'Mean Streets' - De Niro, Keitel: Scorcese film

I didn’t get this movie. What was there to like? Why did it end the way it did? I didn’t feel there was any closure. I think I didn’t like it because I have no idea about this way of life… I don’t know.

What does everybody else think about this film? What was I missing?

I had to watch this in Film Class as it was supposed to be some defining piece of work. I believe its supposed to be more of a character study more than a story.

Complete with Professor comments like, “Observe Scorcese’s trademark red lighting, which reflects the mood of the characters.” And, “Notice the Tiger, which is a direct reflection of the character’s inner rage.”

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a film expert or anything, but isn’t it pretty obvious that the movie – like many of Scorcese’s pictures – is about sin and Catholic guilt. Keitel’s character believes he’s born to commit sin, there’s nothing he can do to change his ways, so when he visits the priest and is told to do 10 Hail Mary’s for all of the horrible sins he has committed, it just doesn’t offer him any sort of redemption. Then witness the scene(s) where he holds his hand over the flame (Travis Bickle does the same thing in Taxi Driver), performing a more real penance which the church can’t provide, and maybe also preparing himself for eternal suffering.

The red lighting in the strip club represents lust and sex, the sins that Keitel’s character is most obsessed about. His other sins, violence, theft, etc, he can write off as work, it’s just business, it’s what he has to do to survive, but he can’t blame his sexual desires on anybody other than himself. In a way the movie is a character study of a man suffering from intense self-loathing.

I think it’s a great film by the way. It’s not as tight as Scorcese’s later films, and the narrative structure is a bit confusing, but I think it’s an important piece of cinema history. For example the clumsy fight in the pool hall is a classic scene, on par with anything from his other works.

It’s certainly not Scorsese’s best movie (I think it occasionally suffers from bits of film school artsiness) but it’s still a compelling film. In fact, I would suggest you watch it again because there are many details in the movie you don’t really notice upon first viewing.

Also, you may want to take go here and read the screenplay (which bears the original title, Season of the Witch). There are some notable differences between this version of the script and the final product on screen. For one thing, the screenplay does not end where movie does but instead has a few scenes that do provide the closure you felt was missing.