Scarface: a man of virtue?
If Scarface has anything to offer it is excessive violence, full-on drug use and a record score-card of using the ‘f-word’ 226 times – but does this cult-classic maybe offer something a little more? Was Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino) really the “very bad man”?
Set in early 1980s, Montana is a determined man to make it big. Upon reaching America his philosophical view is: ‘you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women’ – this became his mantra. He faithfully adopts this way of life only to be completely consumed by it. Is he a victim of his own success? No-one can claim they had no control over their actions. Montana chose to live his life according to his own set of principles just as he adopted the Goodyear bump slogan ‘The world is yours’. He blinded himself to the eventual consequences but understood the nature of his business. Just the same as his mother knew the money she made was little, but she was comforted by the fact it was honest and proud she was not contributing to the negative stereotype Americans had of Cubans. The way in which Montana did business was unique considering the nature of the drug industry. Although an ambitious drug lord, Montana tried to be professional in his all dealings – honouring his word with cocaine kingpin Alejandro Sosa and the money counting scene with the undercover police. Also, unlike other gangsters and drug lords, Montana did not use torture or gruesome methods of killing, such as in the chainsaw or helicopter drop scenes. He only killed those who presented a clear threat to him. After Montana shot Frank Lopez and Mel Bernstein, he showed what could be described as ‘mercy’ by offering one of Frank’s henchmen (a witness) an opportunity to accept a new job or be shot. It could be said Montana exemplifies ‘honour amongst thieves’. However, it must be realised there were two reasons for killing Frank: betrayal and his girlfriend, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer). Although the first reason was paramount to killing Frank, but Montana’s desire for Elvira was also a catalyst – two birds with one stone. But it is the nature of Montana’s personal relationships which are intriguing as they were destructive. His relationship with Manny, his most loyal and trusted friend, was brotherly in nature. Montana never double-crossed Manny and was honest in his dealings with him because he valued their relationship. This was initially honoured by Manny in that he agreed not to see Gina based upon Montana’s strong disapproval earlier in the movie. However, as Montana became more powerful he neglected to value Manny’s contributions and their relationship eroded. Manny started secretly seeing Gina and eventually married her. Both men failed each other: Manny hid his intention for Gina and Montana committed an ‘honour killing’ by shooting Manny. As for Gina, her relationship with Montana is ‘uncomfortable’. Although it was never shown to be physical, there was definitively an incestuous element. However, Montana’s love & protection for his sister could always be viewed as brotherly and fatherly. He did support her dream of opening a beauty salon but limited her happiness – trying to keep her ‘pure’ by being a controlling element in her life. By shooting Manny, Montana took away from Gina the chance of being with a man who would genuinely take care of her and love her. Montana’s short-term trophy wife Elvira is a major complex in itself. Although he yearned for Elvira he did not ‘take’ her until Frank was out of the picture and they could marry. Although their marriage was based on this ‘romantic goodwill’ the environment they chose to live was what turned the relationship toxic. The drugs, usage and profits, crushed them. As Elvira screamed at Montana in the restaurant scene, “We’re not winners, we’re losers!” is perhaps the best line of Scarface – a catchcry for those absorbed and obsessed in the material things of this world. It can be argued Elvira selflessly abandoned Montana but perhaps she needed to in order to leave that world, considering she was the only character who survives at the end. Montana was a tormented man. Living in a cocaine haze at the height of his empire the audience sees a man suffering loneliness and insecurity as portrayed in the bath scene. A man, despite gaining the world, was in a pit of sorrow as in the restaurant scene. He was also a man aware of his own nature and how others perceived him as the ‘very bad man’. Despite knowing all this Montana was probably unsure how to escape this life and maintain a sense of self-worth which was not based on the earlier mentioned mantras. But the noblest act of Montana is when he aborted the assassination of the politician because it involved killing the man’s wife and children. It is on this pinnacle act that hinges Montana’s greatest act of mercy and also what lead to his empire’s downfall. It was not so much greed of the other drug lords, but their anger over Montana’s conscious in stopping the assassination. It could be debated if Montana was killed soon after that single act of mercy/sacrifice could have perhaps saved him and granted him entry into Heaven. However, he most likely lost this after killing his best friend and a couple dozen assassins – God only knows. Although an ambitious drug dealer Montana showed a mercy of sorts; however, his drug business was a great evil causing great misery for many. Although he passionately chased after Elvira he then became neglectful of his ‘prize’. He showed great love for his sister which bordered on unhealthy. He valued loyalty from his only ‘brother’ but killed him out of rage. Tony Montana is a complex character who wanted to seize the world. He may have had good qualities but invested them in the wrong business – if Tony Montana chose a more honest way of living who knows what he could have achieved?