A Succinct Analysis of The Godfather; Nothing Is More Important Than Family, Not Even The Family

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather establishes the lives of Vito Corleone, and the Corleone crime family of New York, as an analogy for the pre- and post-World War II gang scene. Drawing inspiration from the real Five Families of New York, Coppola and Marlon Brando, the man responsible for the portrayal of Vito Corleone managed to produce a movie about the importance of family, the presence of tradition and ancient morals, masculinity and femininity, the rise and fall of emperors and their empires, the gaining and loss of power, the futility of the American Dream, and the importance of distancing one’s self from the personal when conducting business and business when treating the personal.

Through a series of three epic films, the last of which considered to be the weakest entry in the trilogy, Coppola crafts a convincing tale of loss, gain, and loss again through his expert portrayal of the characters from Mario Puzo’s masterpiece. Simply put, The Godfather Part I, The Godfather Part II, and (for the most part) The Godfather Part III are some of the best and most important films ever created, if only for the simple fact that they’re amazing movies and deserve to be analyzed, critiqued, and watched time and again.

I’m flourishing, I understand, and I’m leaving out Al Pacino as Vito Corleone’s youngest son Michael, but all in due purpose.

The first film begins with a scene in Vito Corleone’s study, where he and his oldest son Santino “Sonny” Corleone, are talking to a man detailing the heinous atrocities experienced by his daughter at the hands of a non-Italian boy and his friend. This labelling and casual racism is prevalent throughout the course of the franchise and simply coats the film with age and tradition. The scene continues as Vito offhandedly berates the pitiful man for only coming to him because he cannot refuse a request; after all, no self-respecting Sicilian man denies the request of anyone on the day of his daughter’s wedding. Indeed, Constanzia “Connie” Corleone is marrying a friend of Sonny’s, though it’s later revealed that the man is vicious, unfaithful, disrespectful, and power-hungry; we also learn that Vito, once again due to tradition, cannot interfere in his only daughter’s marriage because of Sicilian morality.

Through another offhanded piece of dialogue, we learn that Vito is distrustful and uninterested in the small time criminal, Carlo Rizzi, because he’s not Sicilian.

Sicilian men, in Vito’s eyes are true Italians; they love their families above all, their businesses are separated from their personal lives, and nothing is more important than the well being and safety of the family, even if this family consists of gangsters, kingpins, and their underlings (Capos, Soldats, and Consiglieres all in tow). Of course, it’s difficult to determine Vito’s point-of-view on Sicilian men because every Sicilian he meets is power-hungry, and viciously violent, often determined to cross any path and walk down any road to accomplish a task. The Sicilian men we see are cruel, vindictive, haughty, and conceited, and we wonder what, if anything, Vito sees in his countrymen. Even his oldest son, who has already been chosen as the next Capo di tutti Capi (boss of all bosses) once Vito retires or dies, is nothing short of amoral; he continuously cheats on his wife with a mistress we see him acquire on the day of his sister’s wedding, he’s rarely around his children, and spends almost no time with his family apart from the constant bickering we see onscreen, and the presumed animosity we don’t.

This loyalty and dependability on one’s family is what drives Vito, though none of his sons or daughters express a similar devotion to their own families; it doesn’t help that his children have learned from the negative associations Vito has around him at all times, but they’re not very pleasant to their next of kin anyway, even though they seem to carry around their father’s moral code at all times. Michael Corleone, once his father steps down as Don Corleone and his brother dies at the hands of another Sicilian family, goes on a killing spree, eliminating anyone and everyone who could possibly pose a threat to the “Legalization” and expansion of the Corleone family and then outright states that the family (whether it be his wife and children, or the Corleones) is the most important part of his life and decision. He concludes Part I by ordering the execution of some of Vito’s best capos, all in the name of the prosperity of the family.

Indeed, family is the driving force in The Godfather, if only for the fact that it’s the most prevalent, and the most widespread, though Michael Corleone wouldn’t be the first Corleone to disprove this notion. Michael is, simply and frankly, the opposite of his father: he’s a boy who grew up with everything, and his father lost his family at the age of nine and was forced to claw his way up into the criminal underbelly of the growing Italian gang-scene; Michael was the youngest male among three males, while Vito had no family and was therefore his own teacher and father figure; Michael is a business-minded Don, while Vito spent his entire life accumulating favours and contracting “Friends” into helping him. Without a doubt, that’s their most separating factor: Vito treats the people he works with as friends, mingling with them and interacting with them on a personal level to the greatest degree that his lawyers and advisors will allow it.

A Don captured because he spent too much time with the Soldats is a poor reflection on the family, and either the Consigliere, or the Underboss will need to deal with the problem immediately.

The ultimate difference is that Vito seems to regard anyone who owes him a favour, or anyone who treats him to coffee in their home as family, while Michael has no family. He discusses more murder with the ex-Consigliere-turned-Corleone-lawyer Tom Hagen, who was an orphan adopted by Sonny in the boys’ youth, and produces “I don’t feel the need to wipe everyone out, Tom. Just my enemies.”

At this point, Michael Corleone is out of enemies; no single family poses any iota of a threat, his greatest foes have all been sated, all the right people have been bribed, and all the right governments have been assuaged, yet in his single-minded view of conquest and expansion, Michael fails to see the irony in eliminating anyone when everyone’s already dead. It’s even more powerful when you combine it with the nugget of knowledge that manifests itself as Vito’s views on avoiding war, and the importance of discussion, mediation, and arbitration in order to avoid the needless deaths of those caught in the middle of gang warfare. Vito is an old man at this point, and has already lived a life filled with fear and apprehension, and his non-violent approach is understandable when compared to Michael’s reckless battle cries, but Michael refuses to see the pointlessness in his battles. He’s already won, but in his mind he’s only just begun.

Of course these characters are brought to life because of their gray-scale morality; they aren’t meant to be perfectly evil or perfectly moral characters, but as grey compilations of what could be and what is. Vito Corleone, we later learn, is not the moral family man that his old-age makes him out to be; in his youth he was as callous as his sons, though in a more refined and classical approach. He promises his friends difficult to arrange results, and finds a way to actualize each promise. He’s vicious, but only when he needs to be. He’s vindictive, but only when he knows he’s arranged every piece in the right order, and only when he knows he can’t lose. Dealing with the Sicilian Don that killed his family, Vito waits for power and money in America, before returning to Italy and seizing revenge. Say what you will about the man, but he had patience and more than a little nerve; he was an upstart, but one with flair, style, and enough intelligence to know when to stop, a trait his sons never seemed to inherit.

Granted, It’s difficult to determine the exact point that the tone of the series shifts, but it’s somewhere around the time that Michael returns from Sicily and approaches his future wife, and mother of his two children, Kay; it’s at this point that the story becomes less about the repercussions of Vito’s life, and more about his fall, and more about Michael’s rise. Part I details the fall of Vito, and the rise of Michael, while Part II attempts to piece together hitherto unknown facts of Vito’s young life. Part II is about the fall of Michael, and the early rise of Vita, and the juxtaposition isn’t made apparent until Michael loses his family and Vito finally gains closure. I say that it wasn’t made apparent, but the truth is that I didn’t realize that their lives were being so carefully juxtaposed until it dawned on me how similar their stories are, and how different their failures were.

Ultimately, Vito failed because he relied too much on his family, and his death in the orchard with his grandson is a fitting way to end the life of a man who spent his entire life working for his children, for his family, for his underlings, and for his legacy. Michael’s death, alone with nothing but his dog, is the perfect way to end the life of a man who spent his entire life fighting for his independence and for himself; it’s the perfect way to end the life of a man who was never truly together until he was separated from his family and their overbearing concerns. I entertained the notion that Michael took the risk of killing Sollozzo and McClusky to avoid having to spend any more time with his family, but I struck it from my mind as argument material; I now propose that Michael risked his entire life to run away from his family, and that his actions (though admirable) were ultimately done for selfish reasons.

The true end of the series, barring Michael’s expected death in Part III, concludes in the opposite way that Part I begins. Instead of Vito, Michael is alone with nothing but his thoughts, and instead of being surrounded by members of the family and his son, Michael is left solitary with nothing but a cigarette. Indeed, Michael has always been alone, and his desires and thoughts have never been understood; Michael was the missing child, and so-called “Black sheep” of the Corleone family. It seems that the family always uttered the phrase “Where’s Michael” because he never really seemed to exert a presence as part of the family. He never really wanted to be part of the family in the first place, hence “They keep pulling me back in.”

Part II ends with a surprise party for Vito, who is celebrating on the same day that the Japanese Forces bomb Pearl Harbour. The Corleone boys are discussing politics while Connie is introduced to Sonny’s friend Carlo for the first time. It’s also the same day that Michael went against Vito’s wishes to enlist. As the patriarch enters the home and the guests move to surprise him, Michael is the only member left at the table. Part II ends as the antithesis to Part I’s beginning. Ultimately, however, Michael is still missing from the celebration, and the entire family is still held back by Michael’s decisions and actions. Truthfully, there’s nothing more important than family, and that’s an inevitability that neither Michael, nor anyone, can ever truly escape; the family, our families, effectively determine every aspect of our future except for the futures themselves.

The possibilities are determined by the people around us and the environments that we are exposed to, but the actualities and the results are all determined by our own choices and our own decisions.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

    • Jamie haggis
    • January 9th, 2014

    Honestly, this is terrible writing. Couldn’t get past the third paragraph due to all the run-on sentences.

    • Iris Arellano
    • January 16th, 2015

    I like it. It flows nicely. Great analysis too.

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