Martin Scorsese is dropping some pretty intense philosophy in this GQ profile. The filmmaker is wrestling with what he’s still holding onto and fighting for at this point in his career. And it’s all through the lens of what he’s (finally) letting go of.
It’s not easy to be “good” at something. In part because it takes a lot of work. But also in part because the internal drive that leads to success creates pressure – and this is the real challenge. How do you decompress when everything you do is about pressurizing? This profile is a unique peak into how a master of his craft is wrestling with it.
How does Scorsese learn, or make sense of, or just finally… stop? Not necessarily the act of making movies. You can do what you love until the day you die and that’s a beautiful thing. But how you stop the unnecessary pressurizing?
He’s learning to pair down. He feels it in his work and in his art. There’s a zen here – read this passage (my emphasis added):
The book is still being written on the work—all seven magnificent decades of it. But Scorsese knows something now about what happens when you get old. Getting older is a relentless process of paring down. Getting older is an exercise in letting go. Let go of anger: “I’m at the age now where you just—you’ll die.” Let go of fitting in, of going up to Rao’s with important people. Let go of other people’s opinions: “That doesn’t mean you don’t take advice and you don’t discuss and argue, but at a certain point you know what you want to do. And you have no choice.” Let go of the idea that you might someday visit the Acropolis. Let go of the idea that a movie needs a beginning, a middle, and an end: “Maybe the middle’s all around it, you know?”
Let go of the Academy’s opinion, of the idea of being part of Hollywood at all: “I don’t really belong there anyway.” Let go of the experiments for the sake of experiments: that action sequence in Cape Fear; directing Paul Newman in The Color of Money. “I tried these things over the years. That time is gone now.” Let go of the studio system: “I thought I was in a Hollywood group. It didn’t work.” Let go of self-delusion, which is maybe the hardest thing of all to let go of. Shape the thing you’re making into a pure expression of the thing you’re making: “Cut away, strip away the unnecessary, and strip away what people expect.”
Living for the sake of living. It’s a beautiful thing. Read the whole piece and remember: just let go.