Brian De Palma’s Scarface is a cult film. Nothing else can be said about it. A timeless classic. It has several reviews which describe its plot but none that talk about the lessons derived from it. I wanted to take you through these. Al Pacino as Tony Montana was the spark that made the movie what it was. The premise was simple – the movie itself a remake of the 1932 version – a poor immigrant arrives from Cuba with nothing and then rises up to become Miami’s drug kingpin and how he ultimately spirals towards his own destruction.
The rags to riches tale has been a proven money spinner when it comes to films. The same tale has been retold in different versions across different film industries across countries. There is something empowering about seeing someone with nothing rise up to the top of the game.
However, Scarface delves into Power and Wealth and the illusory nature of the same. It deviates from showing only the rise – here the focus is not on the rise but rather the flaws in human character that do not allow Tony Montana to see that his ultimate fall, follows him quickly. Tony Montana’s meteoric rise to power, his deposing of the existing drug lord of Miami, Frank Lopez (portrayed by Robert Loggia), his acquisition of Lopez’s possessions including his wife, the eventual arrogance and the power-drunk behavior on his part (just like Lopez), leading him to be destroyed in the same way by another stronger kingpin and lose all his possessions in turn, shows the circular nature of life.
It sheds light on how illusory our conquests are and how fleeting wealth is. Every man who is at the top, falls under the illusion that he can never fall. He even prepares his defenses like Tony Montana, living under a vast, well-guarded fortress and with a slogan like “The world is yours” to egg him on, but then eventually someone superior comes along and crushes you the same.
Scarface is an exciting, bloody but fun-filled guilty pleasure which should be indulged in. But Tony Montana the character gives us some lessons that come in handy along the way. These lessons are derived from some of the character’s iconic quotes throughout the movie
LESSON 1 – “The World is yours!”
In this Tony Montana, was right. You can do anything in this world, that you set your mind to. Nothing in life works better than human will directed towards one unflinching objective. From the moment Tony stepped off the boat, he knew exactly what he wanted from life. His game plan was clear and he knew the steps he would take on this journey. He was not distracted by women and the temptations when he got a little money like his friend Manny Ray. Even when he desired a woman, it was his boss’s wife Elvira (portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer) – a desire which would need him to become king if it was to ever be fulfilled.
This driving sense of purpose – a clear set ambition is what allows us to achieve great things in life. It is exhilarating and it provides such a kick that nothing else is needed. However, the lack of such ambition, causes us to look for minor indulgences and be satisfied with mediocrity and to settle. We accept average as a part of life. The idea here is not for everyone to obsess about acquiring Zuckerberg’s level of wealth – it is to be driven by a purpose that lets you attack each day to your utmost strength.
LESSON 2 – “All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one.”
Despite not seeming so, this quote applies to both men and women. It is about your personal beliefs. It is easy to take the path of sacrificing one’s beliefs and ideals for the sake of getting something in life but one must also calculate the cost of giving up on these ideals. Life is short and temporary – defeat comes to us all. But values and personal ideals are all that differentiate us – men and women – in life. Giving up on these in pursuit of a task, take a toll. The victory achieved is always hollow as you remember your word or your belief in your values, broke when it should have stood strong.
Tony Montana said this iconic line when he saw Omar being hanged from a helicopter and while being threatened by the same by Alejandro Sosa. He however, did not break and actually achieved more through his guts than he would by cowardice.
LESSON 3 – “Who put this thing together? Me, that’s who! Who do I trust? Me!”
During this part of the movie, Tony Montana’s the top dog – he has money, power and he has vanquished all his foes – or that is what he believes. His confidence in himself is supreme and he like any powerful man, begins to suspect conspiracies around him. A man who rose to power by slaying the king, is always looking for daggers around him. The lack of trust makes him distrust his support structure – his wife Elvira and his right hand man Manny.
This quote shows the easy path taken by confidence to turn into hubris – every leader who begins to think only he knows best and only his skills can deliver victory, is one who is heading for a big fall. The lesson here is to remember to have a close knit group of people who you can trust fully as the man who tries to be the master of everything is a master of nothing.
LESSON 4 – “ You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say ‘That’s the bad guy!’ ”
By the time this scene comes up, Tony Montana’s journey is coming to an end. Hopped up on cocaine and vanity, a brief moment of pure disgust comes to the surface – the disgust for the seemingly holier than thou elites who turn up their nose at any one breaking into their tight circles of influence. Without out and out evil men, like Tony Montana, those individuals who are equal to the evil but honest men in character, would become society’s new pariahs. For the rich and powerful, it is essential to maintain an air of purity about themselves and their wealth even though they have conducted themselves in a fashion similar to those of robber barons but haven’t been outed yet.
We see such conduct even among our celebrities, how the darlings of the Left – actresses like Meryl Streep or Jennifer Lawrence kissed the ring of the then chief power broker in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein but tried to act as saviors of women kind through empty speeches after other women, much less famous, who had had their careers destroyed by Weinstein for not bowing to him, caused his fall. We see the conduct among politicians, celebrities and businessmen. It is an important lesson as it speaks to the teaching of lesson 2 – where one gives up something to become something else but it is up to you to decide what you give up.
Scarface is an entertaining movie no doubt – but beyond the fast paced life of Tony Montana, there are important takeaways to absorb into our own life. This review was not about the plot of the movie as you can find that any where on the internet but more like a critical review of the movie’s deeper learnings.