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The Black and White and Grey of Whitey Bulgar

BlackMassMovieFor my dad’s birthday a few weeks ago, we took him to see Johnny Depp’s new mobster flick, “Black Mass.”

The film’s focal point, one James “Whitey” Bulger, has kept me thinking and pondering for the last few weeks.

After making several wrong guesses, I had to hunt a bit before finally learning what the film’s title, “Black Mass,” stands for.

Turns out that a Black Mass is the opposite of the traditional Catholic mass where everyone dresses in white and addresses God. In the black version, well, you can probably visualize what everyone wears and who is being worshipped.

This aside, what I find perhaps most intriguing is what Depp has said about Bulger (through archival research only, since Bulger refused to meet with or speak to Depp and has now panned the film he hasn’t seen).

Depp states:

There’s a kind heart in there. There’s a cold heart in there. There’s a man who loves. There’s a man who cries. There’s a lot to the man.

Families who lost loved ones to Bulger’s violence are angry about this statement. They say there is only one side to Bulger – the cold-blooded killer. 

An author who based her fiction novel on Bulger agrees with Depp – citing his protection of animals and children and some elderly residents in his neighborhood as well as his ability to abstain from crime while on the run as proof.

Still another editorial (written during Bulger’s 2013 trial), cites evidence that Bulger’s character may perhaps be more indicative of an “anti-hero” than a sociopath, or worse, a psychopath.

What do I think?

Well, I must admit I agree with Depp as well.

I have previously blogged about how certain words, including “narcissistic,” can be overused to the point where they become fairly useless themselves.

When a word attempts to paint a human being in only one color….well, I’m just not sure that is even possible.

I also think that, the worse my thoughts about someone else become (whether I know the other person or not), the worse I tend to feel about myself.

In other words, when I give others the benefit of a doubt, I am the one who most benefits from that choice.

I guess the main reason I am fascinated with Bulger is because he brings those “grey areas” in my own life to light. What if I had grown up in the grimy projects of South Boston? What if all I knew when I was young was poverty? What if I ended up being a principle provider and protector for my three younger brothers, disabled dad and mom when I was still a kid myself?

Those are tough questions to answer, and it gets even tougher to predict what my trajectory might have been from those unkind beginnings.

So ultimately, I appreciate Depp’s efforts to portray Bulger as a whole person – as someone who might even have some redeeming qualities (such as the desire to take his long-time girlfriend with him on the lam so he wouldn’t have to be all alone) – even if those qualities were mostly left undeveloped.

It just makes me feel better about being a part of the species known as “humanity” to think that there must be some explanation, some reason, for the miserable, even horrific, things we sometimes think or say or do.

If I can’t think of myself as all good or all bad but only as a being who falls somewhere in between, I guess it just makes sense that I can’t think of anyone else that way either.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you seen “Black Mass?” What did you think about Depp’s portrayal and assessment of Bulger? Do you have any ties to South Boston or any friends or relatives who have been personally affected by events in that area? If you met Bulger face to face, what do you think it would be like?

The Black and White and Grey of Whitey Bulgar

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2015). The Black and White and Grey of Whitey Bulgar. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Oct 2015
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