Today’s film is one that is undeniably near the top of many “top 100” lists: The Godfather.
I’m actually not a super big fan of the film, but it’s entertaining and really well done of course, so it’s hard to deny it the attention it deserves. The story, characters, and cinemetography are great in this one.
I found it a bit hard to identify with the gangster characters, though I understand their motivations and their thirst for justice and vengeance. But I still feel like an outsider to the whole affair. Though that’s probably intentional. And so we outsiders have someone to indentify with, there exists Kay Adams, the girlfriend of Michael, the godfather’s youngest son.
We get introduced to her and other characters all in the long first scene, where various characters come in and make various petitions to Don Vito Corleone, the head of a crime family. Through this we get a sense of power and judgement - and trying not to let things get out of control. Punishments must be doled out, but not excessively.
Johnny Fontaine, a famous singer, who got his start with help from the Don, returns asking for a lead in a new Hollywood movie. The Don pulls some strings (that’s the meaning of the puppeteer logo) and has one of his men try to persuade the Hollywood director.
First using civilized means. A dinner finished with the director refusing to be pushed around. So then things escalate to less uncivilized means…
First, a shot of the Hollywood director waking up in his luxurious bed - and nothing out of the ordinary yet. But then, some hints that something is wrong…
Then he opens the sheets, and finds himself swimming in blood in his luxury sheets.
Then he opens up the bed further, to find the head of his prized horse…
That’s one way to get “a head” in the business. (apologies, I couldn’t resist)
Then just like that, wouldn’t you know it, Johnny Fontaine suddenly has the lead in the director’s new film.
That’s the power of the Corleone family. Everything seems most in order and in control here near the beginning of the movie, and then it all seems to fall apart. Violence begets more violence, and soon the Don himself is targeted and gunned down in the everyday act of buying some oranges from the market.
Typical end to a mobster’s life, right? But not quite… the Don survives. And his youngest son Michael, despite not wanting to get involved in his “family’s business” before, now takes a lead and gets revenge on the appropriate folks (including a corrupt police chief played by Sterling Hayden, the actor from Dr. Strangelove and The Killing).
But violence begets more violence…
In the end, the once powerful crime leader Don dies an ordinary death, suffering a heart attack while playing with his grandson in the garden. His final moments: collapsed on the ground, hearing his grandson laugh at him as if it was all a game:
The unglamorous and ordinary death of Vito Corleone - such a contrast to what we thought was his actual death.
The New Godfather
The film ends with the youngest son Michael becoming the new godfather. The scene is a great paradox: the Christian tradition and virtues mentioned by the priest, and the simulteneous killings that Michael has already orchestrated. And one of the killings? The father of the baby whom he is becoming godfather to…
And as a very bad omen for things to come - the film closes with Michael lying to his wife, and literally and figuratively closing the door between her and him and his “business”. That very business which he didn’t want to get involved in…
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