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X marks the spot in The Departed

UPDATE: Go here for more X-related goodness.

It is starting to look like The Departed might be the movie to beat for the Best Picture Oscar come Feb. 25 (although support continues to build for an underdog that could sneak in and steal the big prize).

I'd bet the farm, though, that Scorsese will finally come away with a Best Director Oscar this year - and unlike his last two sentimental nominations, he actually deserves it this time.

The Departed was also my favorite movie of 2006, in part because Scorsese seemed to be having fun again. For example, as an homage to Howard Hawks' classic 1932 Scarface, Scorsese scattered Xs throughout the movie (some more subtle than others), using them as a symbol of impending doom. (For some Scarface examples, go here).

I recently went through the film again on DVD to see how many Xs I could find. To avoid even a hint of spoilers, I've arranged the frames out of chronological order. But if you've seen The Departed, you'll get an extra kick out of these. And if you haven't, Warner Bros.is re-releasing it to theaters on Jan. 26, so no excuses.













00000176 The elevator!





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Juan B.

I'm not sure Scorsese deserves it this time either, but I hope he wins anyway (for the Taxi Driver and GoodFellas snubbings). And as much as I liked Little Miss Sunshine, a number of better movies were released late in the year, so it doesn't deserve to win.


That's a cool find in the movie. Now where did you get a DVD of the film? Are you an Academy voter? or is it maybe a bootleg? Please let us know.

Daniel Stasiewski

Paying tribute to another legendary director without an Oscar. Not a good sign.

Rene Rodriguez

Re where did the DVD come from: Many studios (including Warner Bros.) send out DVDs of their movies to critics at the end of the year.


I'm sure you're right in this observation given Scorsese's love for cinematic history and the apparently ubiquitous presence of Xs. However, is there a risk that you're doing a bible-code? Therefore, if you look hard enough you'll find evidence for whatever you're seeking.

J.D. Judge

Clever. Very clever.

Go Scorsese!


Are you kidding sartre? You do realize there didn't have to be an X in the first shot with Damon. Or a shadow X in the next one. Or an X behind Jack. Or Leo being shot through a series of Xs. Or white Xs in the windows where Sheen is falling.

They are all there because Marty chose for them to be there.

Ben DaVinci

That kind of dedication to detail is what seperates artists like Marty from the rest.

Too simple of a movie a few people say; Bull****! There are so many details and characters studies in this film it changes everytime you see it.

Saw it three times and can't wait for the DVD. No other movie this year made me want to see it 5 minutes after I walked out of the theater.

Juan B.

Matt is right: there's no way the Xs are a coincidence. Besides, I seriously doubt Rene came upon this idea entirely on his own. I'm sure Scorsese's intentions are documented elsewhere.


EW.com's Popwatch blog just had a link to your article. This is so cool! Thanks for the find!


One of the greatest movies I have ever seen until the final fifteen minutes which are pure shit.


I thought it was a comedy.
Wasn't it?


What is the significance of X to "Scarface?"


iirc, I read once that Hawks used the X's in "Scarface" because the Chicago newspapers of the late 20s would superimpose an "X" on their photographs of the mob murder scenes, so that their readers would be sure not to miss the carnage. Hawks liked the idea so much he decided to borrow it, but more subtly. In Hawks' movie, the Xs are almost always present when somebody has been killed, or is about to be (most famously, when Boris Karloff is gunned down while bowling, the ball continues on and knocks down all the pins -- the gunman pauses long enough to mark an "X" on Karloff's scorecard).



Guess the only way to find out would be to go through it again and see if there are any X's around Mark Wahlberg or Alec Baldwin's characters, and if so: how often and with whom they're interacting...

Cool story (and a lot of work). Liked the 'red' in 'The Sixth Sense' a little bit better though, clue-wise (which I'll admit, I didn't catch 'til it was mentioned...), but neat, nonetheless.


Is there any way to X out Jack Nicholson's hammy performance? I never thought I'd see a movie where HE was the weakest part of an ensemble cast.


a lot of filmmakers do things like this.

not uncommon.

i.e. the use of gates and bars in west side story.


I saw the movie with my girlfriend last week and she said at one point her focus drifted away from the characters and in the background of one scene in Matt Damon's office she saw the words 'You are the rat' (or something similar) were written in dust on one of his framed pictures. Sounded cool. Like little subliminal messages hinting at the character's worries.

Have you noticed anything like that? I checked around on the internet and nothing has mentioned it so far.


After reading this I started looking around for X's in movies and everywhere else. What I found was...X's are everywhere ! The X is very common, just look around; saying that they were put there on purpose is completely ridiculous. If you look, you will see squares in most of the scenes also....I GUESS THEY WERE PUT THERE ON PURPOSE TOO.


Marty's use of Xs in the Departed is old news. I don't know why so many people haven't heard about it.

I enjoyed the images and appreciate the effort that you went to for this article.


I don't really think any of this means anything, because a lot of those pics posted with X's no one even dies.


Anyone ever notice that the ending is nearly identical to the South Park "Junior Detectives" episode from a few seasons back?


g-money: That South Park episode spoofed the original film "Infernal Affairs" that The Departed is based on.

Those of you trying to prove that Scorcese DIDN'T intentionally put those Xs in strategically as symbols are going to have to explain away the photographic evidence. Hard case!


With all due respect to anyone who feels Martin Scorsese is long overdue for an Oscar, I'm sick of hearing that he got snubbed for Raging Bull. Chicago? Without a doubt. Dances With Wolves? Sure. Million Dollar Baby? Okay, maybe... Rain Man? Now you're pushing it... But Ordinary People? I think you could make an argument as to why he deserved the Oscar over Robert Redford. But snubbed is going way too far for such a powerful film. Yeah, it's Scorsese's masterpiece, but "Ordinary People" is Robert Redford's masterpiece. People say the old cliched "Just to be nominated is an award in itself", but when in one year Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, David Lynch, and Roman Polanski are ALL nominated for best direction, things get a little more complicated. You think Martin Scorsese got the short end of the stick? Tell that to Richard Rush. Wait, who the f**k is Richard Rush? I only know his name cause I looked it up on IMDB. That's a man who I feel sorry for. All that being said, Martin Scorsese really does deserve to win Best Director for "The Departed". And if Clint Eastwood makes it No. 3 this year, then I'll be happy anyway. And by the way, anyone who has ever accused Jack Nicholson of giving a "hammy" performance is a certifiable retard. He's Jack Nicholson, get over it.


although i haven't seen 'the departed' yet, i don't doubt that the x's were put there intentionally...scorsese doesn't do anything unintentionally...the man is a brilliant filmmaker, and is one of those rare exceptions that deserves an oscar just for being himself...his love of movies is evident, and his passion clearly comes thru in every frame...

Mike White

Great work, Rene!


Hey Scott, my point about Jack Nicholson was that The Departed features subtle acting from Damon, Dicaprio, and Wahlberg. You believe they ARE their characters. By contrast, Jack Nicholson is playing Jack Nicholson. Don't you see a qualitative difference between his work in The Departed and, say, Chinatown? Ironweed? Five Easy Pieces?

barry scott

its called mise en scene and is more common than you think....

cool about it being re released i really liked the film and thought it was one of leos best films, not sure about film of the year and i agree with the above comment about nicholson, thought he was the only character to let this film down.
albeit only slightly :)


There are also a lot of xes in Midnight Cowboy. This is partly because they are living in a condemned building with the windows xed out...but the x gets pulled through the film and can't be discounted.


For me personally, the only connecting factor between any character Jack Nicholson plays is the fact that he has no choice but to carry his Jack Nicholson-ness with him into every role. Jack can play a role any way he chooses, and has recently shown how straight and low key he can be in "About Schmidt" People always accuse Jack of going over the top. The fact is some people are just over the top and not subtle in the least. And Frank Costello is an over the top guy. The scene where Jack holds the gun on DiCaprio at the bar was played perfectly on both sides, and that for me is Frank Costello at the base level, and everything builds up from there. Jack and Leonardo DiCaprio's performances to me were my favorites of the movie. Frank Costello will be remembered alongside Robert Dupea, Jake Gittes, and Randle McMurphy.


I don't know what you guys are talking about. All Scorsese did was damn near plagiarize the Chinese movie "Internal Affairs". While the actors should get credit for their wonderfull performance, Scorsese shouldn't get too much ass kissing for this film. Other than the ending, the film is almost a 100% copy of the Chinese original.

If a director should win an Award for his work, it should not be for a remake of a previous movie that's only change is the place and culture.



For legends like Jack Nicholson any role that is offered will usually be written with him in mind. Even when that isn't the case the role is customized for Jack when he accepts the offer. The same goes for just about every actor with a acting style so their own that it's actually studied in colleges. From Al Pacino to Christopher Walken to Clint Eastwood. When you see these actors, you expect a very certain way of acting. Any variation of their style is usually more disturbing than entertaining. The Pledge for instance.

skelly b

Nothing is photographed accidentally in a movie of this caliber. Those Xs are intentional. The ones created by shadows and light are the DPs doing. When they are objects or set elements they were created by the Production Designer.

Remember it is the illusion of reality. Very little is coincidence in major motion picture.


I have to say "Internal Affairs" is much much better than "The Departed".

Mr Peepers

I noticed/loved the Xs and two you haven't mentioned/shown are one that was made of light above Matt Damon's head when he's in an office, and at the end of the movie, the funeral, two uniformed men raise their hands to salute, and since they're facing each other, their hands form an X.


jesus christ, how can you possibly imply that scorsese plagiarized the whole movie. in case you didnt know, directors dont write the scripts for their movies (except for a select bunch), and in this case, the script was based on the movie "infernal affairs". directors mold the whole "feel" of the movie, they set the artistic and dramatic direction of the film, and even guide actors on their performances. so please read a little bit before you accuse scorsese of fraud. he did a fine job on this movie and he certainly deserves his nomination for best director.


everything you see in a film is a decision someone has made. the X's are intentional, so great pickup by rene and anyone else who caught them. i love the points made by vince and skelly b, and i'd love to go back as rich suggests and see if there are any significant cues (or lack of X) around mark wahlberg.

Dr. Gonzo

Cheese thats what I say to that.


There is also an "X" in the window after the bloodbath ending where Matt Damon is giving his deposition and they are cleaning up the crime sceme. It's located on a window to the right of a sign that says "Rudy V. Pompee, Inc. Contractors". although it's just like the one where "Quinen" is falling from the building.


BTW another few X's
-The elevator on the right side where Leo gets his head shot. It's two strips of duct tape.
-The crane seat behind Matt Damon when he shoots Jack Nicholson. It's 2 metal bars towards the front.
You're Welcome.


there is an X on the floor on the hospital scene where bill's mother dies.

there are multiple Xs behind the guy that throws a duck on bills face

when the police arrives for the raid that pins down costello there are various Xs on the background

right before the scene where costello shoots the guy and the lady that "fell funny" there is an X in the background

when queenan goes into the abandoned building(344 wash) there is an X on the window.

there is an X on the chair behind bill, right after it is shown the other dudes kill a random guy with a pipe.

on the other hand...

there are 3 scenes where Xs appear and the main character in that scene doesn't die.
when sullivan is talking to an old lady there are Xs on the door, when sullivan is talking to ellerby in the golf practice place there are Xs in the background. there are also Xs on the window of dr. madolyn's home right before bill walks in.


That's really creepy, actually. I've seen that movie at least six times (I like it more with every viewing!) and I never noticed. Scorsese is amazing.


The X's are a great observation, although i have yet to find anything on recurring colors in the film (Red, White and Blue). If you watch the film and look out for these its unreal how much their is of it. Possibly i symbol of Patriotism, as the American flag is shown several times also we see Matt Damon wearing the flag on his cap.
Any Incites?

Pole Trailers

I did not really like this movie


For those of you still doubting the connection between Scarface and The Departed read on:

The signature whistling that Tony does before a hit is the same tune (Chi mi frena in tal momento?) from the Italian opera, Lucia di Lammermoor. Guess what opera Nicholson's character goes to see in the movie? Guess what his ringtone is in the movie? That's right! Same opera, same "Chi mi frena in tal momento?"

Extreme Options

Still one of my favorites, though I have to admit The Town gives it a good run for its money!

bucket trucks

man, that is really one of my favorite movies in the last decade. Jack Nicholson is a great bad guy in it and the plot twists are awesome.

I wouldn't expect anything but greatness from Scorsese. That series Boardwalk Empire was really good too... Nowhere near The Departed though.

Rosacea Pictures

directors mold the whole "feel" of the movie, they set the artistic and dramatic direction of the film, and even guide actors on their performances. so please read a little bit before you accuse scorsese of fraud. he did a fine job on this movie and he certainly deserves his nomination for best director.


I'd bet the farm, though, that Scorsese will finally come away with a Best Director Oscar this year - and unlike his last two sentimental nominations, he actually deserves it this time.


Well I guess I don't have to spend the weekend fgiirung this one out!

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