Sex, Lies and Videotape: Letting ‘The Departed’ lie in its pool of blood

Katie Presley

I recently saw “The Departed,” Martin Scorsese’s 2006 blockbuster about the seedy underworld of Boston gangs. It was a huge deal. Oscars were won, critics were thrown into fits of ecstasy, beloved TV actors were thrown off buildings. Huge deal.

I also recently saw “Shortbus” again. “Shortbus” made $131,000,000 dollars LESS than “The Departed” in theaters in 2006. Don’t laugh. I’m being serious.

I’ll hand it to Martin. His movie is smart, surprising, complicated and well-acted. It’s just bloody as hell. And I think that’s totally unnecessary.

“Shortbus” made so little money because it is entirely about sex and features actors actually having sex. It looks real because it is real. It would be porn, except the plot is actually crucial and there is no degrading enterprise behind this movie. The director, John Cameron Mitchell, wanted to make a ground-breaking movie that was honest about sexuality. Which also makes it different from porn.

I think the phrase “sex sells” is absurd. If that were true, “Shortbus” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” would be the two most popular movies of all time. They certainly are not. They get banned and protested. When jaded producers with cigars dangling out the sides of their mouths say “sex sells,” they mean the kind of sex that happens on basic cable. The kind where kissing leads to loving undress leads to no mention of protection leads to 100 percent successful vaginal orgasm every time.

“The Departed” has one sex scene. It ends at the loving undress. Which isn’t actually very loving. When sex doesn’t sell from that first scenario, it will certainly sell when it victimizes one of the involved parties (I will refrain from saying it’s ALWAYS THE WOMAN), and when both parties seem to like it that way.

There is no reason to keep making movies like “The Departed.” There is no reason to glamorize life as a Boston gang member. Scorsese’s skill is undeniable, but it needs to leave the realm of angry Irish/Italian/Michael Jackson men. Yeah, that’s right. He did the video for “Bad.” I really do feel some guilt about my anger towards Martin. He’s got those great glasses. But what he’s doing is wrong.

What Scorsese (among many, many others) is doing is encouraging a culture where the sight of close-range bullet wounds and murder out of spite is no longer disturbing, but the sight of male nudity (especially if it is near OTHER NUDE MALES) is absolutely so. “The Departed” would like us to forget that being naked, of the two scenarios, is actually the one that will not land you in prison for the rest of your life.

No, you will not swim in mounds of coke like Jack Nicholson with the hooker girlfriend if you decide to start a mob. You will get shot by the police, like everybody in “The Departed,” and no one will care because it will look just like it does in all those movies.

I don’t think violence will disappear if violent movies disappear. I do, however, think violence will change. Criminals will not be so creative. They will stop getting ideas from people who win prestigious Hollywood awards for thinking up perfect crimes.

I also think sex will change if movies with realistic portrayals of sex become mainstream. Rape is such a destructive form of assault because it plays on the fact that sex is taboo. Everyone’s afraid to talk about it too honestly because there are genitals involved in rape. Nice people do not talk about genitals. They Beta snap when people get shot in the forehead unexpectedly instead.

“The Departed” is an easy target, no pun intended, because it really doesn’t leave much except for blood. If Martin Scorsese called me to argue about the merits of his work, he would have to work pretty hard. Way too many characters end up in pools of brain-blood for there to be a moral to the story. The good guys and the bad guys die. Actually, there are no good guys or bad guys. They just all die.

“Shortbus” is also an extreme example. There are movies that portray the human figure truthfully and, without exception, involve hardcore penetration. I am asking that we as consumers aim to support this category.

I suggest we remember that we were all born a) naked and b) as the direct result of sex. We were not born knowing the names of handguns.