Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old.
Crime doesn’t pay. We’ve heard the words all our lives. Mom and Dad said it. Your teachers said it. Most filmmakers say it.
Look at the movies of Martin Scorsese: Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, The Irishman. All those gangsters got what was coming to them, but when we look fondly back on the work, we tend to remember the high points, the sequences where Henry Hill is on top of the world, and his dark destiny of suburban Ragu-drenched boxed pasta appears light-years away. We’re fascinated by those who dared to break society’s rules and snatch for themselves what comes so easily to those blessed by old money. Maybe we wouldn’t kill to get a little gold under our beds, but we’ll certainly fantasize about such violent audacity.
With his latest effort, Josh Trank wants to leave no room for glamorization. Capone takes the real-life gangster who inspired numerous cinematic avatars and strips him of any splendor. Tom Hardy is not looking to out-swagger Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. His performance dives into the hell Al Capone found himself during the final years of his life. There is no joy here, only the grimmest of miseries, seemingly designed to push viewers aside. You want good gangster times? Look elsewhere.
Hardy’s Capone is not gazing whimsically back to his past, reliving his glory days. This bed-shitting, carrot-slurping monster is deteriorating into a lump of flesh, barely held together by a brain rotting into oblivion. The sex, booze, blood, and bullet laden odyssey that got him here is not important. The end is all that matters. What pleasure is the life of a king if he climaxes said life with no control of his faculties and a diaper-load of excrement?
In the final moments of the film, Alphonse Capone, aka “Fonse,” is left with only the tiniest shards of his humanity. Everyone wants to know where his money is buried. Along with the FBI, his family, his friends, and his doctor have all come calling, trying to pry the location of his secret stash from his cobweb-encrusted mind.
No luck. The cash, if it ever existed, is forever entrapped within Fonse’s noggin because he never wrote anything down. His mind is the ultimate safe, uncrackable even from himself.
The film fades to black as Tony (Mason Guccione), his illegitimate son, takes Fonse’s hand and offers a squeeze. There is no evidence that such a character ever existed. In real life, Capone married Mae (Linda Cardellini) when he was 19 years old, and there is no record of infidelity.
As Trank uses Tony, the kid represents a past slipping out of reach. Throughout the film’s runtime, Fonse is drifting in and out of reality, experiencing his history through a series of fantasies and hallucinations. We’re first introduced to Tony as a child during one of these gauzy scenarios. As the kid version wanders here and there frequently carrying a golden balloon, we begin to wonder if Tony also represents a version of Capone as well, or at least, that courageous lion who once ruled Chicago.
Pay attention to the paintings peppered on the walls of Fonse’s mansion. We see scenarios of golden balloons drifting amongst clouds, and an Italian farmhouse with a kid gripping a balloon in the front yard. Later on, after Fonse has his stroke, he awakens in the pond next to the farmhouse, and Tony greets him in the water while a golden balloon drifts skyward.
Gold is everywhere in Capone. The metal adorns a statue of Julius Ceasar in the front yard. It drapes the dress of Fonse’s mistress Mona Lisa, and it is seen on various wealthy nicknacks across his pad. Most memorably, Fonse’s tommy gun is plated in gold and makes for a helluva sight as it blasts through his servants and bodyguards during his climactic nightmare.
The golden balloon symbolizes not only his disappearing wealth (the family eventually has to sell off all his precious lawn statues to make ends meet) but the brazen lifestyle that carried him into infamy. At the beginning of the film, he tells his family during Thanksgiving that the purpose of amassing money and treasures is to jam it into the faces of others.
Here we can see Al Pacino’s Scarface, another cinematic descendent of Al Capone. It’s not about the mountain of cocaine; it’s about having the mountain of cocaine. Capone grew up as a dirt poor kid in Brooklyn. His career in villainy was merely about fleeing such poverty by any means necessary, and once he entered the kingdom of the rich, he made sure that all his doubters saw his magnificence.
He contracted syphilis at a young age, and that eventually morphed into neurosyphilis, an infection of the central nervous system responsible for transforming Fonse into the mush he is for the majority of the film. No amount of gold can shield him from this biological sentence. We’re not meant to fear Fonse storming his castle, slaughtering the help while wearing a diaper, and chomping on his carrot stogie. He’s a grotesque joke, the gold-plated tommy gun highlighting both the absurdity of his criminal achievements as well as the pathetic state of his condemned body.
Whatever spectacular opulence he amassed during his bloody rise to power eventually burst like the pop of a balloon. At the end of the film, it’s gone. Tony, however, remains. The kid is the last fragment of his past that he can hold onto, and he will hold onto him dearly. What else does he have left?