The Departed

The Departed is a Martin Scorcese film which follows the lives of half a dozen men who may or may not be undercover cops within crime syndicates and double-dealing cops answering to the crime bosses. The movie itself is fairly well done, with characters you couldn’t help relate to no matter how murky they got, or what heinous things they did to cover their tracks.

The problem I had was the character of Madolyn. She’s introduced as a psychiatrist within the police department. She quickly starts up a flirtation with rising star Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). I was impressed with the way the relationship was handled; a flirtation, a date, a morning after, a throwaway references to the longterm relationship. Just enough information to know they’re together and it’s serious. Meanwhile, she continues her job – she gets more screentime working in a professional capacity thAn she does with Damon – with one of her other patients a deeply undercover cop – she thinks he’s an ex cop who got thrown out – Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio).

So far, so good. The “˜girlfriend’ character has spent more time in a professional context thAn she has as the “˜girlfriend’, and her dynamics with Sullivan and Costigan have done a lot to further character arcs and the general storyline. She’s not just something pretty for Sullivan to go home to after he’d done a hard day’s work.

Except then she sleeps with Costigan. He comes over to her apartment – while she’s in the middle of packing up to move in with Sullivan, no less – they talk, then they end up in bed.

And not just that – while I was impressed Scorcese didn’t go to the effort of raunchy bedroom scenes to tell us Madolyn and Sullivan were together, they did this with Madolyn and Costigan. This to me says that the titillation of betrayal was much more interesting thAn the act of sex itself.

And they never bother to explain Madolyn’s motives. Costigan was pretty screwed up, which was good enough explanation for him, IMHO, but Madolyn was in a longterm relationship, not to mention that little thing about him being her patient. Was she having second thoughts about moving in with Sullivan? Was she actually a double-dealing tramp using her connections in the Boston PD to help organised crime? They could have been possibilities, but the storyline was abandoned as soon as the deed was done. Madolyn moves in with Sullivan, and cuts off all ties with Costigan. Their relationship continues on as if nothing happened.

On top of that, she later becomes pregnant, and because it’s difficult to establish a timeline, I was wondering about paternity. Again, this is something they didn’t bother to deal with. Given the underlying themes of the movie were loyalty and betrayal, Madolyn’s actions could have been worked in quite well – instead, after a good start of being a professional woman who happens to be in a longterm relationship, she gets marginalised to “˜the girlfriend’ who cheats on her boyfriend for the sake of cheap and pointless titillation.


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    It sounds like to me there’s also room to infer the movie is putting down her relationship to Sullivan, and sending the meta-message that women aren’t really capable of being loyal to their men if they have careers, that women aren’t capable of stuff like being psychiatrists and keeping their hands off their patients.

    In short, that women can’t control their impulses.

    Best case scenario: the movie meant to put across an underlying sexual tension between her and Costigan, but failed. Sometimes they think just putting two people on a screen does it. Not for me.

    And again, this all goes back to the utter unimportance of a woman’s sexuality, and why she chooses to have sex. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the men involved. It’s all about them.

  2. scarlett says

    Well, what sucked was she started out so good; I was thinking smart, capable woman who’s shown more in a professional capacity then as the girlfriend. Then it all went to pot, I didn’t get it.

  3. SunlessNick says

    It might also be an assumption that only illicit sex is interesting – or one that didn’t want to paint sex “too well,” so only portrayed it in the context of betrayal. Or didn’t want to paint women “too well.”

    Or it could be the assumption that sex is always the most tense dramatic device of all, and it needed it for direct competition between Sullivan and Costigan (and of course, what better to compete over than a woman?).

    Well, what sucked was she started out so good; I was thinking smart, capable woman who’s shown more in a professional capacity then as the girlfriend. Then it all went to pot, I didn’t get it.

    This reminds me of something I see a lot, especially in action/espionage: giving a female character some token moments of genuine strength at the beginning of the story, before trashing and stereotyping her later; then if anyone complains, pointing at the beginning and saying, “Look strength, see? She just had a some moments of weakness later.”

  4. scarlett says

    As far as not wanting to portray sex ‘too well’, I thought they did a good job of portraying it in the context of a healthy, monogomous relationship. Sullivan and Madolyn had their issues, but there was a sense that they were working at it.

    And the characters themselves were complex and dynamic, they could have don emuch better when it came to creating tension to having them fight over a woman. (Incidentally, they never realise they ARE completing over her – they only met a few times, towards the end, and never realise Madolyn’s connection to the other. So a completely superflous scenario.)

  5. Puro Ag says

    The love scene with Costigan was to portray the passion she didn’t have with “Mr. Right”. The passion she felt for the man who she truly loved. If anything, I thought it portrayed her in a positive light.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    How is that positive? She “truly loved” someone she had no passion with, so she had to go find the passion on the side behind the back of the man she “truly loved”? Or that it’s okay to cheat for passion as long as you really love the other one?

    I’m sorry, I just don’t understand your point and am seeking clarification.

  7. scarlett says

    I hated the way they just abandoned the issue of her infidelity. It really felt like it had just been thrown in to titilate. Also, because it was difficult to work out the timeline, I wasn’t impressed with the ambiguity over paternity.

  8. salla says

    I haven’t seen The Departed yet, but I have seen Infernal Affairs the movie that it was based on and it seems to me that the character of Madolyn is based on three different female characters from that movie. There was the Sullivan character’s writer girlfriend (they moved in together during the movie), the Costigan character’s psychiatrist(and love interest), and the Costigan character’s ex-girlfriend.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says


    I can just see that story meeting.

    Writer: “Hey, you know what? We could condense all these chicks into just one chick. I mean, why keep a bunch of ’em around, when one can do it all?”

    Other Writer: “Yeah, and you know, I’ve been thinking these two guys are kind of redundant. What about condensing them into one?”

    Writer: “What, are you crazy? Guy #1 eats McDonald’s. Guy #2 eats Burger King! You can’t just lump them in together! Jeez, you’re fired!”

  10. scarlett says

    So, because Madolyn was based on three women, it was OK to have her play the two (seperate) roles of two men’s lovers?
    Just to be clear, Salla, I realise this wasn’t waht you meant, but I can so see the logic: Madolyn was based on three characters, so let’s have her sleep with the same amount of men AS ONE CHARACTER that she did as three.
    Except that media feminists like me pick up on it and we critique the hell out of it :p

  11. gordon says

    Puro Ag Says:
    The love scene with Costigan was to portray the passion she didn’t have with “Mr. Right”. The passion she felt for the man who she truly loved.
    BetaCandy Says:
    How is that positive? She “truly loved” someone she had no passion with, so she had to go find the passion on the side behind the back of the man she “truly loved”? Or that it’s okay to cheat for passion as long as you really love the other one?

    It would help if you were scanning the previous comments correctly: Puro identifies her passion for Costigan as BEING “the passion she felt for the man [whom] she truly loved.” Your misreading completely distorts what he was trying to say. Please reread carefully.

    Scarlett, I share your disappointment with the fact that Madolyn’s is the least patiently attended storyline; that Scorsese did not follow up on her infidelity with Costigan is truly bizarre. However, a few nits to pick with your analysis: “And they never bother to explain Madolyn’s motives… Madolyn was in a longterm relationship, not to mention that little thing about [Costigan]being her patient.”

    Well, no. The movie makes it a point TWICE to tell us he is not her patient. When she follows him outside to give him a prescription, she tells him she intends to tranfer him to another counselor. And when he shows up on the night she’s packing to move, he asks whether his visit it inappropriate and she responds, “No, it’s not inappropriate, you’re not my patient.” She does not take up the question of whether it’s inappropriate to her longterm relationship with Sullivan, but oh well. Girls will be girls! (sorry, yikes, mea culpa.)

    Was she having second thoughts about moving in with Sullivan?

    Again, her dialogue in this scene explicitly acknowledges the presence of these second thoughts, even if it doesn’t go into detail about them.

    As to the paternity issue, I sorta thought it obvious to assume that Costigan was the father, but you’re right, it’s ridiculous how little attention is paid to Madolyn’s arc—at least until late in the film, when she has two excellent MOMENTS OF STRENGTH (did you other folks watch the same movie, even?): (1) she confronts Sullivan directly about his being in Costello’s gang (her pulling out the headphone jack really surprised and elated me; I felt SURE the movie was going to have her hide her newfound knowledge, if not cry about it in private!); and (2) then she utterly disses him at Costigan’s funeral, so wonderful an act of principle and independence that I, a big furry faggot, was prepared to be her love slave.

    Context: I saw this movie for the first time last night and was referred here from ide_cyan’s comment on lawlesslawyer’s Live Journal. Brava on the site.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    Gordon, you’re right that I misread the earlier comment, so my question is irrelevant. Never mind. 😀

    I’m not backing down from the position that infidelity always makes people look weak, which I do not consider positive. Something that takes strength: telling your significant other you need to break up with them, and then pursuing the other relationship.

    Alas, I don’t have access to lawlesslawyer’s friends page, so I’m unable to see the post you referred to and know what was said.

  13. gordon says

    “infidelity always makes people look weak”

    An excellent, elegant way to put it, without getting into hafalutin morality stuff. Honesty is HARD, dammit, and too often it is its own sole reward, but the people you love deserve to know what’s up.

    I for one have never been and never will be in a monogamous relationship (don’t like ’em, don’t believe in ’em) and so I never, ever cheat. That may sound simplistic, but it’s true. Sex is fun and it’s good exercise and it’s not bad for you if you do it right and it implies NOTHING about my choices for whom I wish to have seriously, all the time, and till death blah blah blah, in my life. I know mine is a minority viewpoint, but it does tend to put me in a position to value formulations that identify “cheaters” as “weak” while avoiding moralizing about plural sexual relationships :)

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    I take no issue with non-monogamous relationships. It’s the deception I object to (declaring monogamy to the beloved but not practicing it). Other than that, whatever works for consenting adults is okay by me.

  15. madaha says

    ok, I know I’m really late to this discussion, so no one may see this, but in this part of the movie, she IS just a plot device. There is a subtext about manhood (in all its stereotypical aspects, unfortunately) – see it again and it’s really obvious. The girlfriend is even eating a banana in front of Sullivan at one point, when they’re discussing his impotence. So the idea is, of course it’s Costigan’s baby, and that makes Costigan more of a man than Sullivan, who is usually impotent (recall the scene he gets very defensive about performing with his girlfriend in front of A. Baldwin). They try to make her a real character to disguise she’s just a plot tool to play the men off each other (as the movie does the whole time in different ways – it’s the point of the movie), but it’s always about the men, not her. I do like this movie, though. The symbolism is NOT subtle, but it says a lot about the state of masculinity today. (sadly). About men’s unreasonable expectations for themselves, that is.

  16. scarlett says

    but it’s always about the men, not her.

    I realise this probably isn’t the conect you mean it in, but this is the problem I have with A LOT of movies and TV shows; it’s always about the men. OK, I get that it’s mainly Sullivan and Costigan’s story, having, having introduced a female supporting character and having given her a decent amount of screen time, coudl they explain her motives a bit better? If they’d shown better her motivations for sleeping with Costigan, if they’d made the timeline a bit clearer, I would have been so much more impressed with the character.

    I don’t see how she can be a fairly well fleshed-out character for most of the movie but a plot device for this section. Again, maybe the movie IS mainly about the main characters, but you wouldn’t see Sullivan or Costigan doing something completely without explaination just to further the storyline.

    And if Sullivan was impotant, wouldn’t he have known that the baby wasn’t his?

  17. madaha says

    Yay Scarlett! This is fun – I love Scorsese. Weird to me how the impotence thing wasn’t noticed by the commenters above: the scene was something like this (not verbatim): she: do you want to talk about last night? (peeling banana) He: no. She: it’s no big deal, you know…something, something…

    Anyway I do think she IS a good character. The implication is, that she has sex with Costigan because they have chemistry, but she’s conflicted, but gives in because she’s sexually unsatisfied with Sullivan. That’s pretty realistic motivation, actually. (But furthers the plot nicely!)

    I think also, it’s implied that SHE knows that the baby is Costigan’s (but one may disagree with me), and having decided to stay with Sullivan, she was going to pass it off as his.

    Sullivan believes it, because he wants to (needs to – recall when he shoots Nicholson, he says, “is this what’s it’s all about? all that fucking, and no sons?” This issue of masculinity and heredity=sons is important to all the characters). And, because they had the impotence “discussion”, it also implies that Sullivan is NOT ALWAYS impotent, just sometimes. So the child could, technically, be his. But the audience knows better.

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