By Kate Mooney
Who's Mad? Karen from Goodfellas, 1990.
Karen is the quintessential pissed off mob wife, with a nails-on-the-chalkboard screech that’s nearly laughable in its melodrama, if she didn’t so desperately mean it. Her rage gets her nowhere, inextricably bound up in her lust for Henry and the thrills of the lifestyle. Her anger is a cry for love that, falling short, settles for submission.
Initially, her rage is the catalyst for their passion. Their sparks first ignite when she's yelling at him on the street after he doesn't show for their second date: "You’ve got some nerve standing me up. Nobody does that to me, who do you think you are, Frankie Valli or some kinda big shot?" Henry doesn’t hear a word she says, but her firey spirit draws him in: "I remember, she's screaming on the street, and I mean loud, but she looked good. She had these great eyes, just like Liz Taylor's."
She, in turn, is attracted to his violence: “I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend handed them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I gotta admit the truth—it turned me on,” she says. This is the woman who asks her husband, "I wanted to go shopping, can I get some money?" And when he asks how much, she air-measures a wad of bills between thumb and forefinger. After he hands her the stack, she begins unbuckling his pants.
Of course, in time, the hot and heavy turns dark and damaged. Karen’s anger devolves into madness. She’s pressing all the buzzers on Henry’s girlfriend’s building, screaming, “He’s my husband! Get your own goddamn man!” in front of her two little girls, nonetheless. She’s dangling the bag of drugs she snuck in during jail visiting hours, screeching, “Let her sneak this shit in for you. Let her do it!” And finally, she’s holding a gun to his head, seething and shaking as she demands, "Do you love her?” all the while straddling him. A little cooing and low talking, he calms her down in no time, knocking the gun out of her hands and pulling it on her.
Karen chooses to suffer as Henry’s disenfranchised wife rather than regain self-respect by leaving him, because, “Why should she (the other woman) win?” Her fury, though ineffectual, is all she has to hold on to. DeNiro's Jimmy Conway says it best, "She'll never divorce him. She'll kill him, but she won't divorce him."
Kate examines what "mad women" have meant throughout history and media. She also writes funny things for The Hairpin, The New York Observer, and others, check her out: @yatinbrooklyn