Skip to comments.On The Godfather (Interesting analysis)
Posted on 03/19/2003 9:55:35 AM PST by tarawa
On The Godfather by Craig Russell
"To live outside the law, you must be honest."
~ Bob Dylan
The upcoming Academy Awards this weekend reminds me that thirty years ago this month, The Godfather won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1972. It also won Oscars for Marlon Brando as Best Actor (famously and memorably refused by him) and for Best Screenplay. In addition, it received seven other nominations, including three best supporting actor nods to James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino.
In the decades that have passed, many of the other films that received nominations that year Pete and Tillie, Travels with My Aunt, The Emigrants have for the most part passed from popular consciousness. But The Godfather remains as alive and vibrant as it was upon its release in March of 1972, and the statement "Ill make him an offer he cant refuse" still reverberates with instant recognition. Why has this film endured? Perhaps because its hero, Vito Corleone, was a man of morals, principle, and courage in a world sorely lacking in either a man who stands throughout the film in stark contrast to the State.
Vito Corleone his first name means "life," or "alive," and his last means "lionhearted" is in every way his own man. The logo that you see as the film opens incorporates a hand holding the strings of a marionette. As he says to his son Michael late in the film, "I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all those big shots." And he has made his life providing people with things that the State "those big shots" has denied the people, among them gambling, women and justice.
In the opening scene, Bonasera, a funeral director, explains to Don Corleone how the men who beat and disfigured his daughter got suspended sentences: the State has refused him the justice he deserves, and so he "must go to Don Corleone." And that is what he gets. He asks initially for Corleone to kill them, but Corleone points out that "that is not justice. Your daughter is still alive." Bonasera tries vainly to tempt him with money, but Corleone is above that. His only price for supplying justice is friendship. "Someday," he says, "and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day."
Throughout the film, in contrast to the morality of the Don, we see the corruption of the State. In the wedding scene, very early in the film, we begin to see the relationship between the Don and the State when Tom Hagen tells him that a senator and "some of the judges" had called to apologize for not being there, but that "theyve all sent gifts." This is clarified a little later when Sollozzo, who wants the Don to finance his nascent drug business, tells him "I need a man who has powerful friends . I need, Don Corleone, those politicians that you carry in your pocket like so many nickels and dimes." Theyre for sale, and the Don has purchased them. Later, when the Don is laying in the hospital after an attempt on his life, its a New York City police chief, on another familys payroll, who takes the guards away to make it easier for a second attempt (foiled by Michael, whose jaw is promptly broken by the chief who has his men hold him in place while he hits him). And late in the film, the film speaks very specifically about the State when Michael and Kay have their first conversation upon his return to America. Michael says that his father is "no different than any other powerful man, any man who's responsible for other people, like a senator or a president."
"You know how naïve you sound?" says Kay. "Senators and presidents don't have men killed."
To which Michael replies: "Oh? Who's being naïve, Kay?"
Unlike the State, the Don is not corrupt violent, yes, but not corrupt. While he buys politicians, he himself cannot be bought. Our indoctrination, however, tells us that, since he uses violence, he is therefore an evil man. But he is not. Hes just a man who has refused to yield to the State, among other things, its desired monopoly on violence, which is the cornerstone of the States power. And he uses this violence with restraint. Yes, he persuaded the bandleader who had signed his godson to a personal services contract to release him by making him "an offer he couldnt refuse" by threatening his life: "He assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on that contract." But dont forget that he had been there the day before offering ten times the money that he later did, and the bandleader unreasonably refused. The same thing happens with the movie director. The Don first offers friendship and to do him some specific services, but the director refuses reason, and wakes up with a horses head in his bed. Whats the difference between what the Don does in these instances and what the State would do if these men had been sued in court, except that the Dons approach is more direct and more honest?
The Don is the most principled man in the film. He refuses to do "murder for money" in Bonaseras case, because that would not be justice, and he refuses to participate in Sollozzos drug business, because that would not be right. As he tells Sollozzo:
I must say no to you, and I'll give you my reasons. It's true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn't be friendly very long if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they view as a harmless vice. But drugs is a dirty business. It doesn't make any difference to me what a man does for a living, understand. But your business is a little dangerous.
It makes no difference to him how much money he stands to make on the deal, in this case, says Sollozzo, "in the first year, your end should be three, four million dollars, and then it would go up." Not only does he refuse the deal on (dare I say it?) moral grounds, he does it knowing that he could be risking his life. For Vito Corleone, his family, his friends, and his integrity are far more important than mere money.
This, then, is why The Godfather endures: its main character is a true man, strong enough, brave enough, and principled enough to stand up to and defy the power of the State. He is, in short, the kind of man we all wish to be. Unlike so many today, Vito Corleone is truly Alive, and truly Lionhearted.
March 19, 2003
Craig Russell lives in upstate New York.
"I've spent my whole life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, not men."
True, which makes it all the more strange that the part was so memorably played by Marlon Brando!
But the movie is about Michael, and his slide from war hero to mobster, not about Vito. The movie reaches its climax after Vito has died. The juxtaposition of the baptism with the brutal killings of the heads of the other families, in addition to being a wonderful piece of filmmaking, is the completion of Michael's slide to the "dark side."
This is why the movie endures. Stories of falls from grace are compelling and this one is more compelling than most.
The irony of something like this being quoted by a pro-legalized-drugs LewRockwell/libertarian commentator is quite delicious.
Part of his acting persona was the projection of a self-involved, distracted, superiority. Maybe he was acting, but I think there was a bit of typecasting also.
- Luca Brazi
"I'm smart! Not like everyone says!"
Not really. The fact that recreational drugs are illegal makes the business dirty.