Emotion and empathy in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas: a case study of the “funny guy” scene

Derek Bousfield, Daniel McIntyre

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter examines how the emotion fear is generated through the linguistic, paralinguistic and kinesic actions of multiple characters in the “funny guy” scene from Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film Goodfellas. The scene in question takes place in The Bamboo Lounge restaurant-bar and features Tommy, a mafioso, relating a humorous story to his compatriots. Henry, a friend of Tommy’s, laughs and compliments Tommy on his story. Tommy reacts surprisingly badly to this and begins to behave in a threatening manner. Henry displays a number of traits that suggest he is frightened by Tommy’s outburst and afraid of what it might lead to. We use insights from im/politeness theory, theories of characterisation and work on multimodal stylistics in order to account for how we recognise Henry’s fear in this scene. We claim that the interplay between linguistic and non-linguistic elements is essential for conveying Henry’s fear and invoking this emotion in the viewing audience. Our analysis reveals the necessity of analysing both the linguistic and non-linguistic aspects of film, and we propose this as a methodological necessity for future work in Film Studies, Cultural Studies and some branches of Stylistics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTelecinematic Discourse:
Subtitle of host publicationApproaches to the Language of Films and Television Series
EditorsRoberta Piazza, Monika Bednarek, Fabio Rossi
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9789027256157
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2011


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