‘The Irishman’ is a beautiful, devastating reflection on memory and morality

I am afraid of many things.

I am afraid of spiders, and moths, and being vulnerable, and of falling in the gap between the train and the platform (this has actually happened to me before, perhaps making it not an entirely unwarranted phobia). I am afraid of getting hurt by people I care about, I am afraid of strangers when I walk home alone at night. I am afraid of disappointing people, I am afraid of losing my mind, I am afraid of dying alone.

My Grandpa is getting older. He’s in his mid-eighties now, and his memory isn’t so good anymore. He’s quick to anger, and we don’t talk about politics at the dinner table because someone’s going to get offended. This past Easter, when I was at home, he gestured at the tattoos on both my arms – which I have had for two years now – and said, with an air of disgust, “Do those wash off?”

I kept thinking about my Grandpa while I was watching The Irishman, dressed in a black evening gown, wearing a baby pink fur coat, at the film’s UK premiere in London’s glitzy West End. These details are important, in context: the position I inhabit now is not one that ever seemed likely. I do not come from a world where these things happen. I was told at fourteen I should leave school because of my mental health. I was told at nineteen I should drop out of university. I have been told for as long as I can remember by people in positions of power that I do not belong. My Grandpa always said I did. He still does, when he isn’t disapproving loudly of my tattoos.

The Irishman is about all of these things I’ve mentioned. It’s about fear, and getting old, and wanting to belong to something bigger than yourself. In the space of three and a half hours, Martin Scorsese presents the entire life of one Francis Joseph Sheeran, a World War II veteran turned mob hitman. Notable for reuniting the filmmaker with Robert De Niro and bringing Joe Pesci out of retirement, the film also sees Al Pacino make his Scorsese picture debut. Moreover, it’s been a long time coming: after years in developmental hell, Netflix stepped up to give Scorsese the $160 million budget he required to make the film he wanted. So much was said about ‘de-ageing technology’, about those photos of Robert De Niro’s platform boots, about the 210-minute run time. In the end, all these concerns and quibbles fade into nothing. Martin Scorsese doesn’t know how to make a bad film.

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