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The ending of The Departed explained

You can always count on Martin Scorsese to produce an intriguing story. Films like 1976's Taxi Driver and 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street are certifiable classics, deserving of their spots atop cinema history. Among his rock-solid filmography is 2006's The Departed, a film packed to the gills with stars and captivating performances. This crime drama stands in a league of its own, and its closing moments are especially proof of this claim.

The movie opened on October 6, 2006, and was an instant hit. Throughout its theatrical run, it grossed over $291 million and held steady at the box office all the way there. The Departed was well received by audiences and critics alike, contributing to it bagging four Oscars that year — including Scorsese's first win for Best Director.

Like the best of Scorsese's masterworks, The Departed weaves a layered story that will stick with you long after the credits roll. There is so much to think about even after the movie is over, thanks largely to a conclusion that initially feels abrupt and even jarring. The movie ends decisively, yet leaves viewers with plenty of questions consider — not all of which have easy answers.

The surprising death of Colin Sullivan

The final moments of The Departed find Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) getting surprised in his own home and gunned down by Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), the final death in a rapid chain of executions in the film's third act. Given that Sullivan's cover was blown by Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) shortly beforehand, it makes sense that Dignam would be prepared to take him out of commission. He and his boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), may have played the Massachusetts State Police like a fiddle, but he couldn't quite get away with it.

While it's satisfying to some extent seeing Sullivan get what he deserves, his death seemingly comes out of left field. Up to that point in the film, he's done everything in his power to make sure no one knows his true agenda. How exactly did Dignam know that Sullivan had been playing both sides of the fence? His and Costigan's shared love interest holds the answer to that question.

The role of Madolyn Madden in The Departed's conclusion

Throughout The Departed, there's some smaller-scale deception going on between Sullivan and Costigan. They both fall for Dr. Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga) at one point or another. At first, she hits it off with Sullivan, but their relationship sours following her affair with Costigan. He gives her records of phone calls between Sullivan and Costello, revealing their business connection. What she does with those recordings off-screen is crucial to understanding the end of the movie and why Dignam makes such a bold choice.

Such evidence is incredibly powerful, and should probably be taken to the police. There are implications that Madden does exactly that not long after Costigan's funeral. Taking them to the station would give Dignam all he needs to take Sullivan down once and for all. The recordings incriminate and expose him for being in Costello's back pocket the entire time. By proxy, he's responsible for the deaths of both Costigan and Cpt. Queenan (Martin Sheen), prompting Dignam to go out and avenge his fallen friends.

The significance of the rat on the window

After Dignam takes Sullivan's life and leaves him to bleed out in his apartment, the camera tilts up to the Boston skyline. We focus on the back window of the apartment, lingering on the view for a moment. On the window is a lone rat seen sniffing around for a bit before the credits roll. It's a metaphor that's perfectly fitting when you take in the entire story of The Departed.

Aside from the larger organized-crime- versus-law-enforcement plotline, the core of the movie is about two rats: Sullivan and Costigan. One is a criminal pulling the MSP's strings from the inside, while the other is an officer attempting to infiltrate one of the biggest Irish mobs in the country. In the end, they both wind up dead with nothing really to show for it. Their methodology remained the same no matter who they were representing. Showing a live rat in the final shot of the movie simply drives that point home.

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