hells kitchen
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hells kitchen

Course Number: ILCS 158, Fall 2007

College/University: UConn

Word Count: 745

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Neal Stearns 11/30/06 Hells Kitchen: Church vs. the Mob Barry Levinson's Sleepers largely takes place in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City. This neighborhood seems to be locked in a constant struggle between the church and the mob. The mob in the movie is represented by the aging mafia boss King Benny, while the church is represented by Father Bobby, who acts as a literal father figure to the four boys who...

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Stearns Neal 11/30/06 Hells Kitchen: Church vs. the Mob Barry Levinson's Sleepers largely takes place in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City. This neighborhood seems to be locked in a constant struggle between the church and the mob. The mob in the movie is represented by the aging mafia boss King Benny, while the church is represented by Father Bobby, who acts as a literal father figure to the four boys who are the main characters of the movie. Young people in Hell's Kitchen are taught from a young age to respect both the church and the mob. In a neighborhood where most of the residents were poor Irish and Italian children of immigrants, the Catholic Church played a large role in their lives. While it is not tolerated for anyone within the neighborhood to commit a crime against anyone else in the neighborhood, it is common practice to keep quiet about known mobsters and their activities which commonly take place within the neighborhood. As "Shakes" says while narrating the beginning of the movie, "Hell's Kitchen was a place of innocence ruled by corruption." This struggle between church and the mob is most clearly represented by Father Bobby's difficult decision to commit perjury and testify in favor of men that he knew to be guilty of murder. Although Father Bobby is likely not greatly dismayed at the untimely death of a known child rapist, he knows that two wrongs do not make a right. However, it seems that when Father Bobby lies on the stand that the mob-oriented values of the neighborhood run deeper and take precedence over the values of the priest's faith. While father tries throughout the whole movie to try to improve the lives of the four main characters, he fails due to the corrupting power of the neighborhood. Another clear struggle between the church and the mob in Sleepers involves the four boys who are the main characters. Originally they start out as alter boys in the church, a couple of them with aspirations of priesthood. While the boys do partake in occasional mischief, they are generally seen as good kids who have a real shot of getting out of the neighborhood. the While boys do run an occasional errand for the mob, they never get too involved with that side of the neighborhood. However, the horrors that the boys had to endure while in juvenile prison had such a negative effect on the boys that by the end of the movie both Tommy and John are murderous hardened criminals and Michael and Shakes help them get off for a murder that both knew had been committed by their friends. The mob mentality in Hell's Kitchen had once again won against the influence of the church, as it led to the untimely death of Nokes and eventually Tommy's and John's as well. The court case itself was a testament to the defeat of the church in Hell's Kitchen by the mob mentality. King Benny, the face of the mob in Hell's Kitchen became directly involved in the court case when he aided the bumbling lawyer, Danny Snyder, in winning his case in defense of Tommy and John. For the trial to be decided the way that it was required significant lying by all four of the boys as well as a reluctant Father Bobby. The court scenes were the clear climax showing the complete corruption of anything that was once innocent and good in Hell's Kitchen towards mob controlled immorality. The line between the mob and church within Hell's Kitchen is often so blurred that King Benny remarks at one point in the movie, "Father Bobby would have made a good hit man. It's a shame we lost him to the other side." Strong ties with the Catholic Church and with the mob are both stereotypical Italian traits which are very apparent in this movie as well as others, such as The Godfather trilogy. Some of the most famous scenes in The Godfather movies involve the intermixing of some of the most sacred church activities with mob activities. The scene in The Godfather of Michael renouncing Satan while murders of his adversaries are being committed is similar to the scene in Sleepers where Father Bobby swears on the bible before lying to protect a couple of murders from prison time. It is this recurring theme of church vs. mob in the movie that represents the Italian American influence in Sleepers.

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