Godfather I
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The Godfather

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With each film of the Godfather Trilogy there is an underlying theme to connect and weave the action together. For the first film this theme is the loss of innocence. When we first see Michael at his sister's wedding he is a war hero, an upstanding member of the American community. For all his life he was purposely kept out of the family's nefarious business. Of all his children Don Vito loved Michael a bit more than the others. Most of this was because in Michael he saw the fulfillment of the American dream. Rather than taking power and authority Michael was at the point in his life where he could earn such things in a respectable fashion, Senator Corleone or even President Corleone. Setting the opening scene at a wedding was sheer brilliance on the part of the director. For a film of this sweeping scope it was a concise way to introduce such a plethora of characters to the audience. It also introduces the juxtaposition of Michael with the rest of the family and more importantly, the 'other' family. There was also the character of Kay, the girlfriend of Michael. She provides a means for Michael to explain some of the aspects of the business to an outsider.

This is very much a film of contrasts. We see the differences between Mike and his siblings. Where Mike is very controlled and driven his oldest brother Sonny is volatile and explosive. Sonny is capable of only a reaction to a situation, his ability to plan and calculate the results is extremely limited much to the dismay of his father. Don Vito was bound by tradition to groom this eldest son as the heir to his empire but had much trepidation in doing so. Don Vito was trapped in this way. Sonny was too out of balance to be an effective Don, Fredo was not the sharpest one around and Mike was being reserved to bring legitimacy to the family name. Don Vito loves all of his sons but Michael has always been his favorite. As a war hero Mike destinquished himself during World War II and made poppa proud. Sonny had always been too hot headed reminding Vito of himself in his younger days as will be shown in the sequel. Frodo was loved by his father but there was more of a feeling of responsibility to take care of the slow brother than true fatherly love.

When a war breaks out between the Corleone family and one of its rivals Don Vito is shot and the code demands that revenge must be sought. Because of his nature the rival family would expect Sonny, they would know that Fredo was not up to it. The only way to extract the required vendetta would be Michael. No one would expect it. This is the pivotal moment in Michael's life. The exact second he crosses over to the dark side to relinquish his innocence. He takes this action not for greed or power but out of his unyielding love for his father. To see this powerful man that he looked up to all his life lying helpless in a hospital bed Michael could only think of killing the men responsible. Just seeing his father like that contributed to the loss of innocence. Most of us can identify with this, the time when we stop seeing our parents as indestructible and realize that they are mortal, and so are we.

After the hit Mike is forced to take refuge in Italy. During this time Sonny is easily bated to his own demise. When Mike returns he finds that he must take over control of his family and their business. This is the beginning of the end for any aspirations of legitimate endeavors. The words of Yoda to Young Luke come to mind: 'once down the dark side you go forever will it shape your destiny.' Michael is a calculating and effective Don. He is able to intuit the motives and reactions of others. As the film draws to a conclusion we see Michael at his father's desk, a sense of loss on his face. Mike had the perfect qualities for a Don. In the war he learned to command men in battle. He was usually able to step back from a volatile situation and almost dispassionately order the deaths that were necessary. He is not so much a cold blooded killer as he is the ultimate businessman. It just so happened that in his line of work sometimes people have to be eliminated. Michael knew the world was divided into those who are puppets and those pulling the strings. He was determined to be the puppeteer. After getting his standing with the senior level subordinates of his father by performing a hit Michael had the recognition of his men. Many were afraid that Sonny would he too easy to push into a war that the Corleone could not win. When Sonny was baited to his own murder Michael was undisputed in his leadership.

At the end of the film the baptism of Michael and Kay’s child is significant for many reasons. This is the entry of an individual into their faith. Here it was also the entry of Michael as the boss of bosses; in control of all the five families. There is the contrast of the shy returning war hero with the man sitting in his father’s old chair. Michael had always resisted joining the family business but now has to take and maintain the reigns. A new cycle begins as Kay leads men into the office and closes the door just as one of the men calls Michael ‘Don Corleone’. His father’s legacy is secure although not in the way most expected. As the first act in a three act play this film shows the powerful allure of power. Michael did not want to control the family but he was the only one capable of continuing the family legacy. Typical of such a construction for a story this one is the rise. This will be followed by the fall from grace and ultimately redemption.

Posted 09/15/08

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