the failure of his 1977 musical New York, New York, starring De Niro and Minnelli. He prefers to discuss these events through the lens of his films: “I cannot create something like that if I do not experience those emotions.”

Ellen Burstyn and Diane Ladd in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.View image in fullscreen

In regards to the Scorsese brothers, the speaker acknowledges that there will always be some who only see the violence in their films and perceive it as mindless. However, with works like Goodfellas, the speaker’s intention was to explore the allure and pleasure of evil. This may seem contradictory, but the speaker admits to possibly having conflicting perspectives.

These problems remain relevant in modern times. The film Taxi Driver, in particular, seemed to focus on a type of isolated, disconnected, powerless, and resentful male identity that has only become more prevalent. De Niro’s character could be seen as a precursor to the “incel” movement, potential mass shooters, or domestic terrorists – a type of person that is now all too familiar. Additionally, the film predicted the role of media in blurring the lines of morality surrounding such individuals, as well as The King of Comedy, which features De Niro as a failed comedian turned kidnapper (the recent Joker movie, which resonated with audiences, drew elements from both films and even cast De Niro as a talk show host). Scorsese, as a true auteur, followed his own instincts rather than conforming to industry standards. He explains, “We were drawn to these characters and their stories. While making these films, I felt like I belonged there rather than being hired and ending up in a place I didn’t want to be.”

Scorsese as the ‘Silhouette Watching Passenger’ with De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

Display the image in full screen mode.

The depiction of violence in Taxi Driver had real-life consequences when John Hinckley Jr, influenced by his infatuation with Jodie Foster who played a role in the film, tried to kill US president Ronald Reagan in 1981. This incident has been a source of contemplation for director Martin Scorsese ever since. While he does not condone the actions that occurred, he stands by the decision to create the movie. He also questions whether violence is truly the defining characteristic of masculinity.

According to Scorsese, there are alternatives to expressing male anger through violence. One potential avenue is through music, as evidenced by the numerous music-related projects he has directed throughout his career, such as The Last Waltz in 1978 and documentaries featuring Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, George Harrison, and the history of blues music. However, even though Michael Jackson’s attempts to portray male rage in his extended Bad video are not very convincing, perhaps Scorsese’s own film-making serves as another outlet for this emotion. In fact, Steven Spielberg once commented on how Scorsese allowed De Niro’s character in Mean Streets to lose control and go “over the top” so that Scorsese could maintain control of the film. Spielberg went on to say that De Niro’s performance was a representation of what Scorsese may have been like if he had not become a film-maker.

Scorsese has also explored other themes in works: spirituality, for example, in Kundun (on the early life of the Dalai Lama), The Last Temptation of Christ and Silence (his next movie will be A Life of Jesus, set in the modern day and adapted from a story by Shūsaku Endō, who also wrote Silence – and it will be short, Scorsese has promised). He has made comedies, such as After Hours or his family-friendly 1930s Parisian adventure Hugo.

When Scorsese has prioritized women in his work, the outcomes have generally been successful – from his recent Netflix series, Pretend It’s a City, featuring quintessential New Yorker Fran Lebowitz, to his 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, for which Ellen Burstyn won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a single mother with dreams of being a singer. Burstyn specifically chose Scorsese to direct based on his work on Mean Streets. In an interview, she recalled their first meeting where she asked him if he knew anything about women because the only female role in Mean Streets was unclear. Scorsese responded, “No, but I am willing to learn.”

With Lily Gladstone on the set of Killers of the Flower Moon.View image in fullscreen

He declares, “I continue to enjoy learning!” He emphasizes that he is always learning and recognizes the diverse group of female colleagues he has, such as Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been collaborating with him for almost six decades and has received three Academy Awards for editing his movies. He also proudly mentions that he has produced works by female directors like Joanna Hogg and Josephine Decker. In the last 30 years, he has primarily been reading literature written by women.

One of Martin Scorsese’s less typical but, in my opinion, most impressive films is The Age of Innocence, which came out in 1990 and is adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton. It takes place among the incredibly wealthy families of late 19th-century New York and is depicted with a lavish, sweeping magnificence. Although there are no firearms or narcotics involved, the society portrayed is just as brutal beneath the surface. In the end, Daniel Day-Lewis’s polished social climber is outmaneuvered by his two lovers, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. Essentially, the movie explores the theme of men struggling to comprehend women.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis in The Age of Innocence.View image in fullscreen

Scorsese’s family life is now full of women. As well as Francesca, he has two older daughters (aged 58 and 47), and two young granddaughters. “It’s a very different thing, having children at a late age. It teaches you a lot,” he says. He’s not just talking about TikTok. “It teaches you a great deal about love.”

In the end, gender differences are not of importance, according to him. He strives to understand our human nature and what makes us who we are, as well as our inner workings. That is his ultimate goal. To put it simply, he remains inquisitive.

The movie “Killers of The Flower Moon” can be watched on the streaming service Apple TV+.


You May Also Like

More From Author