I watched Scarface (1983) several years ago and thought that it was just a violent action movie. I didn’t give it a second thought and was satisfied with just watching it once. I saw it on Netflix and decided to give it another chance. This time around, the movie had a deeper meaning to me and it wasn’t about the violence and the 1980’s drug wave, but it was instead a deeper look into human nature. I’m not sure if that was the intention that Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone had when making this movie, but this is what I felt.
Movie Spoilers ahead!
Don’t continue reading if you plan on watching the movie for the first time.
Al Pacino plays the protagonist Tony Montana. Tony is not an innocent man as we find out during the interrogation scene at the start of the movie. Still, you feel sympathy for the guy as he seems to have suffered in the hands of his home country and their ruling power. He’s a man with a thirst for power. He wants respect, and he feels a sense of entitlement.
I want what’s coming to me. What’s that? The world, chico, and everything in it. — Tony Montana
You find him arrogant, but also admire his clear vision and the guts he has to to take action. Recall the moment when Tony and Manny get their first job from Omar Suarez to unload a boat for $500. While his friend is happy and thankful for the opportunity, Tony considers it offensive that he has to start at the lowest levels and work his way up.
“$500? Who do you think we are, baggage handlers?” — Tony Montana
He’s hungry, and he’s willing to put his neck on the line in order to break the rules of the pecking order. He feels he’s above that.
Leading from the Front
In the Motel scene encounter with the Colombians, you’ll see that it is Tony and Angel who go in to do the deal. This reveals to us that Tony is not afraid to lead his group. He could have asked the other guys to go, but instead, he’s taking the risk of meeting the Colombians in the motel. In history, Napoleon Bonaparte was given the nickname ‘little corporal’ by his soldiers because he was there with them, leading from the front instead of staying behind where it is safe during battle. Robert Greene has a whole chapter dedicated to the idea of leading from the front in his book 50th Law.
Sense of Entitlement
After the unfortunate motel deal, he ends up with the loot and the money. Instead of giving both of these to Omar, he says that he’s personally going to take them to the boss, Frank Lopez. He’s not interested in slowly moving up the ladder, he wants to jump there as he feels he is entitled to that. His associates respect him for his direct demeanor, and his ability to put himself on the line for what he believes in. You can see that when the big boss, Frank, says that ‘a guy like that will break his back for you’.
Tony is aggressively pursuing his lust for power and takes risky steps in going after his boss’s woman. It’s not the woman he wants. He’s lusting for power and a challenge. When he’s accused of being a rat by Sosa, he doesn’t break his character and his inherent values. Instead, he responds:
You want to go on with me, you say it, and if you don’t, then you make a move. — Tony Montana
He won’t break who he is despite the danger or fear around him. Although he’s dangerous, he’s honest about expressing himself. Whatever the nature of his character, we know that he is consistent and reliable.
Beginning of the Fall
I’ll skip ahead to the ‘push it to the limit’ song scene. This is after Tony eliminates his former Boss, Frank, for attempting to put a hit on him. The end of this scene is the beginning of the downfall for Tony Montana. Previously, he was hungry, had a clear vision of what he wanted, and was not distracted by money and drugs. During this scene, we see that illicit cash is floating like feathers from a torn pillow, and materialism is overtaking the dream of power. We see that Tony even acquires a chained up tiger in his estate. Not out of love for the animal, but because he’s powerful enough to have an exotic animal that most will never have. It’s the same scenario with his wife. A parallel to real life: a gangster from Colombia, Pablo Escobar, actually imported hippos as part of his private zoo. Hippos as a species have since been proliferating in Colombia.
His downfall is fascinating to see as his family, including his sister, are destroyed due to his arrogant actions. His lavish lifestyle, which seems rich on the outside is devoid of meaning. He’s no longer hungry. To keep pace, he’s now become a drug user, something he did not need during his rise. Because his mind is muddled and unable to think clearly, he gets busted by undercover cops in laundering money. It is greed that took over reason, and that is apparent when he’s negotiating small rate changes with an established bank that he trusted before. He’s become penny-wise, pound-foolish. It is a tragic end to this character, and the movie lays it out beautifully.
Tony Montana vs Frank Lopez
Compare these two characters. Both become bosses. Both end up dead. While Tony is a high energy all or nothing type of a character, Frank instead prefers to lay low in his business enterprise.
Hey, Tony. Remember when I told you when you first started working for me, the guys that last in this business, are the guys who fly straight. Low-key, quiet. But the guys who want it all, chicas, champagne, flash… they don’t last. -Frank Lopez
Frank took the time to think. He wasn’t the boss of all bosses, but he didn’t need that title. Still, he could have gotten out of the illicit business, but it was just too tempting, and that was his downfall. As you watch the film, compare both of their personalities. Tony is a daring man with nothing to lose, while Frank is more sublime and undercover with his actions.
To me, the film is about personalities rather than the illicit trade and the violence. We see characters rise and fall. There’s a Tony in all of us. There’s a passion that each person has and a tendency to pursue it. On one hand, having a strong passion is great because it gives you willpower to take action. You won’t be sitting on the couch anxiously waiting for permission. On the other hand, that passion can overtake our lives and we forget that it is just one aspect of our lives. I think this is why keeping our bodies strong physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually during the pursuit of a passion helps us maintain balance. Easy to say, hard to do. It keeps our head in check. This is what Tony’s character lost after his rise and is probably what led him to a tragic demise.