The Ending Of The Irishman Explained

When it was announced that Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci were going to be teaming up for a Martin Scorsese movie, well, to say that the internet was excited is a massive understatement. But once The Irishman hit Netflix, many people were less than thrilled with the three and a half hour movie they'd just sat through. The Irishman is based on the "true" story of Frank Sheeran, and it makes for interesting viewing. 

According to Cinema Blend, responses to the movie were all over. Some loved it, calling it the greatest cinematic masterpiece of all time. Others... not so much. One of the biggest negative comments was that it was "boring," and certainly, even those who loved it have to admit the scenes post-Hoffa were... long. Very long, and very slow. The end of the movie did seem to trundle along, inexplicably, almost. Gone were the assassinations, the political maneuvering, the sly, side conversations between mobsters trying to get ahead and make it through the day alive. 

Instead, we saw Frank Sheeran's life after he killed the man who had been his close family friend for years. Not much happened, at a glance, so what's going on here? Let's break down some of the final scenes of The Irishman, because there was more going on here than some might have noticed.

The Irishman's subtle hints of remorse and searching for forgiveness

A good part of the film is setting up how close Frank Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa become — not just themselves, but their families, as well. Sheeran's daughter, Peggy, gets along particularly well with the Teamster boss, and it's Peggy who seems to magically know that her father was the one who pulled the trigger. 

After the dust settles and the world moves on from Jimmy Hoffa's mysterious disappearance, we see Sheeran's life continue. While Sheeran the narrator holds onto his wise-guy attitude, Sheeran the character is very, very different. We see him meeting with his daughters — and, in Peggy's case, trying unsuccessfully to talk to her. He apologizes, without truly seeming to know what he's apologizing for, or wanting to say what needs to be said. It's clear he wants forgiveness and he's still trying to come to terms with what he did even years later, but he's not entirely sure how to go about it. 

Doubtful? Take the scene where Sheeran and Bufalino are sitting in jail together. Bufalino says he chose them over Hoffa, and it's what they're doing that's important. Sheeran breaks a loaf of bread and they share it — but not before dipping it in grape juice. That's partially to soften it for the elderly Bufalino, and partially a very intimate sort of Communion.

What really went on between Peggy Sheeran and her father Frank?

A big controversy over The Irishman is the distinct lack of lines Frank Sheeran's daughter Peggy actually speaks. Anna Paquin's Peggy has just a single speaking scene, where she asks her father why he hasn't called Hoffa's wife. She's mostly reduced to just giving seething, angry glares, and Scorsese has been widely criticized for under-using her. 

It was Robert De Niro who spoke with USA Today, telling them, "She was very powerful and that's what it was. Maybe in other scenes there could've been some interaction between Frank and her possibly, but that's how it was done. She's terrific and it resonates." Scorsese himself spoke about it at the DGA Theater (via IndieWire), and revealed that he had asked writer Steve Zaillian to "layer her in the story, " and ultimately, "I decided that she doesn't have to say anything. [...] There's something you can't talk about. She knows it. She knows who she is."

Meanwhile, the viewer is left to wonder who that is. Perhaps, think of it this way: Peggy Sheeran is the conscience and morality in the tale, present but largely silent, save for a few words that tug at those around her. After Hoffa's murder, the split is final — it's the last straw, and Frank Sheeran is never able to reconcile with his conscience or his daughter.

Why does Frank Sheeran pick out a coffin and a vault?

Frank Sheeran says Jimmy Hoffa was cremated, but when it comes time to choose his own final resting place, we see him picking out a green coffin and a vault. There's a few things going on here, and some of this is related to something that's not really addressed — Sheeran's religious beliefs. 

We see him getting his daughters baptized and speaking with a priest who seems to know him well, so we know he's Catholic. He also — very obviously — identifies with his Irish heritage, and traditionally, Irish Catholics have observed burial practices instead of cremation. In fact, Newstalk says it wasn't until 1982 that Ireland opened the doors on their first crematorium. Only about 110 people were cremated that year, and fast forward to 2016, that had risen to about 50 percent of bodies cared for by the Glasnevin Trust. Cremation is cheaper, of course, but Glasnevin Trust exec George McCullough said it was difficult to get families to consider cremation at first, as there was a bit of unfamiliarity and mystery about it. 

Sheeran says that he doesn't want to be cremated because it's too final, and according to Cremation Resource, that belief has religious roots as well. If a person's body is preserved after death, they'll be resurrected. Ashes won't be, and if Sheeran believes this, there's a good chance that denying his friend the chance to be resurrected could be tugging at his conscience as well.

Jimmy Hoffa's murder is the only one the Irishman ever really regretted

Frank Sheeran — young and old — talks about the people he's killed as though they're just another fact of life. It's no wonder his daughter is suspicious of him, after all, but there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line that suggests there's one murder he does regret, even if he's not entirely aware of it himself. 

That murder is Jimmy Hoffa, and how do we know? As an elderly Sheeran sits with his priest, the priest tries to get him to admit remorse, to say that he's sorry in some way. Sheeran seems oblivious — he's not, and when the priest asks him if he even feels sorry for the families he's broken, he replies that he doesn't. He didn't know the families, after all, how could he feel bad for them?

Except... he pauses and corrects himself. He did know one of the families, and that stood out to him — suggesting that of all the killing, Hoffa's is the only one that haunts him.

Everything fades

Near the end — both of the film and of Frank Sheeran's life — he's talking to a young nurse. He asks her if she knows who Jimmy Hoffa is, and she says that she doesn't. It's a small moment, but there's terrifying implications for anyone who fancies they might want to make a long-lasting impact on the world. 

Through the previous hours we see Sheeran and Hoffa moving pieces into place, and taking others off the board. They put presidents in power, and — according to one brief aside — they took them out again. They killed countless men, set the stage for world events, and just a few years on, people don't remember their names. 

You could argue that the message here is a pretty heartbreaking one: everything fades. Early on, Hoffa tells Sheeran that they're going to change the world — and they did. But they still weren't remembered, so what does that mean for the ordinary person? It's a dark and dismal thought.

Frank Sheeran's conversations with the priest

This goes back to Frank Sheeran's conversations with the priest as well, and it has to do with the evolution in the way he sees his past actions. When we see him first talking to his confessor, Sheeran seems honestly baffled, and says that no, he really doesn't have regrets.

At the very end, we see Sheeran with the priest again. The camera floats down the hallway and into his room, and it's hard to hear what they're saying. It's little more than a whisper, but it's important — the priest is giving him absolution from his sins. And that's a big deal. According to Canon Law Made Easy, the words the priest is saying are the legitimate — and only — formula of absolution. Priests only give absolution — which reconciles a person with both the Church and God — when the confession and the regret is sincere. That means not only has Frank Sheeran shown true regret for what he's done, but he's confessed his sins to the priest and the priest believed he was truly sorry. 

It's not clear just what Sheeran confessed to. Did he mention all the murders? Just one or two? Did he tell his priest he killed Jimmy Hoffa? It's not clear, but the Catholic Education Resource Center says one thing is — the priest is forbidden from breaking the Seal of the Confessional, and can't reveal what he was told — even if doing so would solve a crime or save a life.

The significance of the open door

In that final scene, the camera drifts away. Frank Sheeran asks the priest to leave the door open as he leaves, after a promise to come visit again after Christmas. There's no signs of the holiday in Sheeran's plain, undecorated room, but as the priest leaves, he does leave the door ajar. 

That's proved surprisingly divisive, with a number of theories being bounced around about just what that open door means. For some (via Collider), it hearkened back to earlier scenes where Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sheeran shared a hotel room, and Hoffa left the door open just a bit. An escape route? To keep from feeling contained? A little of both? Perhaps, but Sheeran leaving his door open in the same way is a callback to his friend. 

It's also perhaps an invitation for someone to come in, to talk to him, to acknowledge the fact that he's still there, that he has stories to tell, and confessions to make.  If Hoffa left his door open so he didn't feel trapped, maybe Sheeran did, too. And Sheeran? He's trapped by his own past, his own memories, his own mistakes, and his own regret, knowing that it's not going to be long before it's his own death that walks through that door.

Why on earth it it take The Irishman so darn long to end?

So here's the thing — most people who have a beef with The Irishman and the film's long run time probably don't like the end. The first two-thirds of the film are filled with gunshots and dynamite, and everything else you'd expect from a Scorsese gangster flick. But the end? It drags on and on, and there's nothing in it that's super exciting. It is uncomfortable, though, and it makes the viewer consider things like their own mortality and their own legacy, even as we watch this once-powerful player in the Teamsters and in the Mafia grow old, grow frail, and even fall in the hallway of his own home. 

As critic Alonso Duralde points out (via The Wrap), that "boring" part of the movie is something that happens to all of our favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters; it's usually just not brought to the screen. The plodding nature of the ending is deliberate: even as a lonely Frank Sheeran watches the days go by and counts down to his inevitable death, looming ever closer, the viewer feels it, too. It's a process that's not exciting, but it's guaranteed that all of us will face it someday. Seeing it large on screen, is uncomfortable, but so is the ever-present specter of death, frailty, and old age.