Eve As Ginger McKenna
In Martin Scorsese’s crime-thriller Casino, Ginger McKenna fulfills a role that has been played since the dawn of creation. Ginger, married to Tangiers operator Sam “Ace” Rothstein, broke the golden rule and became responsible for the expulsion from “heaven” (3:00). Casino, set in 1970’s-1980’s Las Vegas, follows many established tropes and is notable for the distinct connection made between Ginger McKenna and Eve. Both figures were granted the keys to paradise on Earth and both broke the one rule that led to the downfall of society around them.
Casino, which is based on a true story, follows the rise and fall of the mob’s control over Las Vegas. The mob controlled the Teamsters Union and elected to grant money for the construction of casinos. Due to the Teamsters’ generous grants, the mob owned the casinos in every way, except legally. When the newest and best casino known as the Tangiers was built, the mob bosses saw it best to elect Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a mob associate and sports handicapper, to run it. During Sam’s tenure as the operator of the casino he met Ginger McKenna.
Ginger was known to be a hustler and Sam remarked that “Ginger’s mission in life was to make money. She was a queen around the casino.” (24:35). Despite Ginger’s imperfections, Sam proposed to Ginger and handed her the keys to their newfound “heaven” (3:00). Las Vegas was booming during this period and the mob bosses rewarded Sam two-fold because of his hard work. With such an influx of money from the “gods” (39:00), which was referring to the mob bosses, Sam elected to spoil Ginger and give her exorbitant amounts of money, jewelry, and clothes. The one rule to follow was that Sam had “to be able to trust you [Ginger] with my life” (47:05) and for the jewelry to remain in the bank safe-deposit box. Sam trusted Ginger so much that he ultimately gave her the one key to that safe-deposit box.
The safety-deposit box represents the Forbidden Fruit. The one thing that is off limits while Sam and Ginger enjoy their stay in “heaven” (3:00). The forbidden item is a trope shared with every creation story involving Adam and Eve. Even though it might not always be fruit, it is still an item that is to not be shared, consumed, taken, etc. Martin Scorsese has derived many tropes and ideas for his films from the Bible. In relation to the use of Adam and Eve, Scorsese is quoted as saying, “…that part of the Gospel is in need of our poetic contribution, the help of our imagination, to make it more realistic, believable” (Baugh, Lloyd. “The Authentic Jesus? Pg. 387). Scorsese has made it known publicly that he incorporates religious tones in his work and it is shown that Ginger is meant to echo the tale of Eve. Both characters were given everything and had only a simple rule to follow. Sadly, both couldn’t stay righteous on their path and their moments of weakness led to a horrible expulsion from their respective heavens.
As penned in Mark T. Conard’s novel The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese, there were no safe havens for Sam and Ginger. In the section titled No Safe Haven: Casino, Friendship, and Egoism, Conard attempts to explain the reasoning behind the relationships in Casino. Conard asserts that “The safe havens-Ace’s love for his wife, Ginger McKenna, his $2 million stash in a safe-deposit box in Los Angeles, the only key which he has entrusted to Ginger-are no more important to Scorsese than the trapdoor…” (Conard, Mark T. The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese Pg. 7). Although this is typical diction for screenwriting, it can be asserted that this is deliberate due to Martin Scorsese’s established use of Biblical tropes. The supposed “trapdoor” is a metaphor for the fall induced by the forbidden fruit. An action that, once initiated, cannot be taken back and that leads to the expulsion from heaven on Earth.
The period before the fall was marked with great peace. As the rule was followed, success came as well. The casino flourished and so did Sam and Ginger’s marriage. As we know from other recountings of Adam and Eve, this period only lasted for a short time. Nicky Santoro, a “made man,” was dispatched to Las Vegas by orders of the mob. Nicky was meant to be the voice of reason and power but eventually became one of the representations of evil. What is interesting with Casino is the inclusion of two evils. As previously mentioned, Nicky Santoro led Ginger astray, but so did her former pimp and lover, Lester Diamond. An idea that has been referenced in popular media is the image of two beings whispering in separate ears. An angel on one side with the devil on the other. In this case, there are two devils that are both attempting to initiate the fall for two separate reasons.
Nicky, a man without a clean record, could not gain licensing from the gambling commissioner and was not officially connected to the casino. It would only be a matter of time for Nicky to envision his own heaven. Nicky began creating his version of heaven by robbing other bookies, which are men who set the odds and collect money for sports gambling, and eventually got placed into the “black book.” The black book banned him from entering any casino and rendered Nicky a poison to the guidelines set by Sam and the mob bosses, aka “gods.” Not only was Nicky a poison due to his black book status, but he also tempted Ginger with adultery. Adultery, as defined by Encyclopedia of Gender and Society, “traditionally involves a person willingly engaging in sexual physical activity with a person other than one’s spouse or committed relationship partner. The concept of infidelity has been broadened to include emotional behaviors (i.e., activities that are nonphysical and not overtly sexual).”
Nicky and Ginger’s relationship began to unravel when Ginger went to Nicky for advice. Ginger sought Nicky’s for advice because she was upset with the “cruelty” (1:19:00) of Sam’s rule. As Nicky and Ginger’s relationship progressed from being solely emotional to physical, the fall was inevitable. Although Ginger had it all, she wanted more, and Nicky played upon her greedy nature. Instead of wanting wisdom or just being defiant, Ginger wanted gold, jewelry, money, and power. Enough was never enough. As Ginger grew closer and closer to defying the rule of god, Nicky’s voice got louder and louder, luring Ginger to eventually destroy the thing that made her.
Another representation of evil is Ginger’s former pimp and lover, Lester Diamond. Lester was with Ginger before Sam had ever met her and Lester maintained an emotional power over Ginger. Lester, described as a “golf course hustler” (26:20), was known to be undesirable and a snake. The power Lester held over Ginger would eventually come to a head and cause Ginger to break the one rule that was established, thus leading Ginger to begin the fall. The culmination of Ginger’s anger towards Sam led her back into the arms of Lester. When Lester finally had enough control, he played upon Ginger’s greed just as Nicky did.
After another fight, Ginger took her and Sam’s daughter and fled to Lester’s house. Lester had planned to use Sam’s daughter as a hostage and wanted to get a large ransom for the girl. Lester promised Ginger that they would take this newfound wealth and leave America and start a new life. This was a ploy. Lester, being the deceitful, evil man he was, was luring Ginger from the right path and ultimately wanted her to go for the forbidden fruit. The safe-deposit box. After Sam learned of Lester and Ginger’s location, this plan failed. Even though Ginger and her daughter returned to Sam, Ginger still wanted more. This lust for money led her back to Nicky.
Once more, Ginger and Sam got into a fight, and she stormed out of the house with some of her fine jewelry and money. Let it be known that Ginger was abusing hard drugs and alcohol and “wasn’t fit to be a mother, or any good for that matter” (2:11:30). Having yet to break the rule, Ginger was still being dragged further and further away from the right path. Because of this, Ginger visited Nicky and orchestrated a plan to “bury him [Sam]” (2:15:15). Having heard this, Nicky knew it was time to tempt Ginger one last time. Alluding to the safe-deposit box, Nicky told Ginger “Don’t worry about it, he can’t fuck with you anymore” (2:17:05). Ginger decided it was best to break the rule. The forbidden fruit was about to be taken.
Ginger drove as fast as she could to the bank in Los Angeles in an alcohol and cocaine-fueled rage. “You have got to stop her; you have got to stop her” (2:38:20) is all Sam could say as he pleaded with the bank teller to prevent his wife from gaining entry to the box. Since Ginger was the one with the key, she could open it and do whatever she desired. Sam upheld his decision to never go to the box and to never take from it but the same could not be said about Ginger. When Nicky and Lester corrupted her and pushed her over the edge, they damned everything that was built in the “heaven” that was Las Vegas.
The metaphor of the trapdoor is of immense importance and accuracy. Trapdoor and temptation are synonymous in this story due to the admitted and subjective Biblical implications. In The Final Portrait of Christ, written by Kevin Fauteux Ph.D., Fauteux argues that “these works of art evoke feelings within people which they fear to acknowledge” (Pg. 1). Fauteux’s argument supports the notion that these works of art, whether it be film or literature, reference a belief that unconsciously scares them. This belief that has been ingrained into the minds of millions of people that depicts Eve as the one who led to the fall. Whether it was or was not Eve can be debated and each side can use various examples that support their claims, but Casino portrays Eve (or Ginger in this case) as the one whose actions led to the fall. If you replace Ginger’s name with Eve, Sam’s with Adam, the mob bosses/gambling commissioners with God, and Nicky and Lester’s name with Satan, you get a near parallel to the story of Adam and Eve. Tomorrow’s Eve, written by Villiers de I’Isle-Adam, is a novel that shares many parallels with the Christian Bible’s story of creation and the tragedy of Adam and Eve. Although it is not a direct reimagining and uses different subject material, it still echoes the beliefs of the story of the fall. The trope or idea of Adam and Eve is shown in various means and doesn’t require an exact recounting. The similarities in the story are enough to perpetuate the idea of Eve’s actions leading to the fall.
Finally, as Ginger sped away from the bank with the box she got pulled over by the FBI, who had been watching everything. After her capture, Sam stated that “everybody began to tumble, just like dominos” (2:40:07). Sam also said “Paradise, we managed to really fuck it all up” (2:40:20). This goes to show that as soon as Ginger broke the golden rule, everything was lost. Arrests were made and the expulsion began. It can all be tied to Ginger and her failure of willpower or self-control to stay away from the greatest temptation.
“They all had to follow” (2:44:30). Nicky, one of the final characters to reach his fate, lamented over the damage done. Even though it was through his own sadistic temptations that led to Ginger’s decision, he knew how everything must play out. No man was spared. Either the federal government got to them or, even worse, the mob itself. In an action described as “cleaning house,” everyone with the slightest involvement was expelled from heaven and forced to suffer a brutal death or life behind bars. This mimics the scenes of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden and summarizes the underlying theme. The great sin had been committed and it was time for all to account for their sins.
“I suspect who lit the fuse and so did the powers that be” (2:46:53). This quote from Sam perfectly explains what finally happened. This was not a nameless sin. The higher powers, the mob, but in the Biblical sense, God, knew exactly who broke the rule and who to punish. By punishing Eve, the higher powers punished everyone. Eve’s action led to the invitation of death and purging that ruined a small slice of heaven. The car bombings and assassination attempts in Las Vegas that ensued were directly linked to Ginger and finally show her parallel to Eve. Death and pain had arrived just like in the Bible. “The town will never be the same” (2:50:30).
Upon a close viewing of the film and also referring to outside resources, it is clear to see a link between Sam and Ginger’s story to that of Adam and Eve. Both were placed in heaven on Earth, a place of abundance and no worries. In both situations they only had one rule to follow. Eve and Ginger succumbed to the temptations around them and damned everyone through their actions. Both of their actions led to the suffering of others and the expulsion from heaven. One might still hold the opinion that it was not just Eve/Ginger’s fault alone, rather the culmination of outside influences. Regardless of one’s opinion, the link is there. Whether by design or not, Martin Scorsese mirrored the Christian recounting of the fall of Adam and Eve throughout Casino.