Martin Scorsese explains one jarring Killers of the Flower Moon scene between Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Killers of the Flower Moon is receiving universal acclaim, including praise for the lead performances from both DiCaprio and De Niro. The film marks the first time that De Niro and DiCaprio starred together in a Scorsese feature, after both being long-time Scorsese staples.
As per The Playlist, Scorsese responds to rumors that De Niro broke a wooden paddle that he used to hit DiCaprio’s character in a shocking scene in the well-received Killers of the Flower Moon. After confirming that the paddle did indeed break, Scorsese went on to explain the necessity for the scene, saying that he wanted to include “the ritual of the European” as much as he included “the ritual of the Osage.” This scene, the director felt, “was kind of almost like a frat boy hazing situation” used to demean Ernest in the film. Check out the quote from Scorsese below:
In Killers of the Flower Moon, De Niro and DiCaprio play uncle and nephew, respectively. De Niro is William Hale, a cold, and controlling man who will do anything to steal land and power from the Osage people. DiCaprio depicts Ernest Burkhart, husband to Mollie Burkhart who is complicit in the sinister killings being enacted by Hale and his team. Throughout the film, audiences bear witness to the hold that Hale has over Ernest, as the uncle encourages his nephew to commit vile acts, including drugging his wife and murder.
The paddle scene in question is no exception, as it showcases that Hale has so much hold over Ernest that he will go so far as to enact physical punishment onto him. It is scenes like this that make DiCaprio’s character more sympathetic in Killers of the Flower Moon. Without them, Ernest’s role in the Osage murders is more thoroughly evil, and his love for Mollie, for instance, is less believable.
Ernest is not by any means forgivable for his actions. His malevolence is still palpable, as he is an accomplice in copious murders, including those of his wife’s family members. Scenes like the ritualistic paddle scene do, however, paint Ernest as a man whose evil stems from ignorance, and from the allure of power that persists once he gets in far too deep. Ernest’s turbulent relationship with Hale is part of what makes Killers of the Flower Moon portray its characters so dynamically, and Scorsese’s quote shows that the director clearly scripted this very consciously.