Killers of the Flower Moon, directed by Martin Scorsese, is not the kind of film that would have an impact on you instantly. But you leave it in your head overnight, and it starts blooming, and then you understand it in its entirety. This film makes us realize to what extent a man could go and how selfish he could be in his approach and make everything suit his narrative. Human beings are selfish, but what happened in the Osage Nation redefined cruelty and barbarity. Imagine being a billionaire, and a law is passed that prohibits you from using your own money. It is as bizarre as it sounds, and if we didn’t have proof that something like this happened in the 1920s in the United States of America, then we wouldn’t have believed it. So, let’s discuss a few facets of the film and try to understand the motives of the characters and what they sought to achieve.
Why were Reta, Anna, and Bill killed?
William Hale loved the idea of his nephew marrying Mollie because he knew that she had a lot of wealth, and additionally, he knew that he would be able to influence Ernest Burkhart and get the headrights. Hale’s plan from the very beginning of Killers of the Flower Moon was to eliminate each and every member of Mollie’s family and take over her entire estate. He knew that Bill was one such obstacle who would give him a hard time and who had similar goals as him. Bill was married to Minnie, and she had died under suspicious circumstances, and a lot of people believed that Bill had to do something with it. Then the man went and married Reta, Minnie’s and Mollie’s sister, and pretended that he had fallen in love all over again. It was blatantly clear that Bill wanted to have the headrights, and that is why he was finding ways to be in a position that would make him the legal inheritor. Reta was ignorant and she failed to see through his motives.
Around this time, Kelsie and Byron had killed Anna Brown, and Bill went on a quest to find the killers. Hale wanted to save Byron at all costs, and that was why he eliminated every potential lead that could lead the law enforcement officers to him. But William knew that as long as Bill Smith was alive, he wouldn’t be able to execute his plan. So, William asked Ernest to get in touch with Acie Kirby and tell him to do the needful. Bill Smith and Reta were eliminated in the most audacious manner, and it told us how the government, the law enforcement authorities, and everybody had such utter disregard for the lives of the Indians. A thunder fulminated around the house, and in a minuscule of a second, it was reduced to ashes. The bizarre thing was that even after this, the perpetrators didn’t have any doubt about the fact that nobody would be able to catch them. Such was the law of the land that the Osage people were not even given the status of human beings, let alone be considered citizens. William Hale was a cunning fox who pretended to be a nobleman and always fought for the welfare of the community. That man didn’t have even an ounce of regret or guilt in his eyes, and his behavior showed how normal it was for him to do whatever he was doing.
Did Ernest marry Mollie for money?
Well, Ernest might have done a lot of horrible things in the Killers of the Flower Moon, but we don’t think that he married Mollie because he knew that he would later inherit her entire wealth. We don’t deny that he didn’t have any qualms about his involvement in the deaths of Bill, Reta, or Anna, but he had actually fallen in love with his wife. Ernest was heavily influenced by William, and he always did whatever the man told him. Ernest had a habit of being in denial even when, deep down, he knew what he was doing was not right. Ernest very well knew what Shaun Brothers, James and David, had given him to administer Mollie along with her insulin. He knew the kind of impact a few drops of that liquid was going to have on Mollie, but still, he administered it to her, making himself believe that he was doing it for her welfare.
We realized how delusional the man was when, at the end of the film, Mollie came and asked him if he was poisoning her and he denied it completely. He said he had only given her insulin, but that look in his eyes told us that he had realized what he had done. Now, this entire code of loving one’s wife didn’t mean anything to us because this man was worse than an enemy. He had conspired to kill Mollie’s sister, and he made it look like he was a kid who was being forced to act a certain way. Maybe he was a spineless man, but at least he should have had the courtesy to tell his wife about it and at least not give her something that he knew would deteriorate her health. Mollie was cured days after she reached the hospital, and she realized that it was not diabetes but the parasitic white men around her who had been responsible for her condition. But that woman endured, and in the end, she made the right decision to divorce Ernest, as he didn’t deserve her in his life. We understand how big a decision it would have been for her since the Osage didn’t believe in the concept of divorce, but Mollie was not left with any other options. Mollie died at the age of 50, the same year Ernest came out of prison.
Why did Ernest testify against William Hale?
Tom White from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had given Ernest a lucrative offer where he had told him to testify against his uncle, William Hale, and in return, he would be granted immunity by the state. He was involved in the murders of Henry Roan, Bill Smith, and his sister-in-law, Reta, and he had been told by Uncle Hale not to give any sort of information to the federal agent. The FBI had just been created at that moment, and so even the all-knowing William Hale, who had a firm grasp over the entire system, didn’t know how to deal with them or what they were capable of doing.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that William Hale somewhere undermined the authority of Tom White and his team because it had never happened in Osage Nation that any law enforcement officer had dared to go against him. But this Bureau of Investigation that was spearheaded by Edgar J. Hoover was different, and it was not going to refrain itself from doing the right thing, even if it concerned the most important person in the town. It is to be noticed here that Ernest was no nobleman, and the fact that he was responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people never weighed heavily on his conscience. The only reason he wanted to testify was that he would get to be with his family and wouldn’t have to spend time in prison. William Hale knew the internal conflict that his nephew was going through, and so he asked his lawyer to get the permission of the court on the first day itself to have a private meeting with the key witness, i.e., Ernest Burkhart.
The prosecutors were livid, as they knew what W.S. Hamilton and the entire legal team for Hale were trying to do. They knew that they had the potential to influence Ernest and make sure that he did not testify against them the next day. And that is exactly what happened, and Ernest, being the fickle man he was, got influenced when he was reminded by Hamilton where his allegiance lay. But during Killers of the Flower Moon‘s ending, Ernest got a bit scared when he realized that he would have to face prison time, and he told Hale, who was in the adjacent cell, that he was going to testify against him. It was around this time that Anna, Ernest’s daughter, succumbed to her illness, and the latter was not able to recover from her sudden demise. Ernest went to court and confessed to the fact that it was on his uncle’s orders that he had contacted John Ramsey, who had, in turn, gone to Acie Kirby to ask him to plant explosives in Bill Smith and Reta’s house.
Ernest also told the court that it was Ramsey who had killed Henry Roan because he had become a headache for Hale, who wanted his entire property for himself. Ernest did not have any regret whatsoever, and he confessed only because of his selfish interests. Had his life not been in jeopardy, he would have never accepted his crimes. Killing a person of the Osage tribe was a common thing because they were not considered to be human beings. They were just fodder, and nobody’s conscience ever got burdened because of guilt, and even though Ernest’s confession would have helped the cause of the downtrodden, his intentions were never to do that or any kind of social service.
Why didn’t William Hale serve his entire sentence?
It is said that powerful people always have the means and resources to overcome their adversities, and that is exactly what happened with William Hale in The Killer of the Flower Moon. In legal systems all around the globe, there are certain crimes for which the court orders that no parole be granted, but the genocide of the Osage tribe didn’t make it into the rarest of the rare category. Probably not enough of them were murdered, or probably the government believed that whatever white supremacists did was in the best interests of the country. We say this because we don’t have any reason to justify why William Hale was given parole in 1947 on the basis of good behavior. The man knew people in powerful positions, and he made sure that they agreed to his request when the time arrived. The man who was responsible for killing people just because he wanted to take over their estate and material wealth was shown mercy by the legal system of the United States of America, and they were deemed fit to release this criminal because apparently, he behaved well in prison, and they wanted the world to believe in this narrative. Either they considered the citizens to be fools, or they were so soaked from head to toe in their superiority complex that they didn’t feel like they should at least honor the deaths of so many innocent people. Hale died at the age of 87, probably in peace, because it was the great 1900s, and nobody lost their sleep unless and until the ones getting killed were white people.