- Director Martin Scorsese intentionally departed from the book’s mystery aspect in Killers of the Flower Moon because he believes the biggest mystery is not who committed the murders, but why.
- The lack of mystery in the film does not diminish its impact, as the real-life case of the Osage Reign of Terror was painfully slow to be prosecuted and eventually faded from history.
- Killers of the Flower Moon aims to shed light on the forgotten history of the Osage murders and the dark relationship between white settlers and Indigenous people, focusing on motivation and human nature rather than the identity of the culprits.
Director Martin Scorsese explains why Killers of the Flower Moon departed from the book when it came to the central mystery. Killers of the Flower Moon is an epic Western crime drama that tells the true story of the Osage Reign of Terror. In the 1920s, shortly after the Osage Nation became wealthy after discovering oil on their land in Oklahoma, their community suffered a string of murders that sparked an FBI investigation. The movie is based on journalist David Grann’s nonfiction book of the same name but features some notable differences.
In an interview with IndieWire, Scorsese explains Killers of the Flower Moon‘s most significant departure from Grann’s book. Grann’s book allows readers to investigate the horrific mystery alongside him. However, viewers learn who the culprit is early on in the movie, so there’s no whodunnit aspect to work through. This was intentional because Scorsese believes the biggest mystery isn’t who did it, but why. Check out his statement below:
Because it doesn’t matter who did it? They all did it. Well, what is in us that makes us do that? What is our flaw in our own human nature, that makes us take advantage of others, that sees us as superior? Being one of them too, European American, of course, I come from a southern climate, Sicily, a little different from northern climates in Europe and Scandinavia. So many people came over as immigrants, as settlers. And there was an ethic of you sow and you reap. You work, and then God blesses you with rewards. It just doesn’t seem right, from the point of view of that group of people from Europe. ‘Why should these people (the Osage) who don’t work, suddenly be blessed with all this richness, because it comes out of the ground? First of all, they’re not Christian. They don’t know anything about how to handle money, what money is.’
Why The Lack Of Mystery Doesn’t Hurt Killers Of The Flower Moon
Some may find it surprising that Killers of the Flower Moon doesn’t focus on the mystery aspect of the story. After all, the case was a mystery to those involved for many years. Given the lawlessness in the West at the time and the discrimination against Indigenous people, the investigation into the case was painfully slow. After the first death occurred, it would take five years for an arrest to be made, at which point roughly 60 Osage people had been murdered. Additionally, even though the case eventually sparked an FBI investigation, it largely faded from history afterward.
Before Grann’s book was published in 2017, the Osage murders weren’t a well-known story. Search queries on the subject in 2016 would lead to less than a hundred results on the case. Many weren’t aware of this dark tale outside the Osage Nation. America would rather forget about its fraught relationship with the Indigenous people and how greedy and envious white settlers brought terror to a nation that had already been displaced numerous times. When Grann told the story, it made sense to tell it as a mystery since no one had really heard the tale before.
In basing Killers of the Flower Moon on a book and a true tale, one must acknowledge that there isn’t much mystery left today. Grann’s book captivated the nation, but even decades before it came out, the mystery had been solved, with the perpetrators being arrested, tried, and convicted of their crimes. Hence, there’s a good chance the film would’ve been telling viewers a mystery to which they already knew the answer if it tried to build up to who did it. To differentiate it from the book and other accounts, Killers of the Flower Moon had to dig deeper into motivation and human nature.