Identity is one aspect of all of our lives which is of vital importance. We are all looking for our identity and our place in our world. How we view our identity causes us to act, think, and behave in ways which reinforce how we see ourselves. A person who sees himself as a Republican will have a completely different worldview than that of his Democrat counterpart. Even if the two are siblings, or who were raised in the same environment, they will each have completely different views of politics and the world around him, all based on their identity of Democrat or Republican.
Identity plays a major role, in fact one can argue is the major theme, of The Departed, a brilliant film which won the 2006 Oscar for Best Picture. It primarily follows the lives of two individuals who are “rats”: Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Both have a connection to Irish mob boss Frank Costell0 (Jack Nicholson): Costigan as an undercover cop for the Staties (State Police) and Sullivan as a mole detective in the Staties. Each plays the same role for opposite sides: betraying their loyalties to those that trust them and trying to discover each other. This premise, of course, leads to limitless potential for suspense, double/ triple crosses, and brutal violence.
The film itself is expertly paced with entertaining characters, witty dialogue, and somewhat unconventional plot structure. The first half deals with the two main characters and how their dual identities are affect their lives. Costigan simply wants to get the job done and “get his identity back” while Sullivan lives it up in his luxury apartment, his job as a State Police detective, and the admiration that he receives from everyone in the department. The same people that he is betraying. He has higher aspirations for his life, but he knows that he cannot achieve his life goals so long as he is closely associated with Costello, someone is going to find the connection at some point, and his life will for all intents and purposes be over.
In the second half, the tension reaches almost unbearable levels when each character learns of each other’s existence. Only they have no idea who the rat is in each respective organization: the mob and the police. It then becomes a race as to who will discover the other first.
In the end, this is an almost perfect mobster film. I do feel that the last fifteen minutes felt a little rushed, like they were trying to keep under a certain run time, but this does little to my overall enjoyment of the story. I really liked the romantic subplot which adds a little love triangle. A lot of critics that I have read reviews for complained about this subplot, but I think it goes to serve the theme of the plot in a different way: the duality that is shown in the main plot is shown in the subplot as Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) has a romantic interest in both of the male leads, but must lie about it, and must betray her loyalties to one over the other.
As mentioned before, our identities are crucial to our development as human beings and how we contribute (or don’t) to society. When we begin to betray our identity for personal gain, or because we are forced to because of our jobs (or marriages, religious beliefs, family, etc. etc.) it will only lead to death: be it actual physical death or the death of our identity entirely.