The 2006 thriller earned Scorsese his first Oscar for Best Director (and it also won Best Picture) but fans have long wondered about anguished that cryptic declaration made by undercover operative Billy Costigan’s (DiCaprio) to corrupt Sgt. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) in the film’s climactic elevator scene.
(Major spoiler alert for those who have not seen the movie, you definitely do not want to read further if you haven’t seen the film.)
As you’ll recall, Costigan finally captures the traitorous Sullivan on the roof of the same dilapidated building where Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) met his fate earlier in the film.
As they ride down, Sullivan whines, “just kill me,” to which Costigan declares, “I am killing you.”
When the elevator doors open, Costigan is shockingly shot in the head by another corrupt cop trying to help Sullivan.
There are two ways to read Costigan’s line. Either metaphorically, that by arresting Sullivan he’s killing the threat he represents and the life he coveted, or literally, in that Costigan was planning to execute Sullivan for long list of sins.
Scorsese says Costigan was definitely planning to turn Sullivan in. “He was going by the book,” the director tells EW. “He’s trying to be good man.”
Scorsese is set to release his latest crime saga in theaters and on Netflix, The Irishman, which reunites Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, along with first-time Scorsese collaborator Al Pacino, in tale spanning decades tackling the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.