As the headline indicates, this will mention the ending of The Irishman, but it won’t be too specific. It will, however, touch on the general events and tone of the end of the film as context .
Yesterday I was talking to a guy who isn’t a movie guy. He’s a working class guy, likes to spend time at the gym, keeps himself busy. He doesn’t make a lot of time for movies or TV, but the holiday weekend being what it is – his family lives out of town – he found himself watching The Irishman on Netflix.
He didn’t watch it in one go. Even when he had nothing else happening he couldn’t sit still for the whole three and a half hours, so he watched it in chunks over a few days. And in the middle of the chunks he got news that his father was dying. His father was living alone and he had fallen, and he had laid in a puddle of his own vomit for two days. Now he was in hospice and dying.
This guy didn’t tell me his whole relationship with his father, but he didn’t have to. It was on his face. It wasn’t an easy relationship.
So this guy watches the end of The Irishman, puts on the last hour and figures he’ll get his mind off things. Except… well, if you’ve seen The Irishman you know it didn’t get his mind off things. Exact opposite, in fact.
“I didn’t breathe for an hour,” he said.
Then he bought tickets to go see his dad, and he’s flying out to the hospice on Monday, hoping his dad hangs on until he gets there.
There’s a lot of talk about The Irishman – about the length, about the role of Anna Paquin, about the de-aging and about the Oscars, about Netflix and its role in the theatrical experience or the death thereof, about Scorsese and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (this is the thing that will most be an amusing anecdote for future historians) – and some of that talk is important. Some of it is fluff. But none of it, I think, is as important as this man’s singular experience with the movie.
For movie people it’s not unusual to say Movie A changed my life or that Movie B shook me or whatever. But we’re not normal people. We’re keyed to have these experiences on a heightened level, maybe because we’re just wired that way or maybe because we’ve spent so long being immersed in the artform. But again, this was’t a movie guy. He’s not a dumb guy or a bad guy, he’s just not a movie guy. He didn’t call The Irishman “the new Scorsese,” he just said “this ten hour movie on Netflix.”
The same day this guy told me his story, I watched an old episode of Parks and Rec, one where the team is creating a new mural for Pawnee City Hall. Tom (Aziz Ansari) hires an artist to come up with something, and he ends up accidentally hiring an abstract expressionist. At first Tom is angry – it’s just colors and shapes! – but over the course of the episode he falls in love with the painting. At the end he’s talking to the camera and says, “I’ve looked at this painting for five hours. A piece of art has given me an emotional reaction – is that normal?”
It’s funny because Tom is shallow and horrible, but it’s also really true. I think sometimes we lose sight of this simple fact, that works of art – no matter how we may feel about them – have the potential to break through to people who are least expecting it. That seems to be the whole goal. Too often as movie people we’re trapped in this insular world of Film Twitter or blogs or critics – all of which, as varying forms of community, have their own value – and we lose sight of what the real point of these movies are.
Will The Irishman win an Oscar? If it does, what does it mean for Netflix and the theatrical distribution system? Is Scorsese’s work devoid of strong female characters? All of that matters in their own little silos, but maybe the most important thing The Irishman has accomplished is that it got this guy to buy a plane ticket to see his dying father. Movies do things like that, quiet things that nobody tweets about or puts in the New York Times, things that don’t move the percentages on the Oscar blogs. But they’re the things that are most important.
And I’ve stayed assiduously out of the whole Scorsese/MCU thing because it is dumb, but I will say this: I know that MCU movies, in their own popcorn and blockbuster ways, have had this same effect on people. Even the dumbest, shittiest movies may have had this effect on people. You can’t know where that connection will happen, what work, however crass or commercial, will spark an emotional understanding in a person. Every human brings their own experiences and perceptions to every work of art, cinematic or otherwise. If you’ve ever made a work of art and it’s ever moved another person, ever helped another person through an emotional time, changed another person’s point of view even a little bit, you’ve made a work of art as important as The Irishman.