I love action movies. But up until last night, I had never seen the classic movie Scarface, starring Al Pacino. I initially became interested in watching it thanks to videos on YouTube showing a playthrough of the 2006 videogame based on the movie, Scarface: The World is Yours.
The videogame serves as a sort of “what if” scenario, if Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, had survived the shootout with Alejandro Sosa’s men. The famous shootout where Tony dies at the end of the film, serves as the beginning of the videogame. After Tony escapes with his life, the videogame’s storyline follows him as he attempts to rebuild his empire, regain his throne as the king of the Miami cocaine trade, and take down Alejandro Sosa once and for all.
While that’s certainly an interesting premise for a game, I think it takes away from the many messages the film tries to convey. The main two messages that I saw? Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the love of money is the root of all evil. But there are so many other messages that I’ll probably pick up on if I watch it again in the future.
I can certainly empathize with Tony Montana’s original motivations at the very beginning of the film. He’s poor and wants to make a better life for himself. While I am not an immigrant, and cannot understand that aspect of things, I do understand what it’s like to struggle toward what you want. After all, who doesn’t want to live their own American Dream? I’m still working on mine.
But there are certainly right and wrong ways to go about achieving that dream. When a poor, ambitious man like Tony Montana eventually gets involved with Omar Suarez, the right-hand man to drug kingpin Frank Lopez, he quits his job as a dishwasher, and it all goes downhill from there. His first drug deal with the Colombians went south, but after he survived that, his downward spiral slowly begins, even as he rises through the ranks of Frank’s cartel. After that? The rest is history, sadly.
Tony Montana: A study in self-destruction
While watching the movie, I also was fascinated by the evolution of the relationships between Tony, his best friend Manny, Tony’s sister Gina, and Georgina Montana, Tony and Gina’s mother. In the beginning Tony and Manny were two friends who stuck by each other when they had nothing, and even as they reached the top, they looked out for each other. Gina was Tony’s bright and bubbly little sister who simply wanted to make a good life for herself the right way. And Georgina Montana wanted to protect Gina, and keep her away from Tony, because she knew what he had done in his past (even though we never see it in the film), and she had a good idea of what he was up to during the movie.
But even though it’s fascinating watching those relationships turn sour, it’s also heartbreaking too. Once he becomes Miami’s cocaine king, Tony becomes paranoid, determined to protect his power at all costs. This includes no longer trusting Manny, even though Manny has been with Tony ever since he was a nobody coming over from Cuba. Gina also becomes increasingly frustrated with Tony’s overprotectiveness and keeping her away from Manny and other men he doesn’t think are good for her. I personally think Tony’s overprotectiveness toward Gina is abuse disguised as caring about her. Tony just makes excuses for it to justify his shitty behavior. He never takes responsibility for his actions.
Gina and Manny’s story is fascinating too. They fall madly in love with each other. The end of this part of the story absolutely broke my heart though. The two people Tony supposedly cares about the most end up dead because of him. One by Tony’s own hand, and the other thanks to Tony and Manny being involved in the cocaine business.
I have rarely seen a sadder scene in any movie than Manny’s death, and Gina’s grief. I’m not going to share those scenes here, but I actually teared up when I saw everything. It affected me in such a way that few movie scenes ever have. It just hit me. I don’t know how else to say it. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, the actress who plays Gina, was absolutely masterful at portraying Gina’s grief. Seeing Gina sobbing while holding Manny’s lifeless body in her arms, combined with Gina’s theme playing in the background, just absolutely hit me like a ton of bricks. But seeing Gina die was just as bad if not worse. I have rarely seen such a mix of grief and fury from a character. She just snaps. Years of abuse from Tony pushed Gina to the edge. Manny’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
And when Tony finally snaps out of the fog of his coke-fueled rage just long enough, he realizes that the two people he loved most in the world are dead thanks to him. It was truly sad seeing him talking to his dead sister, telling her he’d be back for her after the shootout with Sosa’s men, and that he loves her and Manny.
But I imagine that somewhere deep down in the recesses of his mind, even as he was completely coked up, Tony absolutely knew he wasn’t coming back alive. The only way he’d make it out of that mansion was in a body bag. His sister and best friend were gone, and there was absolutely nothing left for him to live for. And so, he makes one of the most famous last stands in cinematic history, and he goes out with guns blazing.
The last little touch by director Brian De Palma before the movie goes to credits was brilliant too. After he is shot in the back by Sosa’s assassin nicknamed “the Skull,” Tony falls into the pool below, dead. As the camera pans up from his body, the globe that says “The World Is Yours” was a sad, poignant message.
Tony did gain everything the world had to offer. He had all the money, power, fame and women a man could want. But in the process, he lost everything and everyone that mattered to him. He lost his mother after she disowned him. He lost his best friend because he killed him in a fit of rage. He lost his sister because she was killed by one of his henchmen. He lost his wife after he was abusive to her. And he lost himself both figuratively and literally. He was killed by Sosa’s assassin, yes. But he had lost any honor in who he was long before that. The only redeeming quality he kept was his refusal to kill women and children. Ironically, it was his refusal to do this that resulted in his death. But he was too far into the dark underbelly of the cocaine trade by that point to make it out alive, anyway.
What Scarface can teach us
While I obviously know Tony Montana and everyone else in this film are fictional characters, their story definitely serves as a cautionary tale to those who are ambitious in building a better life for themselves. Sure, I highly doubt any normal, sane human being would want to become a drug kingpin. But Scarface definitely displays what the love of power and money can do to a person. Obscenely large amounts of money can probably make most human beings greedy, and power and influence can cause even the humblest people to lose themselves in their hubris. Greed and pride are in every single one of us. Or at least the potential for them to show their hideous faces lives inside every human heart.
Before he got big, Tony Montana said, “I want what’s coming to me. The world, chico. And everything in it.”
He ended up gaining the world. And lost everything and everyone, including himself, in order to get there. Scarface is a warning to all of us.