I recently wrote an interesting article for school. Prior to this assignment I had watched movies for pure entertainment, upon the completion of this analysis I catch myself unintentionally paying closer attention to the details in films.

Benefits of the use of lighting in the movie GoodFellas

In the textbook, Film: From watching to seeing, Goodykoontz and Jacobs (2014) state, “The mise en scène is everything visible in the scene used for telling the story, before the camera is even brought onto the set. The mise en scène may be natural, semi-realistic, or heavily artificial and stylized” (Section 5.2, para. 5). Lighting is an example of mise en scène and through its use in film the viewer is able to extend their experience beyond the spoken words of actors.

Martin Scorsese’s movie GoodFellas (1990), utilizes several lighting techniques; the primary one being low-key lighting. A common element of gangster movies, low-key lighting portrays the theme of the dark lifestyle of crime and murder led by mobsters. It is a key component enabling viewers to visualize the tone of the characters and the atmosphere of the setting throughout the scenes. The use of low-key lighting shows the anger possessed by the characters, whereas the occasional use of bright lighting is used to show happiness and positivity.


I chose to analyze the scene of the Copacabana night club as it possesses lighting variations that reveal details indicative to the outcome of the movie. The scene features low-key lighting, with the use of bright lighting to spotlight Henry as he treats Karen to a night out. The use of lighting is described as one, “That sets the mood for the scene by displaying Henry as a “good guy” trying to impress his girlfriend Karen, while also using the dark shadows to show that his lifestyle is nothing like a regular working guy” (mmjoseph87, 2014, para.2) As the section progresses Karen questions Henry about his profession as she saw his ability to tip large amounts of money. Subsequently, the lighting terminates from Henry as he lies to Karen saying that he performs construction work. This sudden darkness is important as it subtly illustrates the couple’s forthcoming troubles.

Without the use of lighting, the capability of producing this scene during evening hours of darkness would be non-existent. The ability of the audience to fully grasp the couple’s joy, especially Henry’s happiness, upon the entrance of the club would be non-existent without the spotlight. The addition of low-key lighting delivers the movie’s dark gangster sense and contributes to the evils crazed by the streets of New York’s large city. The abstraction of this feature would eliminate details pertinent to the establishment of solid conventions necessary to categorize this movie as a gangster film.



Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2014). Film: From watching to seeing (2nd ed.) [Electronic version]. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/

Mmjoseph87. (2014, May 7). Elements of lighting in the film GoodFellas [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://mmjoseph87.wordpress.com/2014/05      /07/elements-of-lighting-in-the-film-goodfellas/

YouTube. (2009). Goodfellas Copacabana Nightclub [Video file]. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCYwcObxl78