Study Guide

Goodfellas Setting

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New York City, 1955-1980

Do you like your mafia tales epic? Then Goodfellas is just the yarn for you. It spans a whopping 25-plus years in New York City. The scenes of Henry's early life are set in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York, and the film moves on to Queens (including the JFK heists) with occasional stops to bury bodies in Connecticut, sun at the beach in Long Island, and party at the Copacabana club in Manhattan.

No Biffs Allowed

After a quick flash-forward to 1970, Goodfellas' story settles into 1955, when Henry is a teenager. From there, the story throttles forward again, making pit stops in 1963, 1970, and 1980, when Henry ultimately enters the Witness Protection Program. All of these cinematic hops through history are conveniently stamped with an on-screen date so the audience doesn't get lost, break the space-time continuum, and create a bunch of Back to the Future-style paradoxes.

A Violent Walk Down Memory Lane

So, what's up with those years? Why stop there? Because those years signal changes in Henry's life. They're key to understanding his rise through the mafia ranks. In 1955, Henry first gazes at the Ciceros' cabstand and sets his sights on joining the family. In 1963, the mob's airport robbery business really takes off (pun only slightly intended, Shmooper), and Henry meets Karen. In 1970, Tommy whacks Billy Batts. And, of course, in 1980, Henry gets busted for drugs, and the extravagant life he's built all comes crashing down.

Obviously, Goodfellas' narrative can't cover everything that happens in Henry's life. And, really, who wants to see him go to the dentist? What it can do is highlight the most important intervals, reflecting how our memories really work. We're willing to bet you don't remember every single thing that happened to you between your 9th and 10th birthdays, but you probably do remember breaking your arm, getting an iguana for Christmas, and giving that rad presentation on Benjamin Franklin.

Henry Hearts NY

Goodfellas may hurtle through time like a twisted season of Doctor Who, but when it comes to location, the movie keeps things simple. Everything goes down in New York City. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. The … well, you get the point.

New York is the wiseguys' playground. They own the city and everybody in it. "We were treated like movie stars with muscle," Henry explains. "We had it all, just for the asking. Our wives, mothers, kids, everybody rode along." For the family, New York is home base for everything from hijacking planes to children's birthday parties. Within the friendly confines of NYC, it seems there isn't anybody Henry and his crew can't charm, bribe, or bully.

Start Spreadin' the News, We're Not Leaving Today … or Ever

New York City is so ingrained in these guys and gals' DNA that it's practically a character in the film. Just like the mafia, the city is an island unto itself. Over the course of 146 minutes, we almost never see Henry leave it. When he does leave, to go to Tampa and shake down some poor schnook, his butt lands in jail.

For Henry and his crew, New York isn't just their hometown, it's their source of power. They're not high-ranking mafia dons, they're the soldiers on the ground. They run this town like Jay Z and Rihanna. They're perpetually in an "Empire State of Mind."

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