Watching a Tarantino Film? Become a Sicilian.
“What is of major fucking importance is that I believe you.”
Clifford Worley, a security guard, former cop, and an alcoholic, pokes through the door into his mobile home in the outskirts of Detroit, and down arcs a pistol to his temple on the right, and a nasty, staggered right hook to the left. After recovering from the mystery pugilist’s assault, Cliff is trapped in a classic mobster interrogation scene. Seated across from him, Vincenzo Coccoti wears a red tie, an oversized pin-striped coat, and a silken scarf. He wants answers, and he advises Cliff to not let redundancy get in the way of obtaining them. Cliff’s son, Clarence, has killed an associate of Coccoti and stolen Coccoti’s narcotics in the process. True to the modern mafia, Coccoti is willing to pursue whatever avenue is deemed necessary to reclaim his drugs, and rid the world of a lowly, desperate thief.
Naturally, Cliff feigns a confused nonchalance while responding to Vincenzo’s inquiries, and the forbidden redundancy enters only moments after it was forbade. Vincenzo abuses Cliff until a more detailed answer about his son’s whereabouts is produced, but even then Vincenzo curiously cocks his head to the side.
“You’re Sicilian, huh?”
“You know, Sicilians, are great liars; the best in the world,” explains Vincenzo as he sits down in front of Cliff. Growing up, Vincenzo learned the pantomime, or the ways that men reveal their dishonesty, and contends, “if you know ’em like you know your own face, they beat lie detectors all to hell.” Socrates advances in Plato’s Republic, “Is not he who can best strike a blow in a boxing match or in any kind of fighting best able to ward off a blow?” ¹ Are the best liars also the best at detecting them? Perhaps, but why Sicilians?
Sicilians were “conditioned by more conquerors and cultures than any other section of Europe — Hellenic, Saracen, Byzantine, Roman, Norman, French, Spanish.” ² Sicilians became less ready to trust others, and instead tuned their sensitivity to the pantomimes of deception. As noted by a citizen of Sicily during the reign of Benito Mussolini, “Our experience with fascism has made us men of bad faith. We don’t believe anyone. We don’t believe in anything. We measure other men by the bad faith in our hearts.” ³ To survive the reign of foreign powers and avoid being being exploited, Sicilians had to leave room for bad faith in their hearts.
We don’t expect much of a security guard living in a mobile home outside of Detroit, but Cliff reads books — a nearly costless key to incontestable power. “You’re Sicilian, huh?” says Cliff as he recognizes an opportunity to demoralize his captor. “Here’s a fact I don’t know whether you know or not. Sicilians, were spawned by niggers […] You see, the Moors conquered Sicily, and the Moors are niggers.”
The Moors of Northern Africa did in fact conquer Sicily around 827, so Cliff continues to drive the thought of “black” blood coursing through the hearts of Sicilians into Coccoti’s conscience, knowing that he can’t stand to hear such a detail. “[The Moors] did so much fuckin’ with Sicilian women that they changed the bloodline forever.” While Cliff’s claim is coarse, the Moors may have introduced polygamy to Sicily, and while uncertain, the estimated population around the end of the Moors’ occupation rested at around 1.6 million, which was significantly higher than when the Moors arrived in 827.⁴
As Cliff unleashes his rhetorical assault, Coccoti accepts the strikes with a peculiar and forced laughing fit, spiced with comments like, “I love this guy.” It appears to be a fit we tumble into when we’re horrifyingly embarrassed and frustrated. Why should Vincenzo take such offense?
According to author Jerre Mangione, an American Sicilian himself, Sicilians have an attitude of their own, caused by a conglomerate of influences but most notably “by the strange attitude so often prevalent among the Northerners of any country that Southerners are not quite as good as themselves.” ⁵ In the early 19th century, peninsular Italians even considered the racial inferiority of the Sicilians as an explanation for their delinquency.⁶ For Americans, this is comparable to the passion with which some in the Southeastern United States defend their Confederate heritage against the influence of the Yankee. The fatal retaliation Vincenzo returns to Cliff’s assault on Sicilian dignity becomes more comprehensible with this in mind.
On a visit to Sicily after WWII, author Jerre Mangione wrote about a confrontation with his cousin concerning the racial purity of Sicilians. Mangione’s cousin, coincidentally named Vincenzo, claims that the United States is a “bastard” country filled with a mix of races and cultures. Mangione contends that no Europeans, Sicilians especially, can hardly consider themselves pure. Cousin Vincenzo storms out of the room slamming the door in his trail. “The Sicilian scene” presents a nearly parallel story, but ends fatally when Vincenzo Coccotti leans over to plant a bacio della morte on Cliff’s right cheek moments before firing a handgun volley into his forehead.
Become a Sicilian.
Being a Sicilian is portrayed aggressively in “the Sicilian scene,” but there is room for lighter interpretation. In general, we can leave space for bad faith in our hearts, but especially when viewing films. What we sense is mostly a hermetic seal on the true depth of the work. We can puncture the seal and let the good stuff flow if we carry an ounce of suspicion with us. Metaphorically speaking, film directors — like Tarantino — and their films are comparable to Mussolini and his propaganda. Educated citizens are the greatest threat to a totalitarian ruler. In this sense be more like Clifford Worley as well. Do not let circumstances limit your opportunities to be wise. “There is a great difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants to read book,” says English writer Gilbert K. Chesterton. All things considered, “the Sicilian scene” is glazed with captivating tension which naturally draws the viewer, but the true magic lies within the lesser known dynamics Tarantino buries deep in the heart of the scene. Tarantino’s work is equally a story about humanity as it is a story for entertainment. Take care in not missing the former.
- Plato, Republic, 333e
2. Mangione, Jerre. Reunion in Sicily. Morningside ed. New York: Columbia UP, 1984. Print.
4. Benjamin, Sandra. Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History. First ed. Hanover: Steerforth L.C., 2006. Print.
5. Mangione, Jerre. Reunion in Sicily. Morningside ed. New York: Columbia UP, 1984. Print.
6. Smith, Denis Mack. A History of Modern Sicily. New York: Viking, 1968. Print.