Study Guide

Goodfellas Violence

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Kill or be killed: that's the law of the jungle, popularized by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (and less so by Disney's adorable adaptation). It's also the law of Goodfellas' New York underworld. "Violence is like a drumbeat under every scene," notes Roger Ebert. It's casual, it's shocking, and sometimes it's even played for laughs. The violence in Goodfellas isn't all about animalistic bloodlust. Rather, it's how these wiseguys prove both their masculinity and their place in the family. It's how they punish betrayal. It's a means to an end. It forces viewers to ask the same question that Karen's mother asks: What kind of people are these? These guys who can make a pit stop in the middle of hiding a freshly whacked body to chow down on a home-cooked meal?

Questions About Violence

  1. Why does Jimmy start crying after he finds out Tommy is dead? Is it for the loss of his friend? Is it because he feels helpless in light of the mob's rules about murdering a made man? Or is it something else entirely?
  2. Why does Karen reconsider Jimmy's offer to go pick out something nice for her mother from the shop on the corner?
  3. What are three ways that violence establishes a wiseguy's manhood?
  4. How do Henry's views on violence differ from Tommy's? How about from Jimmy's?

Chew on This

In Goodfellas, masculinity is proven through brute force.

Part of Scorsese's cinematic genius is getting us to sympathize to some degree with characters who are cold-blooded murderers.

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