William Monahan started writing “The Departed” script before anyone mentioned Martin Scorsese’s name. The writer couldn’t have hoped for a better helmer, and yet his job was to deliver an adaptation of Hong Kong good cop/bad cop thriller “Infernal Affairs” that was sharp, tense and psychologically complex without knowing who would direct.
“Everything, whether it’s a line or a camera movement, or anything an actor is doing, has to serve the play,” Monahan says. “In music, if you think your virtuosity is more important than the song, you’re dead, and you’re working in a guitar store wearing a keyboard tie while someone else is the Beatles.”
Because Scorsese came later, the insider homages to other films — such as the Howard Hawks-inspired X motif that crosses out doomed characters before they die — were the director’s suggestion, not Monahan’s.
“Marty’s an allusive, referential director, and for my part I’m not interested in anything which isn’t working on many levels,” he says.
As for the rat that runs across the final shot?
“Both of us are winking,” explains Monahan. “Marty’s referencing ‘Scarface,’ and ‘The World Is Yours,’ in a visual way. I put the rat into the script because I’d just done a Jacobean bloodbath, and the play needed a visual wink to take the edge off. After a bloodbath in the Jabobean theater left everyone speechless and shocked, what would happen next is that the clown would come out with his tambourine, make vulgar jokes and jig you out of the theater — reminding you it was theater. The rat triggers a release of tension in a similar way. People argue about the rat, but you’d leave the theater feeling a lot differently about ‘The Departed’ if it wasn’t for that rat.”