3rd Viewing • Spoilers Ahead
The pursuit of wealth and economic fluency is wasted when you’re bombarded by a job obliged to takes up all your time; the illegal underworld of business empiring is a pothole of dodging left and right nearly 24/7, and even if you end up living most of your life not like a “schmuck,” sooner or later you’re going to have to, and believe me, it’s going to sting much harder for you than if you were someone who’s had the experience to live that type of life since the beginning.
Halfway through Goodfellas you’re paralleled with the same scene you saw at the start, except the excited enthusiasm and anticipation of “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States. Even before I first wandered into the cabstand for an after-school job, I knew I wanted to be a part of them. It was there that I knew that I belonged” is rather meet by Henry Hill’s silent fear of a recent murder situation as he eats Tommy’s Mom’s home-cooked meal, and it’s such a contrasting tone from how the beginning statement sounded that it really puts a pin on all the enchanting adventurism you thought you were about to experience through these criminals’ lives. Instead your treated with a “rat” constantly debating himself on why the hell he’s in the business anyways as he gets closer to being a “hit” target among colleagues, acting naively shocked as if these tough consequences that require of his career were never supposed to bounce back on him — these men are ego inflated psychopaths, truly. You’re watching a somewhat average, “quiet” fella fall down into this almost sexual obsession with violence and illegal activity, taking his wife and partners with him, middling on whether he actually has the long-lasting persona to blend in with these “goodfellas,” a persona that he was so determined he had since the beginning; part of this concept is beautifully summed up in Karen Hill’s famous line: “I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.” Ultimately, Henry is taking every last drop of satisfaction and thrill he can get before having to become… haha… a “badfella.” Nonetheless, by the end, he’s digging himself out of the filth, he has become paranoid of men he once considered best friends, and comes to the s**t realization that the fun is officially over, and that’s that.
So yes, this halfway mark is where his complaining begins, and like this, other characters begin suffering from this close end to their evasion from the “everyday person’s” reality. Joe Pesci’s character is cursed of his aggression towards those that even slightly oppose his character; his unawareness for obvious hierarchy and power positions, things necessary in a functioning society, are what destroy him, as he thought this career of gangster-ing could avoid such circumstances. His consequences are initiated as if it were the hand of ironically the law, as his murderous rampage is sentenced with death just when he thought this long worked for career was finally about to pay off when he’s told that he’s being promoted to a “made” member of the mafia. I love how just before he’s whacked, the sudden realization hits him, as if he knew all along that this day were bound to happen, but obviously he had hoped for it to come after gaining such an honorable position.
Think back to Orson Welles’s Charles Foster Kane from Citizen Kane, or even think forward to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood and their journeys of destruction which they use to find out if there really was some level of satisfactory in creating kingdoms of wealth, but multiply that with a whole army of characters who participate into the feeding. That was the failure of the goodfellas: by the end everybody started wanting everybody dead, people began looking after their own asses other than the stability of this community that they had built to be so strong-headed and “brotherly”; they revoke the gangster family persona because they begin registering that their exploration was coming to an end, and whoever could stand on top by the conclusion of it would win the lottery of ironically becoming their greatest fear: living out the rest of their life like a “schmuck” — better than prison till the age of 70 though, as Paulie had said. Or, being, you know, dead.
That’s the dilemma of the mobster career though isn’t it? It’s just a generational race to who doesn’t get “hit” or thrown into the can for life by its destined termination; there can’t be a set of winners at the end of a flawed system, especially with an introduction of the witness protection program that could put a flock of mobsters away for good with just one eye participant. So, evidently, the based-on-a-true-story gives us that insight into an array of similar arcs in the “pursuit for fortune and dominating respect” storytelling formula, except it’s done with Martin Scorsese working his execution at the top of his game: his fastest pacing, best performances, slickest dialogue, keenest expressions with the camera, most innovative structuring, editing as hypnotic as the climax of Taxi Driver, smartest music placement, nimblest gags, most tasteful paralleling of narration and visual storytelling, yadee yada it’s a mastaaapiece! Inciting incidents could occur from a telephone, one wrapped currently around the throat of a victim, mind you, or a love interest could pop into the picture during a friend-on-friend discussion while they casually burn down a 5-star restaurant. You’re unapologetically wrapped straight into the physicality of the crime world through blissfully comedic psychomania. Yep, thirty years later and this still kicks ass.
Best freeze framing in cinema too. BRING THAT S**T BACK YOU MOTHAF…
“Goodfellas” is now available to stream on Netflix.