Black Mass: A Film That’s Actually About Shellfish

Johnny Depp as James
Johnny Depp as James “Whitey” Bulger, probably ruminating internally on his clam instincts vs. human needs

In Scott Cooper’s recent effort Black Mass, Johnny Depp is a gangster with white-blue contacts and make-up that makes him look like a balding clam with a gnarly set of teeth. If a clam were a man, he’d be James “Whitey” Bulger in this film. This man is a clam who likes to say threatening things and kill people just because. He carries guns, but he enjoys the occasional taking of life with ropes and hands, too.

Bulger clam somehow has friends and a very friendly wife (played by 50 Shades of Vanilla Sex Torture star Dakota Johnson) who had a kid with him for some reason. The clam teaches the kid that hitting people is okay as long as no one sees it happen, alluding to his philosophy about more extreme activities like brutal murder. His wife thinks this is wrong to teach their son, even though she married an openly murderous psychopath.

Joel Edgerton plays an Australian man pretending to be a Bostonian FBI agent named John Connolly. John really likes the clam man, having grown up with him and his politician brother (played by Eggs Benedict Cumberbatch), and makes a deal that he’ll work with him to bring down the clam’s rival Italian mafia. He tells the clam that he can’t murder anybody, but because the guy is at least part clam, he disobeys John and kills several people. There’s a lot of blood, and there’s an interesting scene where the clam man has a really tense discussion about a steak recipe with an FBI agent that ends in a thousand-yard stare.

Scott Cooper manages to make a film that is both weird and incredibly snooze-worthy. It’s all about how the FBI befriends a murderous clam and the struggles that come with that, and it’s conveyed well enough, but it certainly has its vast array of faults. While I’m aware that James Bulger is a very real person who did a few bad things here and there, I wonder if this particular Bulger is actually supposed to be a shellfish, and it’s subtext that is sadly never explored. It’s my biggest problem with the film.

There are many moments where it becomes apparent that Bulger is not a person at all – he has no dimensions. There is nothing to convince me that there was any reason for his loving wife to even want to be around him. We see Bulger as a cold-blooded clam man from beginning to end, with his clammy complexion that I’ve never seen a person have. Perhaps the story behind Black Mass is not about an Irish gangster at all, but the tragic tale of a hybridization of man and clam, a warning about the bastardization that comes with interspecies mating, with Johnny Depp as the figurehead. I can even believe he’s an escaped biological experiment from some twisted fucks at MIT, with the title “Black Mass” referring to the overall vague and unidentifiable mass of flesh that Bulger feels he is.

Think about it. Take a look at a clam and Johnny Depp and tell me if it isn’t uncanny:

A beautiful clam from Dan's Clam Stand.
A beautiful clam from Dan’s Clam Stand in Crystal River, Florida, a little far from Bulger’s relatives.
Johnny-Depp-Black-Mass-Whitey-Bulger
Johnny Depp as the clam man. (Entertainment Weekly)

They both have the same look, same skin color. You can interpret Depp’s light contacts as nature’s botched attempt to turn human eyes into pearls.

If that doesn’t convince you, I’m using MorphThing.com to see what the offspring of Johnny Depp and an open clam would look like, and here are the results:

Johnny Depp with glasses

+

open clam on white background

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baby of Johnny Depp and a clam

Okay, so it doesn’t bear quite as much of a resemblance to Depp’s Bulger as I thought it would, but so what? This film is simply making a clam-man look much more human to help us empathize with him more, then, isn’t it?

And think of the location: South Boston. What is Boston known for? No, not stupid people who care way too much about baseball, but close. It’s actually known mostly for New England clam chowder, a food you weirdly never see Johnny Depp’s character consume. He never even smells the stuff. It’s nowhere in a film exclusively set in Boston. Odd. Coincidence? Absolutely not.

Could it be that the true motivation behind Bulger in this film is his discontent for man’s love of eating his brethren? Is he killing men whom he saw eat his potential brothers, cousins, or parents? Maybe he’s using his gangster façade as a front for his need to murder all those who have offended his genetic background, and is more aware of his clam heritage than one might think. It would certainly explain how different he looks from his brother, who actually appears entirely human. And we never see his parents. At one point in the film, Whitey’s kid suffers from the onset of a rare barely explained medical condition that could be the result of his clam DNA conflicting with the human part.

Ultimately, I feel this film is actually a tragedy about the life a man-clam has to face, being both a physical and mental outsider. I mean, clams reproduce asexually, and Bulger clearly reproduces sexually, and I wish the film explored that internal hormonal conflict alone even more. It might even explain his murderous ways and lack of a personality outside of vicious psycho. I can’t imagine how much better this film would’ve been had it been more focused in its commentary about the human-shellfish condition, and it’s a shame Cooper didn’t delve into more of that.

What about the other existential questions that Bulger must be facing, like “Why can’t clam and man see eye to eye?” or “What does it mean to be a clam without a shell?” All of these would be more interesting than, “I don’t like this guy or girl. Let’s whack him or her.”

All in all, I’d give this film a 2/5 for poorly misrepresenting this potentially devastating story and turning it into a clammy sham of a gangster film. I will say, however, that the performances were good and Dakota Johnson is a babe.

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