The 'Scarface' Ending, Explained: Revisiting the Film 40 Years Later

The controversial film turns 40 this weekend

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Universal Pictures

In the land of gangster cult-classic films, there's one in particular that has very much been able to remain a current part of popular culture—Al Pacino's Scarface—a controversial film (especially for the year 1983) labeled by critics as "epic, intense, and dark," Scarface has been able to fight through the initial complaints and controversy to become an all-time film in Pacino's list of legendary titles (some consider this to be his best). Directed by Brian De Palma, the movie was released on December 9, 1983, which means this film is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend. Forty years on, and with most of us having already seen it, we can now safely say one thing—what the fuck was that ending? Like... we made it through all of that shoot em' bang bang action just to have Tony Montana go out like that? We're going to into the Scarface ending, explained, in just a second, but first let's start back from the beginning.

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What was 'Scarface' about?

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Universal Pictures

There's a lot of layers to Scarface so bare with us. The movie is set in Miami circa 1980, and there's a lot of "friction" to say the least between the United States and Cuba. Tony Montana (Al Pacino) enters into the U.S. (Miami) as part of 25,000 fugitives that were released by Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro. Montana is a fugitive, who quickly picks back up his life of crime when he and three others get granted a release from the refugee camp they are part of along with their green cards by killing a communist. Afterwards, Montana and his friend Manny (Steven Bauer) are working in a restaurant, to which completely becomes dissatisfied with.

After a situation where the four refugees are sent on a mission by the right-hand man of drug lord Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) where they are held hostage with one member being killed, Tony begins working underneath Frank where he rises through the ranks so to speak. Except that's not enough for Tony—he wants to become big time, and in his mind the way to accomplish that is by killing Frank. Tony ultimately kills Frank, and winds up becoming a wealthy drug leader that is quite literally a millionaire with a mansion.

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Universal Pictures

Except Tony isn't happy with his life at all, and it doesn't make it any better that his mother and sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) have their own sets of frustrations with him. Fast forward to the year 1983, and it's a money laundering situation (not his drug dealing and many killings) that have got Tony in hot water. Mr. Montana is staring at jail time for tax evasion, but Tony "friend" Sosa (Paul Shenar) that he's been working with since killing Frank puts a deal on the table—get rid of a high-profile activist that's going that plans on busting Sosa, and he'll avoid prison time. Tony accepts the deal, but when the time comes he not only refuses to kill the activist because he's with his wife and children, but he also kills Sosa's buddy Shadow as he attempted to complete the kill once he saw Tony wasn't going to do it.

Well, this doesn't exactly please Sosa, who instantly vows that he's going to kill Tony Montana as a result of this betrayal. Now let's get to the ending.

The Scarface' ending, explained

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Universal Pictures

Okay, this is where it gets crazy. Tony has been very overprotective over his sister Gina, to the point where she's super annoyed by him. Once Tony leaves the failed assassination attempt, he goes on the search for his Gina who's been "missing," and finds her at...his friend Manny's house. So he kills Manny out of pure anger, and takes Gina backs to his place. When she wakes up, she borderline tries to seduce him while also trying to kill him because she believes that Tony (her brother) has been wanting her for himself...what? We don't get too much of an explanation on that because Sosa's boys show up to kill Tony (and as a result kill Gina in the process).

Tony fights back hard (even throwing a grenade in the process), but he just keeps getting shot until the final shot takes him out. His body falls over the balcony and into the pool where we see the iconic words "The World Is Yours." So that's it—no more Tony Montana.

What did the critics say about 'Scarface?'

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Universal Pictures

Let's go with Roger Ebert's review today. In review Ebert said: "Brian De Palma's "Scarface" rises or falls with Al Pacino's performance, which is aggressive, over the top, teeth-gnashing, arm-waving, cocaine-snorting, scenery chewing -- and brilliant, some say, while others find it unforgivably flamboyant. What were Pacino's detractors hoping for? Something internal and realistic? Low key? The Tony Montana character is above all a performance artist, a man who exists in order to gloriously be himself. "

Ebert adds: "It takes the name and some of the story structure from Howard Hawks' famous "Scarface" (1932), starring Paul Muni and inspired by the life of Al Capone. Both movies were assailed for their violence, both are about the rise and fall of a criminal entrepreneur, both characters are obsessed with their sisters, and both die because they used their own product -- in Montana's case, cocaine; in the case of the syphilitic Capone, prostitutes."

He concludes the review by saying "Pacino has an extraordinary range of styles, and a pitch-perfect ability to evoke them. There is no such thing as "the Al Pacino performance," because there are too many different kinds of them. Here he plays Tony Montana on an operatic scale, as a man who wants more and more and is finally killed by his own excess. In the final sequence, he has a pile of cocaine on his desk and plunges his nose into it as if trying to inhale life itself. Pacino plays part of that scene with white powder stuck to his nose. The detail is often parodied, but it is a correct acting choice, showing a man who has become heedless of everything except his need."

Similar to its 1932 predecessor, the 1983 version of Scarface was not without controversy and criticism, but it remains a legendary film.

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