Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest champions of the cinematic form, but he’s not averse to television. Over the past decade, he’s directed the pilots for and executive produced both Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl for HBO – but in a new interview, he says he never once thought about making The Irishman as a TV series. His new Netflix epic has raised eyebrows with its three-and-a-half-hour runtime, leading some to wonder if the story may have been better served as a limited series. But Scorsese is adamant that it could only have worked as a movie.
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Scorsese was asked if he ever thought about turning The Irishman into a series, but he was adamant that it be a film and only a film:
“You could say, ‘This is a long story, you can play it out over two seasons’ — I saw somebody mention that. Absolutely no. I’ve never even thought of it. Because the point of this picture is the accumulation of detail. It’s an accumulated cumulative effect by the end of the movie — which means you get to see from beginning to end [in one sitting] if you’re so inclined. A series is great, it’s wonderful, you can develop character and plot lines and worlds are recreated. But this wasn’t right for that.”
The remainder of this article contains spoilers for The Irishman.
The movie’s “accumulation of detail” leads to its memorable ending, in which we finally start to see some of the cracks in an elderly Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro)’s facade as he begins to grapple with his age and the idea of his legacy (or lack thereof). Frank, who goes from being a trucker to a contract killer for a New York crime family, hasn’t been scared of anything for the whole movie…until the specter of death begins to show itself in the form of old age. The scenes at the end with Frank picking out his spot in the mausoleum and asking an employee to leave his nursing home door open finally give us a peek into his mindset: this is a man who’s extremely uncomfortable with the idea of finality, perhaps even hoping that there may be some miraculous redemption yet to come for his life of crime. The weight of what we’ve seen before certainly helps put us in his head and understand his perspective.
But I’m not totally sure that I buy Scorsese’s explanation here. I’m thinking of another Netflix original from this year: Ava DuVernay’s incredible limited series When They See Us. That four-part limited series tells the story of the Central Park Five over the span of decades as a group of innocent boys grow up in the prison system and eventually make their way to freedom. It’d be easy to make a similar claim about that series being about the accumulation of details as those boys became men, but it doesn’t lose anything by being split up into multiple episodes. And look, I’m not actively advocating for The Irishman to have been made as a show – I don’t think this viral breakdown of the movie into episodes is the most effective way to watch this specific version of the story – but I’m also not sure if Scorsese’s reasoning is as iron-clad as he makes it out to be. Thoughts?
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