- Martin Scorsese’s decision to make Killers of the Flower Moon a love story was influenced by meeting with the Osage people and their connection to the real events in the story.
- Focusing on the love story between Ernest and Mollie elevated the film by allowing for better character development and establishing a menacing antagonist.
- Shifting the focus to the love story also shines a better spotlight on the Indigenous people at the heart of the story and increases the chances of awards recognition for the Native cast.
With its source material being a mystery thriller, Martin Scorsese explains his decision to make Killers of the Flower Moon a love story. Based on David Grann’s nonfiction novel of the same name, the Western crime drama centers on a World War I veteran returning to his Oklahoma home and being tasked by his uncle to infiltrate the local Osage Nation in the hopes of driving them out after they discover an oil deposit on their land, leading to a series of murders. Leonardo DiCaprio leads the ensemble Killers of the Flower Moon cast alongside Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, and Brendan Fraser.
In honor of the movie’s release, IndieWire caught up with Scorsese to discuss his approach in adapting Grann’s novel for the big screen. While looking at the movie’s change from being focused on the FBI’s investigations into the local murders to the love story of DiCaprio’s Ernest and Gladstone’s Mollie, the co-writer/director explained that his creative team felt it was “really the heart of the film“, and that it better captured the complex narrative of the real events behind its source material. See what Scorsese explained below:
We realized that was really the heart of the film. And having met with the Osage so many times and heard from Margie Burkhart, who was the great-great-granddaughter of Ernest, she knew them. She kept saying, “Don’t forget it isn’t as simple as villains and victims. You have to remember Mollie and Ernest were in love.” And that always stayed with me when we were still working on the other version of the script. I said, “Well, if they’re in love, we got to show that too.” And then that became difficult in terms of showing all the machinations of the Bureau investigation. Plus, this love story, it was getting unwieldy. And then finally Leo said, “If I play Ernest, we could turn it upside down and go in from the ground level.” And I said, “Absolutely.”
How Mollie & Ernest’s Love Story Elevated Killers of the Flower Moon
As alluded to by Scorsese above, Killers of the Flower Moon underwent a lengthy development process before finally making its way to the screens, with the filmmaker acquiring the rights to Grann’s novel in 2017. In the early stages, he was still eyeing DiCaprio and De Niro to lead the project after having worked with the actors on six and 10 prior projects respectively. While The Irishman star’s role was never explicitly confirmed, it was well-reported that The Departed actor was intended to play Tom White, the FBI agent investigating the murders ultimately played by Plemons, before pushing to instead star as Ernest.
While this mystery route still could’ve worked in the movie’s favor given Scorsese and DiCaprio previously saw success in the genre with Shutter Island, the decision to focus on Ernest and Mollie’s love story was the better decision. Not only did it allow for the character’s motivations and inner turmoil to be better fleshed out, but it also properly established De Niro’s William King Hale as a menacing antagonist to both his nephew and the Osage people.
The other major benefit to come from Killers of the Flower Moon being a love story is shining a better spotlight on the Indigenous people at the heart of the story and why Hale’s actions were so devastating. The early Oscar buzz swirling for Gladstone’s turn as Mollie also proves that this alternate focus better allowed for the Native cast to get the awards recognition they may have otherwise not enjoyed had they been relegated to supporting roles in White’s murder investigation.