Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Killers of the Flower Moon. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is Killers of the Flower Moon about?
Killers of the Flower Moon is a tragedy about America. On the surface, it portrays a terrible plot against the Osage people in the 1920s after the tribe gained immense wealth following the discovery of oil on their land. But the story is also a parable for the colonization of the United States by people of European origin. Osage Nation is rich with natural resources. White people arrive. Tensions exist but the two populations try to coexist. Only for the white people to meticulously co-opt the Osage. That awful story has played out too many times in this country. From the pilgrims and the Pequot people in the 1600s. To Andrew Jackson’s forced removal of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole tribes in what is known as the Trail of Tears and resulted in 15,000 deaths. Wikipedia has a formal entry for “List of Indian massacres in North America.”
Scorsese also makes a point to criticize the entertainment industry for being the medium through which such stories are told. What happened in Osage, what happened coast to coast throughout this nation, across centuries, to this day, is a travesty that should be promulgated with dignity and a sense of responsibility and accountability. Except it’s not. It’s buried. Or turned into entertainment. As well-meaning as Scorsese and the cast were, noble as they tried, they admit to and apologize for the film being another kind of exploitation.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Mollie Burkhart – Lily Gladstone
- Lizzie Q (Molly’s mother) – Tantoo Cardinal
- Anna Brown (Molly’s sister) – Cara Jade Myers
- Minnie (sister) – Jillian Dion
- Reta (cousin) – JaNae Collins
- Ernest Burkhart – Leonardo DiCaprio
- William King Hale (Ernest’s uncle) – Robert De Niro
- Byron Burkhart (brother) – Scott Shepherd
- Kelsie Morrison – Louis Cancelmi
- Tom White – Jesse Plemons
- Prosecutor Leaward – John Lithgow
- W.S. Hamilton – Brendan Fraser
- Henry Roan – William Belleau
- Acie Kirby – Pete Yorn
- Blackie Thompson – Tommy Schultz
- Bill Smith – Jason Isbell
- John Wren – Tatanka Means
- Henry Grammer – Sturgill Simpson
- Dr. James Shoun – Steve Witting
- Dr. David Shoun – Steve Tourman
- Based on – Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
- Written by – Erith Roth | Martin Scorsese
- Directed by – Martin Scorsese
The ending of Killers of the Flower Moon explained
The end of Killers of the Flower Moon follows the trial of King Hale. Ernest had gone back and forth on whether he would testify against his uncle. Once his youngest child passes away from whooping cough, Ernest decides being a witness for the State is what’s best for his family. We have the dramatic close-up of him, during the trial, answering all the questions that reveal how horrible he had been to Mollie, her family, and other Osage. It’s a reckoning. Afterwards, he sits with Mollie, who asks him if he told all the truths. He swears he did. So she asks him about the medicine he had given her. A long pause. Then he says it was insulin. Both of them know that was a lie. So Mollie leaves.
Surprisingly, we cut to a radio show, the Lucky Strike Hour, that serves as an epilogue for the film. It starts off with some dignity but quickly devolves into a horrific caricature of the events, with a number of white actors performing as Osage, and the sound effects used to increase the sense of immersion mostly cheapening the seriousness of the story.
Then Martin Scorese himself takes the stage and delivers the concluding lines of the radio program. Others told us what happened to Ernest, King Hale, and the like. But it’s Scorsese who details Mollie’s fate. He cites her actual obituary from 1937. “Mrs. Mollie Cobb, 50 years of age…passed away at 11 o’clock Wednesday night at her home. She had been ill for some time. She was a full-blood Osage.” His final words:“There was no mention of the murders.”
After that, the film cuts to the present day. The camera is in the sky looking straight down on a green field full of Osage in colorful garments. In the center, a drum. They drift in a slow circle, together, chanting a calm thunder.
Mollie and Ernest
Before the trial, Mollie tells Ernest of a dream. She says: I had a dream. We went to Colorado Springs. You told me all your secrets. And I held them in a box for you. And we went to the river and dumped them all away. We were happy there. The implication there is that she loved him enough to give him the opportunity to come clean about what he had done and if he did then she would stay with him. That would explain why she’s so patient with him and standing by him even after finding out he had a major role in the deaths of her loved ones.
That’s the context of the scene after the trial. Ernest’s future with his family depended on whether or not he would continue to tell the truth. He didn’t hold back in court, even when telling the truth was damning for his character. But when it comes to what he did to Mollie, he can’t bring himself to admit guilt. Instead of saying that King had given him something to “slow her down,” he stands by the false claim all he ever gave her was insulin. That’s why Mollie leaves. There’s no guarantee she would have stayed had he told the truth, but she had stood by him through the worst of everything else, so it seems like she was ready to do the same here.
It’s never objectively stated that the insulin was anything else. But we know after Mollie came back from Washington that the doctors began giving Ernest a second vial. And that was definitely some kind of low-dose poison building up in Mollie’s system.
In the book-version of Killers of the Flower Moon, we have this section:
Burkhart never admitted having any knowledge that Mollie was being poisoned. Perhaps this was the one sin that he couldn’t bear to admit. Or perhaps Hale had not trusted him to kill his own wife… James Shoun and his brother [the doctors who provided the “insulin”] denied any wrongdoing, and White could not prove who was responsible for the poisoning… Later, a writer quoted [Mollie] saying, “My husband is a good man, a kind man. He wouldn’t have done anything like that. And he wouldn’t hurt anyone else, and he wouldn’t ever hurt me.”
So that seems to be what Scorsese was trying to fictionalize. Mollie’s love of Ernest. Ernest’s shame in knowing the insulin probably wasn’t what he was told. The book makes no mention of a second substance. Scorsese put that in the movie to make it a bit more explicit that even if Ernest was unsure about the insulin he would have known the second substance was bad. We even have that scene where he puts it in his drink and is knocked for a loop.
Mollie’s dream is also not in the book. It’s another Scorsese-ism. A way to externalize the line in the sand that Mollie had in her heart regarding her husband. And the Shakespearian nature of that final conversation. Ernest wants to save his marriage with Mollie, so he tells the truth in court. But he has to admit to the one and only thing he feels guilty about: poisoning her. It’s the last hurdle. The last lie that can go in the box bound for the river. Except he can’t say it out loud. It’s too horrible to admit. So he lies. And so lying, loses everything.
In reality, this is what the book has to say: Morrison [the tall man who shot Anna] had been among the onlookers. Ernest had been there, too, comforting Mollie, even though he had known that Anna’s two killers were standing only a few feet away from them. Similarly, Ernest had known from the moment Rita and Bill Smith’s house exploded who was responsible; he had known the truth when, later that evening, he had crept into bed with Mollie, and he had known the whole time she had been desperately searching for the killers. By the time Morrison was convicted of Anna’s murder, Mollie could no longer look at Ernest. She soon divorced him, and whenever her husband’s name was mentioned, she recoiled in horror.
It seems Scorsese used the insulin as the tipping point because it had a more tragic quality to it. But it might make people happy to hear that Mollie wasn’t actually willing to forgive Ernest for having such a huge role in the murder of her sisters and was appropriately disgusted.
The Lucky Strike Hour
From the book: In 1932, the bureau began working with the radio program The Lucky Strike Hour to dramatize its cases. One of the first episodes was based on the murders of the Osage. At Hoover’s request, Agent Burger had even written up fictional scenes, which were shared with the program’s producers. In one of those scenes, Ramsey shows Ernest Burkahrt the gun he plans to use to kill Roan, saying “Look at her, ain’t she a dandy?” The broadcasted radio program concluded, “So another story ends and the moral is identical with that set forth in all the others of this series ….[The criminal] was no match for the Federal Agent of Washington in a battle of wits.”
So there’s justification for the film to reference the program and end the movie how it does. But it’s not as simple as that.
The jump to the radio show is done to allow Scorsese a moment of meta-commentary about the film industry (and also the true crime industry). Specifically, the way in which Hollywood and podcasts and TV take these real events that affected real people and turn something truly awful into for-profit entertainment. Even his own film. By finishing the story in such a ridiculous way, Scorsese’s admitting that the whole of the movie was little better than some cheesy, disrespectful, brand-driven program.
Do you really think Lucky Strike and the FBI told the story on the radio in order to help the Osage? No. They did it because they hoped people would admire the FBI and buy Lucky Strike. It’s the same in Hollywood. So many “based on a true story” movies only exist because the studios believe they will make money. Not because they care about what happened and making sure others know about it. That’s just a bonus.
Podcasts like Sword and Scale relish in this kind of dramatization of trauma and tragedy. In December of 2022, Sword and Scale’s creator tweeted, “When listening to a true crime podcast, which race do you prefer the murder victims to be?” He included a poll with the options: White, Black, Indigenous.
When Scorsese appears on that stage, he’s copping to own culpability. You can tell this story meant a lot to him and he tried to do right by the Osage. He felt an obligation to use his craft and platform to make sure modern America reawakened to the horrors Native Americans have faced in this country. But he’s still part of a system that demands he makes that story entertaining enough that it will generate a profit. So he’s proudly yet shamefully putting this movie out there. Because it’s at least something.
From a Rolling Stone article by Graham Lee Brewer:
On a November evening in 2019, Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese and about a dozen members of his production team for Killers of the Flower Moon settled into folding chairs in a wood-paneled community hall in the Osage Nation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
They had flown more than 1,300 miles after members of the tribe’s Grayhorse community wrote to Scorsese to express their concerns that he would be the next in a long line of white Hollywood filmmakers to distort Indigenous history on the big screen… Like the book, Eric Roth’s original version of the screenplay to Killers of the Flower Moon largely focused on the federal agents sent in to investigate the violence, which led to the birth of the FBI. Megastar Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as the lawman in charge of investigating the killings.
But over the course of three house that night, many of the more than 200 Osage people who gathered at Wakon Iron Hall in Pawhuska told Scorsese that the oft-told storyline lacked their voices and perspectives and failed to capture the lasting trauma from that era, according to least six people who attended the meeting. Some also told Scorsese that they wanted him to put the Osage at the forefront of their own story and not just cast them as victims of horrible acts, as Hollywood so often did to Indigenous peoples…
“People were legitimately concerned that we were getting exploited all over again if this movie isn’t done right,” explains Jim Gray, the tribe’s former principal chief and the great-grandson of Henry Roan, whose 1923 murder is central to the plot. Roan was discovered shot in the back of the head, his body slumped behind the steering wheel of his car… “My heart is in the right place,” Scorsese said. “I hope I can give you that sense of knowing that what you’re giving to me, in my hands, that I’m going to try better than my best, I can tell you that. We’re working as hard as we can…we won’t be finished with it until it’s right, I can promise you that.”
After the meeting, Scorsese rewrote portions of the script, adding in the stories and perspectives he heard from the Osage people… That dinner also led to a remarkab;e level of Osage involvement in the movie, says Gray, who was able to see a private screening of the film. Several members of the Osage Nation were cast to play their relatives; others helped create accurate wardrobes and taught cast members, like Gladstone and Robert De Niro…how to speak Osage.
“I was being entrusted with their story, which was momentous—it was as if I’d been handed a precious ancient object to guard and protect. I was deeply moved. I was also daunted, in a good way,” [Scorsese] adds. “That evening put a human face to every detail, and it gave it a heart. A beating heart. It was transformative for me, and it was a great privilege.
The Osage, they dance
The final moments bring us a 100 years forward, from the time of the Reign of Terror in the 1920s to the 2020s. So much of Killers of the Flower Moon is about this insidious annihilation of the Osage in order to steal their wealth. It’s bleak and painful. But by jumping to the Osage of the present, it speaks to the resilience of the nation.
But it’s not just to honor the Osage. In some ways, it serves as a call to action. Because the appropriate response to Killers of the Flower Moon is a sense of empathy, of burning anger about the unfairness of what King, Ernest, and so many others did. “The Osage shouldn’t have been treated that way,” you might think. To this very day, Native Americans face local and systemic issues that unfairly marginalize them. And that’s possible because so many Americans think of Native Americans as something from the past. Figments from the origin story of Thanksgiving. But they are here. Enduring. Culture still intact. And they shouldn’t be an afterthought in this country.
That final shot of Killers of the Flower Moon asks us to recognize the Osage. Admire them. Cherish them. Not for what happened. But for who they are.
With that said, the dance, like the Lucky Strike Strike Hour, is in the book.
Over several weekends each June, the Osage hold their ceremonial dances, I’n-Lon-Schka. These dances—which take place, at different times, in Hominy, Pawhuska, and Gray Horse, three areas where the Osage first settled when they came to the reservation, in the 1870s—help preserve fading traditions and bind the community together. The Osage come from all over to attend the dances, which provide a chance to see old family and friends and cook out and reminisce. The historian Burnes once wrote, “To believe that the Osages survived intact from their ordeal is a delusion of the mind. What has been possible to salvage has been saved and is dearer to our hearts because it survived. What is gone is treasured because it was what we once were. We gather our past and present into the depths of our being and face tomorrow. We are still Osage. We live and we reach old age for our forefathers.”
Scorsese manages to capture all of that in just a single visual, at the perfect time. It also connects us back to the beginning of the film, the burying of the human pipe. “Our messenger to Wah’ Kon-Tah,” The elder says. “The children outside are listening to us. They want to learn another language. They will be taught by white people. They learn new habits. They will not know our customs.”
A century later, they still do.
The themes and meaning of Killers of the Flower Moon
The opening scene sets the thematic tone of the film. Remember how the Osage elder exclaims how the children want to learn another language, how they’ll be taught by white people and learn new habits and not know Osage customs.
That premise frames the film in a fear of cultural extinction. With that in mind, the discovery of oil and the wealth that follows can be looked at as a manifestation of the allure of white culture. We see how the Osage with money lean into it and away from the traditional Osage lifestyle. The clothes. The cars. Church. Mollie and her sisters all marry white men. Every day, a train brings in scores of white men, all desperate for work. all hoping to strike it rich—by any means necessary.
It’s hard not to think about the origin story of the United States. The train could easily be the ships from Europe. Fairfax could be Jamestown. And the wealth of the Osage is the land of North America. William King Hale and his crew are the settlers. And the Osage represent all Native Americans.
So there’s a very serious historical allegory at the heart of Killers of the Flower Moon. But it also poses the question of whether or not it’s possible for Native American culture to survive in such an atmosphere. And the answer is, ultimately, yes. It evolves, of course. Recall Grann’s quote of the historian, Burnes: To believe that the Osages survived intact from their ordeal is a delusion of the mind. What has been possible to salvage has been saved and is dearer to our hearts because it survived. What is gone is treasured because it was what we once were. We gather our past and present into the depths of our being and face tomorrow. That idea of gathering the past and present together speaks to the concepts of evolution and growth. While things aren’t the same for the Osage, while disaster struck, something new emerged. Not worse. Not better. Different.
Killers of the Flower Moon serves almost like a loss of innocence story, in that the Osage head into their wealth with a degree of hope and purity—maybe white culture would make room for them, accept them—only to learn hard lessons about desperate people.
But it’s not all bad. The president listens. Calvin Coolidge responds to the Osage plea, to Mollie’s plea, and sends Bureau of Investigation agents to figure out what was happening. The team includes a Native American agent: John Wren (who was real). This shows that the two cultures can work together. Their combined efforts are what bring the Reign of Terror to an end. So as much as cultures clash, time and good people standing up for the right thing can make all the difference moving forward.
“I love money almost as much as I love my wife”
Throughout the movie, Ernest Burkhart tells people how much he loves his wife, Mollie. It’s intentional that we see Ernest have interest in her before his uncle pushes him that way. That tells viewers that Ernest’s affection is real and not the byproduct of William Hale’s plot against the Osage.
But Ernest also tells people how much he loves money.
Scorsese shows us these two sides of Ernest in the early portion of the film.
One scene is him driving Mollie through town, flirting, culminating in the moment where she speaks Osage to describe his character and he says, “I don’t know what you said, but it must have been Indians for handsome devil.” Mollie cracks up. The scene concludes with Ernest reading aloud from the book of the Osage, taking the time to learn about Mollie’s heritage and culture (though he’s turning those pages awfully fast). He reads: “Oklahoma, where famine walk by day, and hunger wolves by night. Can you find the wolves in this picture?”
Just then, Byron comes for Ernest. And thus begins the second scene. Ernest, Byron, and a third man steal the jewels from a wealthy couple. We then cut to a game of poker where Ernest throws all the jewels into the pot, causing his brother to cry out, to which Ernest responds, with a full shout, “I love money!” He loses the hand.
So there you have the two sides of the man. The romantic and the wolf. Which feels in some ways like two sides of America.
Scorsese has explored greed and corruption in a number of his films. Usually the characters are single-minded in their pursuit and unconcerned with the tactics used to succeed. The trio in Goodfellas, Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon in The Departed, Leo in The Wolf of Wall Street. Those characters are an exaggeration of the American penchant to pursue wealth. A distillation of the desire. In those films, Scorsese isn’t interested in the three-dimensional conversation. Instead, he leans into the escapism of such larger than life figures and allows the audience to vicariously experience that sense of breaking bad.
But with Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorses’s desire to honor the Osage perspective added that missing layer. That additional dimension. It’s no longer a story about someone who loves money and what he’ll do for it. This is someone who claims to love his wife more than money. How then does he reckon with the betrayal of his marriage in the pursuit of money? What does it say about him? Was he simply lying to everyone else? Or to himself? Is the pull of money that powerful that it drives people to undermine themselves like this?
If you view Ernest as nothing more than an individual with less than stellar morals, then there’s not much to take away other than some people are dumb, some are evil, and some are both. But if you look at Ernest as potentially the last in a long line of Scorsese protagonists who comment on America’s relationship with money, then he becomes probably the most dynamic of the lot. And the most critical. Because every other time Scorsese has discussed this topic, there’s a joy to the films, a fun factor, that kind of undercuts the condemnation of the zeitgeist that allows such figures the opportunity to succeed.
Scorsese’s Ernest Burkhart is not fun. His story is not one of an underdog gaming the system, The victims aren’t other mobsters or police or foolish investors. We watch a man poison his own wife then hold her in his arms and say how much he loves her. It’s terrible. He isn’t quick-talking and giving big, impressive speeches. He isn’t outsmarting anyone. He’s not a character people can or should like. He makes bad decisions. Does stupid things.
Ernest becomes a deconstruction of an American “rise to the top” mythos that Scorsese himself, along with many others, has cultivated through cinema. No one will have a poster of Ernest Burkhart hanging in their dorm room.
We know that Scorsese had a realization about the movie industry’s use of true stories. If not a realization, at least a renewed sense of guilt. Goodfellas was based on the story of James Burke. The Wolf of Wall Street was based on Jordan Belfort. Raging Bull. Casino. The Aviator. The Irishman. All based on real events. The first version of Killers of the Flower Moon was about the FBI. Leo was going to play Jesse Plemons’s character, Tom White. The Osage may have had some depth but they would be victims for the agents to save. The movie probably would have been great. But it also would have been more of the same—a superficial critique that does more to mythologize its villains than chastise them.
In giving Ernest that tension between love and money, where his desire for the first loses out to the allure of the other, Scorsese not only attacks his own filmography but finally, after so many films, hits at the complicated, confused, well-intentioned, broken heart of America.
Can you find the wolves in this picture?
Note: The voice-over of Ernest reading the book resumes following the poker game and leads into the speech about the flower moon.
Why is the movie called Killers of the Flower Moon?
A voice-over gives context: They call the sun, grandfather. The moon, mother. Fire, father. They call it the flower moon when tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and the prairies. There are many, so many, it’s as if Wah’ Kon-Tah looked down upon the Earth, smiled, and sprinkled it with sugar candy. Wah’ Kon-Tah means God.
And this is the opening paragraph of the book: In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma. There are Johnny-jump-ups and spring beauties and little bluets. The Osage writer John Joseph Mathews observed that the galaxy of petals makes it look as if the “gods had left confetti.” In May, when coyotes howl beneath an unnervingly large moon, taller plants, such as spiderworts and black-eyed Susans, begin to creep over the tinier blooms, stealing their light and water. The necks of the smaller flowers break and their petals flutter away, and before long they are buried underground. This is why the Osage Indians refer to May as the time of the flower-killing moon.
It’s interesting to look at the differences in nuance. The film version strips out the sinister aspects of the book intro. The tiny flowers spread over the hills and prairies, an act of God, a blessing from God. The subtext of that is that the Osage are like the flowers. Rich and starting to flourish.
Why not include the book’s details about the taller plants? It’s a technique.
If I say, “Row, row…” you probably think, “Row your boat.”
Or if I say, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle…” you probably think “All the way.”
This “fill in the blank” technique is really powerful because it asks the audience to actively participate. And when they do, there’s that satisfying sense of putting a piece in the puzzle. This technique relies on the audience knowing what’s missing or what’s not said. So it works really well with lyrics due to the repetitive nature of songs. In longer works, like movies and books, the easiest way to employ this technique is with the title, because the title is something everyone should be aware of.
That’s what Scorsese goes for. By only mentioning what the flower moon is through this innocent, positive description, it sets the viewer up to make the connection to the title. You hear it, think “so that’s what the flower moon is,” pause for a second, remember the movie is called Killers of the Flower Moon, then there’s that downward feeling. That mournfulness hits. Not because the movie told you to feel that way through some exposition or melodrama. But because you made the connection. It makes it all the more visceral. Like when the roller coaster slows down and starts going uphill. You don’t relax because you know what comes next.
The book does not use that technique. It provides the full metaphor. In April, millions of small flowers blossom. In May, the bigger plants move in, steal all the resources, and kill the flowers. Instead of filling in the blank, Grann goes the route of summarizing through a single image. Which makes sense for a book that people will spend days or weeks reading. Establishing that dynamic up front gives the reader a foundation upon which to understand everything that comes after. So even if they feel lost in all the threads, they can return to that initial image of the broken flowers.
The movie could have started with the same intro but doesn’t need to give its audience an anchor point. The book is hundreds of pages of details and covers a lot more than just the murders. As opposed to a film that’s relatively much shorter and steeps you in the horror of what’s unfolding.
Important motifs in Killers of the Flower Moon
One morning, Mollie’s mother, Lizzie Q., sees an owl fly through the living room window and into the family’s house. In previous shots, we saw the house was full of people. But suddenly the room is empty, except for the owl. Lizzie blinks and the owl’s gone. The furniture is back. Her family is back. Mollie notices something and approaches.
Lizzie: Did you see an owl?
L: When you see it, it’s a sign that you are dying.
So the straightforward meaning of the owl is what Lizzie tells us—it’s a harbinger of death. In Vol. 63 of The Journal of American Folklore, published in the Summer of 1950, there is an article by Eddie W. Wilson called “The Owl and the American Indian”.
As a creature of darkness and therefore to be regarded with mystery and with awe, the owl is frequently mentioned by the American Indian north of Mexico. According to both early and contemporary archeologist, ethnologist, and folklorist the standing of this bird was of great importance among the various tribes. It entered into all phases of Indian life. It was the predominant animal figure on stoneware, pottery, and basketry. It was a prophet which dealt with miscellaneous matters, a prophet and factor in disease and death, a source of power, and a benefactor.
That the owl brought prophetic tidings in general may be illustrated by two instances:
The Mandan and Hidatsa consider the large gray owl a mystery bird with whom they pretend to converse and to understand its attitude and voice. Such owls are often kept alive in lodges, being regarded as soothsayers.
And from the Navajo:
Nayénêgani, the creator, said to the owl when he had created it: “In the days to come men will listen to your voice to know what will be their future.”
But there’s another layer. Lizzie’s dialogue extends past “it’s a sign that you are dying.”
Lizzie: When you see it, it’s a sign that you are dying. All because of you. They all marry white people. Our blood turns white. Where is Anna? I want Anna.
Mollie: I am here.
L: I don’t want you. I want Anna.
This bit of dialogue ties the mother’s physical death to the death of Osage culture due to the infusion of white culture. Which brings us back to the “culture clash” discussion from our themes and meaning section. Lizzie becomes a symbol for the old ways of the Osage. The previous generation, before the wealth. The ones who were in the tent, lamenting the future of their children. While Mollie and her sisters are like the youth who jumped through the fountain of erupting oil, ready to adventure headlong into this new world.
So Lizzie sees with her death the passing of Osage tradition. A loss of who the Osage were. And blames Mollie and the other daughters for it. Except Anna. Why? Because as far as Lizzie knew, Anna was still single. That gave Lizzie comfort and hope that not all might be lost. Except, it turns out, Anna was in a clandestine relationship with Ernest’s brother, Byron, and was pregnant with his child.
When Lizzie passes, it isn’t the owl that comes for her. It’s her elders, or contemporaries, Osage versed in the old ways, in traditional attire. She’d be happy that the ceremony that follows stays true to tradition.
When Mollie eventually sees the owl herself, she’s the last of her sister’s alive. It’s now not the traditions of the Osage at risk but their future as well. The owl vanishes and Ernest walks in, bottle of “insulin” in hand. Mollie says, “My mother came to me. She asked me to dance with you. I told her I can’t dance anymore. She told me I was dying. Didn’t want me to die alone. She said the man is here.” Ernest asks what man. Mollie responds, “The man in the hat. I want to talk to the man in the hat.”
Soon after, there’s a knock at the door. There, in a big old hat, is Tom White, from the Bureau of Investigation.
It’s here that the meaning of the owl shifts. It’s not just death. But more of the classical harbinger role. Through the owl, Mollie communicates with her mother, learns of the “man in the hat” and foreshadows a changing of the climate.
From “The Owl and the American Indian”:
For weather forecasting the owl was relied upon with great confidence:
The gray screech owl foretells cold weather. When the night is very cold this owl cries out, so the Teton says, just as if a person’s teeth chattered. When its cry is heard, all the [people] wrap themselves in their thickest robes and put plenty of wood on the fires.
Likewise say the Iroquis:
Owls calling near at hand in the bush means more snow or a change in the weather. Lots of wood should be gathered (as the conditions may not be favourable for gathering it later).
On the other hand, the Omaha, Osage, and Pawnee say that the owl is a prophet of fair weather: “When the hooting and the cries of the owl are heard just about the break of day it is said that the coming day will be clear and mild.”
Questions & answers about Killers of the Flower Moon
How historically accurate is Killers of the Flower Moon?
Pretty accurate. But inaccurate enough that Scorsese put that mea culpa at the end. The Reign of Terror, which is what the Osage Indian murders are known as, really happened. Yes, King Hale was the one arrested and sentenced for the murders in order to acquire the headrights of various Osage. But he wasn’t the only one.
From the book: Because the Whitehorn case was officially unresolved, I expected the trails of evidence to disappear into a morass. In fact, the reports were bracing in their clarity. Based on leads from informants and from circumstantial evidence, the private detectives began to develop a crystalline theory of the crime. After Whitehorn’s death, his part-white, part-Cheyenne widow, Hattie, had married an unscrupulous white man named LeRoy Smitherman. The private eyes learned that the marriage had been orchestrated by Minnie Savage—a “shrewd, immoral, capable woman,” as one investigator put it, who ran a boardinghouse in Pawhuska. The private eyes suspected that she and Smitherman, as well as other conspirators, had arranged Whitehorn’s killing in order to steal his headright and fortune. Over time, many of the investigators came to believe that Hattie Whitehorn, who had quickly spent some of her husband’s fortune after his death, was also complicit. An informant told a private eye that there was no doubt Hattie Whitehorn was a “prime mover in killing Charley Whitehorn.”
There were tons of individual cases like this. Husbands betraying wives. Wives betraying husbands. Always an Osage as the victim.
Did Mollie go to Washington D.C. and meet Calvin Coolidge?
Nope. But the Osage did make requests that the federal government responded to, after years.
Did Ernest flip flop back and forth before eventually telling the truth?
Surprisingly, yeah. He was ready to testify. Then the lawyer played by Brendan Frasier really did throw a fit saying that was his client. Ernest then joined King’s side. He and King both claimed the BOI had tortured them, making up a story about a chair that electrocuted them. It almost tanked the case. But after Morrison confessed to shooting Anna, things took a turn. The death of his youngest child really did galvanize Ernest to come clean. In court, he said, “I’m sick and tired of all this….I want to admit exactly what I did.”
Why did Mollie almost forgive Ernest?
Because Scorsese wanted the tragedy of that final scene between them.
In real life, Ernest really did flip flop back and forth. It was the death of their youngest child that triggered his final turn to witness. But there’s nothing in the book about the state of his relationship with Mollie. After he confessed during his own trial, the book says, “Before being led away in irons to the state penitentiary, Burkhart turned and smiled wanly at Mollie. But her expression remained impassive, perhaps even cold.”
Trials for Hale and Bryan lasted much longer and both Mollie and Ernest served as witnesses. No mention of their interaction. Except after the trial of Morrison. We get this description: “By the time Morrison was convicted of Anna’s murder, Mollie could no longer look at Ernest. She soon divorced him, and whenever her husband’s name was mentioned, she recoiled in horror.”
So it doesn’t seem like she happily took him back and kept hugging him and being affectionate. Nor did she give him a final chance to put his lies in a box that they could send away in order to live happily ever after. She was, as you’d imagine, grossed out by what he did to her family.
Did the Osage like Killers of the Flower Man?
Reviews have been mixed. One opinion that made its way into the news cycle came from Christopher Cote, who consulted for the film. This is what he said to The Hollywood Reporter: As an Osage, I really wanted this to be from the perspective of Mollie and what her family experienced, but I think it would take an Osage to do that. Martin Scorsese, not being Osage, I think he did a great job representing our people, but this history is being told almost from the perspective of Ernest Burhart and they kind of give him this conscience and kind of depict that there’s love. But when somebody conspires to murder your entire family, that’s not love. That’s not love, that’s just beyond abuse.
I think in the end, the question that you can be left with is: How long will you be complacent with racism? How long will you go along with something and not say something, not speak up, how long will you be complacent? I think that’s because this film isn’t made for an Osage audience, it was made for everybody, not Osage. For those that have been disenfranchised, they can relate, but for other countries that have their acts and their history of oppression, this is an opportunity for them to ask themselves this question of morality, and that’s how I feel about this film.
The head of Osage Nation, Chief Standing Bear, was at the Cannes premier and said, “I can say on behalf of the Osage Nation that Scorsese and his team have restored trust.”
What war was Ernest in?
Ernest was a veteran of World War I.
Are the Osage still rich?
Killers of the Flower Moon opens by telling us how after finding oil the Osage became the richest people per capita in the entire United States. This is what the official website of the Osage says: “While the Osage people are no longer among the richest people, the effects of the oil industry are still felt today. Many Osages still receive their quarterly royalty payments, known today as headrights. The oil industry in Osage County has provided many job opportunities for Osages across Oklahoma as well as helped with the economic development of the whole country.”
What are headrights?
So the Osage were initially in the Ohio Valley. In the 1700s, they ended up in the Great Plains region. They made a deal with the U.S. government to buy the land. That was 1825. The deal didn’t finalize until 1870. They used the money from the sale to the government to buy land in Oklahoma directly from the Cherokee. Slowly, over time, the Federal government bullied its way into reclaiming the territory in order to make Oklahoma an official state. Part of that process involved what’s called “allotment”. Instead of letting Osage Nation keep a stretch of land, the government would assign ownership of allotments to individuals. It was a divide and conquer strategy that would make individuals happy but weaken the overall power of the Osage.
As part of that negotiation, someone very smart requested that the Osage retain ownership of the mineral rights for the entirety of the territory. Not just the allotments. The government said okay. A few years later, Phoenix Oil company struck on a dig and the Osage were rich. From Bloomberg: “Each person on a roll of Osages at the time received a share, which came to be called a headright. Every three months, each person who had a headright received a portion of the money from oil and gas drilling in Osage County.”
Do non-Osage still own headrights?
When a local paper, the Bigheart Times, published the full list of non-Osage headright owners in 2009, it ripped open old wounds. More than a quarter of headrights were now held outside Osage hands. Almost 2,000 non-Osage people, companies and organizations held headrights or some fraction of one.
Among those names was one known throughout Osage County: Drummond.
And that’s the segue into an entire podcast series about the Drummonds and headrights and the Osage fight to reclaim what was stolen from them. The podcast is called In Trust.
What was Mollie’s voice-over?
Mollie: Evil surrounds my heart. Many times I cry and this evil around my heart comes out of my eyes. I close my heart and keep what is good there. But hate comes. They say I ought to kill these white men who killed my family.
This comes back to what King had said about the Osage. “Osage is sharp. They don’t talk much so that might make you feel like you’re gonna run your mouth to fill the space, especially if you’ve been drinking. Better you be quiet. You don’t got nothing smart to say. Don’t get caught on that. That’s what they call blackbird talking. Just ‘cause they’re not talking don’t mean they don’t know everything about everything. Osage are the finest and most beautiful people on God’s Earth.”
For most of the movie, we don’t know how Mollie’s feeling. So the brief voice-over is a look into the depth of soul and intelligence King had mentioned.
You can almost dovetail her voice-over with her poisoning. The poison becomes a literal manifestation of the hate she had tried to keep away from her heart. But the amount of injustice builds up like a poison.
Was Ernest’s brother “Byron” or “Bryan”?
David Grann clarifies this in the book: “His birth name was Byron, but he went by Bryan.”
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Killers of the Flower Moon? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!