Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Mise-en-scene is a term used to indicate the director’s command over what shows up in the film outline. Mise-en-scene incorporates those parts of the film that overlap with the craft of a theater: setting, lighting, outfit, and the conduct of the figures. Realism is likewise attached to this idea since it enables the watcher to decide whether the setting, characters, and costumes are practical.
In Goodfellas, Mise en scene is continuously used and has become one of the most stylistically defining attributes of the classic mobster film. During my viewing, I noticed that Mise en Scene is not only effectively used to portray mood and theme, but foreshadow intent and undertones as well. All together, Mise en Scene becomes a vehicle to present Scorsese’s themes and ideas visually to the audience without having to say it verbally.
Goodfellas happens in Queens in New York City. Generally, New York City is known for Italian gangs. By having the setting around there, the viewer would accept that gangster related activities happen there.
One broader example is how, in many of the scenes with violence, there is a constant usage of red in the frame accompanied by a setting with food and eating. In the beginning, when a man is tortured for money during Henry’s childhood, he is burned in the red hot skillet of a pizza oven. When the three mobsters beat Billy Bates and kill him, it is in a restaurant, and they bury him with the red headlights of the car blaring in the background. When Billy Batts is kept in the trunk of the vehicle, the three mobsters eat a pasta meal with Tommy’s mother. When Henry beats up the man who assaulted Karen, he beats him in front of a bright red car as one of the guy’s friends stands in the back with a Coke. When Tommy kills Spider, he kills him in a liquor bar furnished with red wood walls. When Jimmy and Henry try to kill the man in Florida, they try to feed him to the lion. When Tommy is killed in front of a set table, the film cuts back to Jimmy and Henry at the diner. The Mise en Scene is used to portray violence as hungry, as angry, as consuming. Scorsese does not have anyone say this explicitly in the script, so the visual Mise en Scene acts as a judgemental commentary on the actions of the violent mob.
In the scene where Karen and Jimmy are talking about Henry, the Mise en Scene is used effectively to communicate intentions of DeNiro’s character. Once the two of them are done talking, and Jimmy gives Karen some money. She tries to walk up the brightly lit stairway, but Jimmy stops her and tells her to exit into the darkness. This foreshadows Jimmy’s dark intent when it comes to Karen. She exits onto the street, walking past deteriorating buildings. All the while, the film cuts to long shots of Jimmy coaxing Karen on, standing adjacent to broken Pachinko machines. Having Jimmy standing next to these puzzle games makes it seem like he has an ulterior motive- like he is playing a game.
Finally, Karen peeks around the corner and sees two men unloading furniture, who turns to look at her. She shoots up and immediately starts walking to her car. The camera pans up to reveal a “ONE WAY” sign pointing at the alley and a “DON’T WALK” sign in the lower right-hand corner of the frame. These signs subliminally indicate that Karen shouldn’t walk into the lane, and that if she did, it could be a one-way trip.