Spoilers ahead for The Irishman.
The final hour of The Irishman shows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in decline. The friendships he’s managed with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) have collided and he’s forced to kill Jimmy on behalf of Russell. It turns out that Frank’s loyalty was cheap and the violent life he lived has alienated just about everyone who cared about him. He’s left sad and alone in a nursing home confessing to the audience and to a priest, and even then, Frank has trouble admitting the contrition or regret he clearly feels. But in a telling moment, he asks the priest to please leave his room door open. Looking in at Frank through that open door is the final shot of the film.
The open door recalls an earlier scene in the movie where Frank is staying in Jimmy’s hotel room, and when Jimmy goes to bed he leaves the bedroom door open. It’s not an invitation—there’s nothing to suggest that Frank or Jimmy have romantic feelings towards each other—but it seems more psychological for Jimmy. The way the scene reads is that Jimmy, aware that he has plenty of enemies, is leaving the door open as means of self-defense. Literally and metaphorically, he doesn’t want the door shut on him. He doesn’t want to be boxed in and trapped by his enemies, but leaving the door open also gives him a vague sense of power. It’s an escape route of sorts. If you just leave the door open, you’re no longer trapped, although the sad irony of this scene is that in this moment Jimmy is trusting his protection to his future killer, Frank.
For Frank to leave his own door open at the end is loaded with meaning. It’s a symbol of regret for killing Jimmy by mimicking his friend’s behavior, but it also speaks to the frailty of both men. They both postured as tough guys who had no problem with violence and imposing their wills on others, but at the end of the day when they’re all alone, they’re scared and timid. They may as well ask for a night light because they know they’re a part of a world where folks are frequently murdered (as the title cards that run throughout the movie remind us). Frank is unusual in that no one comes to murder him, but in its own way, that speaks not to him being well-liked or a good guy, but rather that he’s largely unimportant. He is forgotten.
The open door for Frank may not be an escape route like it was for Jimmy, but perhaps an invitation. A way to tell his story to someone new. An opening for reconciliation with his daughters. And that reconciliation is never going to come. Frank is both trapped by his actions and also seeking consolation from a world that has left him behind due to the consequences of his actions. Maybe if someone did come to kill him he would at least get to go out “like a man” in terms of the way he defined masculinity (i.e. toxically). But that person isn’t going to come. No one is coming. Frank is trapped in a prison of regret and leaving the door slightly open won’t change that.