Why The Ending Of ‘The Departed’ Is Perfect And Should Be Left Alone

Warning: This contains spoilers.

Throughout his career, The Departed is the only movie Martin Scorsese has directed that won Best Picture. It also earned him a well-deserved Oscar for Best Director. But there is one gapping flaw some fans of both the movie, Scorsese, Boston and mob crime movies in general have hated.

At the end of the two-and-a-half hour run time, there is a scene of a rat scattering along the rail of a balcony with the Massachussetts State Capitol Building in the background. It was CGI but since the movie came out in 2006, people have noted how much they hated it. It was parodied on an episode of The Simpsons. Randall Graves mentioned it during the funeral of his friend, Dante Hicks, in Clerks III. And there was a crowd-funding effort to remove the rat from further streaming services, TV airings and DVD copies produced.

The premise of the movie has an Irish crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who has groomed a local Boston resident, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), to enlist in the Massachussetts State Police and work his way up through the ranks. The goal is to have a man on the inside to tip him off and help his operation. It has to be a fresh face because all law enforcement agencies know the older associates.

At the same time, William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is from south Boston has also enlisted in the MSP but in a different academy class than Sullivan. Costigan isn’t the typical south Bostonian something Capt. Oliver “Charlie” Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Sean Dingham (Mark Wahlberg) notice. Costigan is very intelligent with almost perfect academic scores but they feel this is a way for Costigan to rebel against his family’s reptuation. So, they offer him a chance to go undercover with only Queenan and Dingham knowing he’s a cop. They arrange for him to have a criminal record and do some time.

When, Costigan gets released, he starts doing petty crimes and drug deals before getting into the good graces of Costello and his main lieutenant Arnold “Frenchie” French (Ray Winstone). Because both Costello and Frenchie know Costigan through his family, they quickly give him some things to do after initially being hostile toward him thinking he’s a rat.

Eventually, it’s revealed that Costello is an informant for the FBI. As Sullivan rises through the ranks, Costigan realizes that it’s becoming too rough to stay undercover. Costello thinks there’s a rat in his organization but can’t find out who. Having witnessed too many murders and acts of violence, Costigan contacts Queenan to meet with him so they can work on him getting out. But Sullivan, realizing Queenan knows something, has him followed by plainclothes troopers.

But at the same time, Sulivan also alerts Costello’s crew to the meeting. Queenan tells Costigan to leave in the stairs as he gets a call they’re heading to their location. The gangsters throw Queenan off the building to his death. Sullivan learns of Costello being an informant and feels he will turn on Sullivan. So, when the MSP is tailing Costello to a cocaine-dropoff, Sullivan arranges for more officers to be there to nab Costello and his crew, but a gunfire erupts, which is what Sullivan anticipated. He’s able to hold back as Costello runs away to hide but is discovered by Sullivan. After a brief tense exchange, Sullivan shoots Costello dead.

Feeling everything is wrapped up, Sullivan finally meets Costigan who says he wants to be out of everything as per the arrangement he had with Queenan. As Sullivan works on having Costigan processed so they can arrange his payment, Costigan notices an envelope he spotted Costello pass to Costigan at a porno house earlier and realizes Sullivan was the inside man.

Later, he sends a recording to Sullivan’s that included audio that Costello recorded of himself that could implement Costigan. However, Sullivan’s girlfriend, Dr. Madolyn Madden (Vera Fermiga), recognizes Costigan’s name and listens to it. Realizing that Sullivan is crooked and been lying to her, she locks herself in the bedroom as Sullivan calls the number to arrange a meeting with Costigan at the same building where Queenan was killed.

Costigan is able to detain Sullivan but Trooper Brown (Anthony Anderson) shows up without Dingham as Costigan requested. Costigan is able to take a handcuffed Sullivan in the elevator to turn him in but he is shot in the head by Trooper Barrigan (James Badge Dale), who is revealed to have been a spy inside Costello’s operation too. Barrigan shoots Brown when he comes down the stairwell and tells Sullivan they have to work together as he feared Costello was going to turn them in. Now, no one knows.

But Sullivan shoots Barrigan and lies to his authorities making it out that Barrigan was the mole from Costello’s unit and he killed Costigan and Brown. Costigan is given a hero cop’s funeral but Madolyn refuses to talk to him. It’s implied that her pregnancy may have been caused by a fling she had with Costigan. Sullivan returns back to his apartment feeling he got away with it all but finds that Dingham has broken in and been waiting for him. Dingham shoots him fatally in the head and then leaves as the camera pans to the scene of the rat and the credits roll.

The movie was based on Infernal Affairs, a 2002 Hong Kong action-thriller, and followed basically the same set up and plot with a few minor changes. In The Departed, the two main characters don’t know each other and don’t meet until the end. In Infernal Affairs, the two main characters were in the same academy and knew each other. Senior Inspector Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau) is the spy for Triad boss Hon Sam (Eric Tsang) while Chan Wing-yan (Tony Leung) is the undercover cop in Hon’s gang. Lau witnesses Chan being expelled from the academy as it was the intent of Supervisor Wong Chi-sing (Anthony Wong).

And just like The Departed, Wong is murdered by Hon’s gang by being thrown off a building. But unlike The Departed, Lau is heavily affected by the murder as is Chan who had developed a good friendship with Wong. This causes Lau to rethink a lot of things and he eventually kills Hon during a raid. Chan discovers Lau was a mole the same way and Lau erases any info of Chan from the police computers but makes a copy for himself. And Chan arranges a meeting where Wong was killed.

Lau shows up but pleads with Chan that he’s wants to be a better person now. But Lau doesn’t believe him and arrests him. And Lau is shot getting off the elavator by Inspector B (Gordon Lam) who was also part of Hon’s gang. Lau shoots B dead and tells his superiors that B was the spy in the police force. The case is closed and Lau salutes Chan at his funeral.

The movie flashes back to the scene at the academy where the drill instructor made everyone watch Chan being expelled and asking who wants to be like Chan, meaning a quitter or a failure. But Lau replies, “I do” indicating that Chan was a better person and actual police officer, while he’ll always be a spy, a thug and a goon.

Lau feels remorse while Sullivan sees it as an opportunity. Several people died and Lau knows this is forever on his conscience. Sullivan things he’s gotten off and can continue to rise through the ranks. Eventually, he can make a bid for an elected office that will have him working in the Massachusetts State Capitol. But this never happens.

Rats are scavengers and that’s just what Sullivan is. He’s trying to live on the memory of the dead, the departed. After Queenan dies, he doesn’t feel any remorse. When questioned by Dingham and Capt. George Ellerby (Alec Baldwin), he asserts his authority (since he’s a staff sergeant now himself and in charge of a special unit) to question and follow anyone he wants. Sullivan thinks highly of himself. But doesn’t realize that’s part of his downfall. He ends up in plainsclothes right out of the academy while criticizing Barrigan who is a uniformed trooper.

Sullivan also nominated Costigan for the Medal of Merit for his work. But he did so not as a respectful gesture, but as a way to make his superiors think he’s more of a team player. He’s trying to get some browning points off the death of Costigan who was going to turn him in. It’s like a final “Fuck you!” as it shows that the superiors will never be the wiser. And since Dingham punched him and was put on administrative leave for two weeks, they’ll feel Sullivan will care more about Costigan than Dingham.

So, it may be a part people don’t like, but it’s effective. Sullivan was a rat in more ways than one. At the end, he’s dead and there’s no telling when he’ll be discovered. His dreams and aspirations are gone. It’s very likely, he’ll become rat food himself.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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