Tue 5 Dec 2006
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The Chosen Life; Becoming a Gangster
“Gangster life is not a metaphor for what is wrong or right with the United States; it is simply the way these men have chosen to live” (Gardaphe 80). Throughout the years numerous films have recognized and idolized the gangster life style. Robert De Niro’s film, A Bronx Tale, and Martin Scorsese’s film, Goodfellas, share similar and contrasting themes depicting the typical gangster in society.
Calegero Anello from A Bronx Tale and Henry Hill from Goodfellas are two young boys who are raised in a working class family; both aspiring to become a part of the gangster way of life. The neighborhood Don, Sonny, accepts Calegero into his underground world only after Calegero remains quiet about the murder he witnesses. Calegero is aware that Sonny shot the man, but still lies to the police claiming that he did not know who the murderer was. With his act of silence he wins the attention and respect of Sonny. While “Hill learns that the two rules of wiseguy life are: ‘Never rat on friends’ and ‘Always keep your mouth shut’” (78). The police arrest Henry and he does not tell them anything, allowing him to have further success in becoming part of the Mafia. These two young boys learn early that silence and respect are the keys to entering the gangster world. Calegero and Henry also disobey their parent’s notions about staying away from the gangsters. “My old man’s life wasn’t going to be my life. No matter how much he yelled at me, no matter how many beatings I took, I wouldn’t listen to what he said”( 78). Both boys look down upon their hardworking fathers and admire the easy life of a gangster. They continue to emerge themselves in this lifestyle. Calegero learns about the street life from Sonny, while Henry parks car and runs errands for the neighborhood gangsters. As the boys become more involved in the Mafia, the society begins to recognize them as a part of this lifestyle. Calegero receives free food from the man who owns the grocery cart, while Henry’s peers carry his mother’s groceries home for her. These acts are out of respect for the members of organized crime. Although, both Calegero and Henry gain access into the life of the Mafioso by keeping quiet, it is not always that simple for other men to gain the respect of the gangsters.
Proving one’s manhood in public is an important component that leads to gaining entrance into the Mafia. Apparent in both films are murder scenes that take place in front of many people. In A Bronx Tale, Sonny kills a man in the street in broad daylight. His act instills fear in the people of the neighborhood and reminds them that he is not afraid to kill a man. In A Bronx Tale, Calegero’s friends also act out to prove their manhood. These boys decide to go into the black neighborhood and vandalize their property. By committing destructive and violent acts, these boys appear to themselves to be playing the ‘manly role’ that they are supposed to. In Goodfellas, Tommy, a man who grew up with Henry in the Mafia, “constantly tries to prove his manhood” (78). Tommy kills Billy Batts, a fellow gangster, for teasing his youthful duties of shining shoes. Later on Tommy also kills Spider, the young waiter boy, for cussing at him. “This act becomes the public performance of masculinity that certifies and gains him the respect that comes from fear” (36). Tommy’s pride and short temper contribute to his continuous struggle to display his masculinity. Sonny and Tommy both prove their manhood while also further cementing fear in those surrounding them; however, in gangster life revenge is a common occurrence.
In the Mafioso, no murder is overlooked and usually results in revenge by a family member. In A Bronx Tale, the son of the man shot “never displays his anger publicly, opting instead to wait for revenge” (35). Years after the death of his father, the son of the man from the street, seeks revenge on Sonny and shoots him in the head. It is unexpected, but it is understood, “the fury drives him to avenge his father’s shooting” (36). Time does not matter when one has a vendetta. Vendettas occur in order “to save family honor” (71). Goodfellas, Billy Batts is a made man, which signifies that he had been inducted into the Mafioso. Although it is now years later, the elder members of the family must avenge his death by killing Tommy. In both films these acts of vendetta occur years after the initial murders and both Sonny and Tommy are caught off guard. These revengeful actions also take place at a time where both Sonny and Tommy are celebrating.
Although both of these films contain parallelism concepts, both differ in various aspects. A Bronx Tale has a racism theme, while in Goodfellas, drugs are very common, both; however, operate coinciding with the central theme of the life of a gangster. Calegero and his friends take part in racial discrimination and Henry takes part in smuggling drugs. Both actions against the desires of their elders though. In a Bronx Tale Sonny is the Don, while in Goodfellas there is no central Don. Sonny instructs Calegero to receive two educations, one from school and one from the street. Contrary to Goodfellas, in which Henry drops out of school to perform his gangster duties. Calegero never partakes in any violence or acts of disobedience against the law; he simply just spends time with the gangsters who perform such tasks. Calegero is the only person who truly cares for Sonny and even at his funeral demonstrates his faithfulness to him. Henry, on the other hand, is fully involved in illegal Mafioso matters and eventually proves to be untrustworthy when he rats out his fellow gangsters in order to save himself. Also the struggle between Calegero and his father is much more apparent whereas in Goodfellas the Henry’s father’s role dies out. Calegero remains close with his father and still respects him. Henry’s relationship with his father is portrayed in the beginning of the film and is never presented at any other time. In a sense, Calegero has two father figures, his biological father and Sonny, both having an influence on shaping his life.
Gangster life impacts the lives of those in its environment. Calegero and Henry were both intrigued by the respectable lifestyle of the gangsters who lived down the street from them. It was the boys’ choice to spend time among the gangsters and with doing so it changed their lives. Calegero was positively influenced by Sonny, whereas Henry’s downfall came from his Mafioso style of life.