“You need people like me so you can point your f***ing fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’ You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say goodnight to the bad guy! The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again!” he shouts.
Boy, was he right. Scarface’s protagonist was one of the most compelling “bad guys” in Hollywood history, and we all got a front row seat to the spectacle that was his gradual rise to riches – and then his eventual, unavoidable downfall.
But why are we so enamored with bad guys? Perhaps, as Tony so succinctly put it, we really do love them for acting as our collective id – an unbridled, unmitigated force of nature that completely frees itself from society’s norms and conventions. They say – and do – what we dare not.
We wouldn’t want to be the bad guys of our own stories, but when we come across one, we usually can’t look away. From fictional baddies – such as Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies – to fictionalized depictions of real people – such as Emperor Commodus in Gladiator – villains enthrall us.
There’s also something broader at play: Tony Montana’s journey to the top is a distillation of the American dream. An immigrant reaches the shores of the U.S. in search of fame and fortune, and using nothing but good, old fashioned elbow grease, claws his way to the top. What happens later could be said to be the darker underbelly of that dream, and the toll it takes on those climbers.
When it comes down to it, Scarface – like some of the best gangster movies ever made – is about the prices paid by those who choose to live outside of society’s boundaries. It’s about the “bad guys” that are all around us, even in real life. And Tony Montana was right, in ways he probably never even imagined. Nevertheless, it was true then as it is now – we’ve never seen a bad guy quite like that again.