Martin Scorsese and the American Dream

Rutgers Univ. Jun. 2021. 180p. ISBN 9781978817425. $69.95; pap. ISBN 9781978817418. $24.95. FILM
There is no end to books about Martin Scorsese, but Cullen (Those Were the Days: Why “All in the Family” Still Matters) distinguishes this new volume by examining the director’s feature films through the lens of the American dream and considering how that ideal is often imbedded in Scorsese’s characters. Scorsese himself could be understood as an exemplar of the struggle that often accompanies a search for the American dream; Cullen points out that the filmmaker has tasted its successes and failings. Yet in a land that promises “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” it is key that happiness is not a guarantee, only its pursuit. Cullen notes that many of Scorsese’s characters are morally ambiguous, from Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle to The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort; all of them seek some form of happiness, or at least contentment, though many of them never achieve it, a reflection of limits in American society. Rather than presenting a traditional critique of Scorsese’s films, Cullen offers a well-considered analysis of one particular thread that is woven through them. His language is denser yet more eloquent than that of many film critics.
VERDICT An intriguing approach to the work of an American master.
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