The Bronx Tale

directed by Robert De Niro

Screenplay by Chazz Palminteri

Discussion Questions

Scene 1: The neighborhood

1. What makes this neighborhood distinct? In what ways is it "a world unto itself," as Colagero describes it? What does Colagero remember when he thinks back to the beginning of the story?

2. In what ways does life occur on the streets or in public in the neighborhood that would not be the case in other urban areas. How does the film use public scenes to enhance the idea of the neighborhood?

3. What does Colagero's interest in Sonny suggest about him? Are his other friends as fascinated by Sonny and his role in the neighborhood?

Scene 2: The Line-up

1. Why doesn't Colagero identify Sonny as the shooter?

2. While others may not have identified Sonny for fear of retaliation, Colagero understands his own silence as the fulfillment of a moral principal: loyalty, or how he expresses it, "don't rat." Has Colagero done the right thing by keeping silent? Why?

3. Considering what we learn in this scene, is loyalty opposed to justice?

4. What place do you think self-preservation played in Colagero's mind?

5. What does Lorenzo mean when he tells Colagero that he did a good thing for a bad man? Did Colagero do a good thing? Is Sonny a bad man?

6. There is a contradiction in Lorenzo's words that confuses his son. He says both, "sometimes you gotta do certain things you gotta do even though they're not right," and "you did the right thing." Can you explain this contradiction?

7. Does Lorenzo approve of his son's silence because he is afraid of Sonny? Is there another explanation?

8. What does Lorenzo tell his son before he hugs him? What does it show about their relationship that their discussion ends this way?

Scene 3: The confessional

1. How does the confessional scene indicate Colagero's acceptance of responsibility for his actions?

2. Note the irony of Colagero's thinking of the Fifth Amendment while confessing. How does the overlap in the meanings of "the fifth" suggest a tension between religion and politics?

3. Why does the priest accept Colagero's statement that "my guy is bigger down here"? What view of religion emerges in this scene? Does the priest's tolerance suggest that religion leave is powerless to combat evil in this world, or that God leaves room for human beings to exercise responsibility? That is, how does the overlap in the meanings of "the fifth" suggest a compatibility between religion and politics?

4. Does Colagero really "start over"? Why does he continue to hang around Sonny?

Scene 4: Bad money

1. What is the significance of Lorenzo's objection to what Colagero sees, versus what Sonny says? What might be the greater influence, and why? Might this distinction have any bearing on our viewing of the film?

2. Lorenzo claims to Sonny that he would "never step out of line." What he is condoning?

3. Does Sonny understand Lorenzo's distinction between his control in the neighborhood and his "fooling with a man's family? Does he abide by it? Is he better or worse for not doing so?

4. Colagero believes that since he earned his money, he ought to be allowed to keep it. Is his father right to give the money back to Sonny?

5. Who is the tough guy in this scene? Is the working man a sucker?

6. Who is more courageous, Lorenzo or Sonny? Is that a different question than the question who is tougher?

7. Lorenzo believes the tough guy "get[s] up every morning and work[s] for a living." Is this an adequate definition of strength of character?

8. How do you think Sonny would define courage?

9. What is the difference Lorenzo suggests between being loved and being feared? Which is preferable and why?

10. Sonny's men offer to beat Lorenzo up, and Sonny tells them to leave him alone. Why does he do so? Is it simply for Colagero's sake? What would Colagero think if Sonny's men beat up his father?

11. What is your impression of Sonny after this scene? Has it changed? Do you believe Sonny treats Colagero, "like [his] son," as he says?

12. Do you think that Lorenzo or Sonny is the more courageous man? Why? In what ways is each of them courageous?

Scene 5: Collecting debts and reading Machiavelli

1. Sonny says at the beginning of this scene that he needs to stop babying Colagero. What does he mean? How does he do that in the course of these few scenes?

2. Colagero asks Sonny if he should "crack [Louie Dumps] one, or what?" Sonny's men advise just that. Why does Sonny give different advice? Sonny says "sometimes hurting someone ain't the answer." Does his advice show concern for Louie? Does it demonstrate weakness or strength?

3. Is Sonny's advice to Colagero to forget about the wrong from Louie rather than "cracking him one" consistent with his threat to slap Lorenzo in the previous scene that we saw?

4. Incarceration is looked at by society as a chance to rehabilitate criminals. Do you think that Sonny was changed by his prison reading? Was he rehabilitated? Do you think Sonny spent his time well?

5. Sonny advises Colagero to "worry" about himself, his family, people that are important. Who is important to Sonny? Does he worry about anyone? Does he worry about the neighborhood? Does his own life and actions follow his advice about the importance of family?

6. Sonny suggests that friendships that are bought with money are short-lived. Is there another type of friendship that Sonny doesn't speak about?

7. Is Sonny's advice to Colagero about what is important consistent with the lessons he learned from Machiavelli about fear and love?

Scene 6: Availability up close

1. How does Sonny in his treatment of the motorcyclists demonstrate restraint and calculation about what is necessary?

2. At what act of the motorcyclists does Sonny draw the line?

3. How does the bar room fight demonstrate the teaching Sonny offered Colagero in Gino's restaurant?

4. What is the effect of the scene's moving from the Chez Bippy (behind closed doors) into the street? Why does Sonny want to be remembered by the motorcyclists?

5. Why does the film include Sonny's running out in the end with a bat in order to beat the already beaten motorcyclists?

6. Does your opinion of Machiavelli's/Sonny's teaching change when you see the beating Sonny and his men give to the motorcyclists?

7. Later in the film (1:19:13 ff.), blacks ride their bikes through the neighborhood, and Colagero's "friends" beat them up. Are they trying to imitate Sonny? Are they? Contrast their treatment of the blacks with Sonny's treatment of the motorcyclists.

Scene 7: Dating Jane

1. Does Sonny's description of "the three great ones" constitute good advice for Colagero? How does Lorenzo react to the idea of "three great ones"? Contrast Sonny's and Lorenzo's attitudes toward women.

2. Contrast Sonny's and Lorenzo's advice about dating Jane. Which does the film present as superior? What would C's friends say, in contrast to what Sonny and Lorenzo say?

3. Is Sonny's freedom from prejudices connected with other aspects of his character?

4. What are the different ways in which Colagero approaches Sonny and his father in order to get advice?

5. What does his seeking advice indicate about Colagero?

Scene 8: Wasted talent

1. When Lorenzo asks C, "what makes you think you're so special?", Colagero responds by saying, "You don't know Sonny." What does this say about Colagero's understanding of Sonny?

2. Is Sonny feared or respected, or both? Explain your answer.

3. Lorenzo speaks about being proud of what he does and of not "having to answer" to anyone. What does he mean?

4. Colagero says in the first of these scenes that Sonny trusts him. The second scene demonstrates that this is not true, that Lorenzo was right - Sonny can't trust anyone. Are you as surprised as Colagero is by Sonny's reaction?

5. Colagero tells Sonny that he has been like a father to him. From what you've seen of Colagero and Sonny, what do you think of this characterization of Sonny's treatment of Colagero? Did Sonny handle this situation properly? Why or why not?

6. When Colagero tells Sonny, "that's a horrible way to live," Sonny responds, saying that it is the only way for him. Is Sonny's life a horrible one? Has Colagero learned what Lorenzo was trying to teach him, or what Sonny was trying to teach him? Both? How do the "teachings" of these two father-figures in Colagero's life differ with respect to their hopes for Colagero?

7. Colagero is especially impressed by what his father says to Sonny: I never hated you. He repeats this to Sonny. Why is it important to Colagero that his father not hate Sonny?

8. When Colagero says wasted talent as he touches Sonny's forehead, is he saying that Sonny was not correct in his own self-assessment? - that there may have been another way to live for him, as Colagero suggests he will live?

9. Why does Lorenzo call his son C for the first time in the film?

Paper topics

1. Why does Machiavelli become part of this movie? If Sonny is a Machiavellian, does this lower him in our sights, or elevate him? How does his Machiavellianism affect our view of Sonny?

2. Machiavelli is known as the teacher of evil; but is Sonny a teacher of evil?

3. To what extent is this film a criticism of Machiavellian politics? To what extent does it share Socrates' concern for the good of one's soul?

4. Socrates and Sonny are both imitated by the young in their communities. In what ways is their example beneficial or harmful to the young?

5. Contrast Socrates' killer (the city of Athens) with Sonny's assassin. What risks do each of these men incur by the different lives they choose to lead?

Bronx Tale Reading — Guide to unit 1back to unit 1