I recently watched The Godfather again for the first time in maybe a decade. Obviously my worldview has refined a lot since then. This review will assume the reader has seen the movie.
Remember the scene in Sicily where Michael courts the girl. At no time are they alone until the wedding night. This is traditionally the norm in Greece and among Arab Christians, and it’s still common among the very religious. Keep this concept in mind.
I feel like, murder aside, Vito Corleone is an excellent model of what it means to be a Christian man. We will see more of this later on.
Opening scene. Very first words of the movie.
I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but — I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend; not an Italian. She went to the movies with him; she stayed out late. I didn’t protest.
This seems to be a common sentiment among immigrants. They come to America for the money and accidentally trade their souls. They think they are holding on to the traditions of their home country but don’t realize the dissonance. Within a generation or two their children are regular dumb Americans.
Keep in mind this movie is in the 40s before rock n roll had been invented. Before what we think of as “women’s liberation” and “the sexual revolution” of the 60s.
Two months ago, he took her for a drive, with another boyfriend. They made her drink whiskey. And then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her, like an animal.
These patriarchal standards of the Mediterranean don’t exist for no reason. They are like a fence that is very annoying. It’s in the way. But if you take it down, you may not know what it was holding back.
Don Corleone asks why the man, Bonasera, did not come to him before the police. Bonasera says that he wanted to avoid the bad reputation of men like Don Corleone. You know, like a good American.
Which is such an immigrant thing. They come here believing all the propaganda of the land of opportunity and the equality of the American justice system. I remember working at a gas station and tricking the Mexicans into buying lottery tickets, telling them that I know they are winning tickets.
So while Bonasera says that he values the Italian community, clearly he is willing to shed that identity to be an American. And his daughter took that to the next level. She wasn’t even dating Italians anymore.
For any of you looking for a “trad wife” by becoming an Orthodox Christian, Greek girls work the same way.
You will also notice in the films that whereas Vito Corleone has four children, his son Michael only has two plus an abortion and a divorce. The Corleone family also sold their souls for American values.
(I’ve never seen the third movie, but I assume it was as bad as the second.)
Our values as Americans are divorce and birth control. You can rant up and down about greed and the need to have real human relationships, and everyone will agree with you and think you are being counter-cultural. Preach a sermon where you say that divorce is another form of adultery, and the people will throw stones.
So eventually Michael Corleone marries an American girl, who later gets an abortion and a divorce, and while those were her choices, not his, he obviously contributed to her making those choices, because he’s a dumb American, not an Italian.
Bonasera himself has only one child.
Notice the names. Vito is a very foreign name. His kids are named American things — Sonny, Michael, Connie and Fred.
The wedding scene continues on. The crooner comes and sings. The girls go insane. Again, you see these images of the sexual revolution before what we think of as the sexual revolution.
Further on, Vito Corleone talks with the heroin dealer, Sollozzo “the Turk” (though I’m pretty sure the character is Italian, not Turkish). Sonny interrupts, and Vito cuts him off. Sonny immediately gets quiet.
Vito is the kind of man who inspires respect in people by nature. They trust his wisdom, so they have no hesitation about doing what he says. Men like that are rare these days. People try to gain respect through fear or flattery or by their status, but rarely does anyone gain respect by wisdom anymore.
He accuses Sonny of going soft from his side mistress (despite being married with children). The same seems to be true of Fredo. When Vito is shot in the market place, Fredo drops his gun.
Vito didn’t understand the transition from Italian to American. He didn’t understand that it’s not merely enough to talk to your kids about values and to model those values, because your kids won’t understand the difference either.
I find this really interesting, that despite the way he lived his life, none of his kids carried on his values. At best they all carried on a parody of his values. Michael tries to be a family man but doesn’t know what that means.
Wikipedia has tons of information on who runs the various mafia families across the country, which you would think would be a secret. I looked up the St Louis mafia. A mafia boss was the head of the St Louis construction union (LIUNA) and went to prison in the 90s. Why oh why does that not surprise me?
Then I remembered the cartoon F is for Family where a union boss was affiliated with the mafia, and I realized that all of this is probably common knowledge across the country except in the South. This film makes reference to Vito having a lot of control of unions.
One thing I’ve learned in the Midwest is that union people are thugs who will bully a small business just because they can’t afford their exorbitant rates. They have professional protestors who do nothing but stand outside a local restaurant all day, and Missouri people are stupid enough to give moral authority to them. The protesters are always smug baby boomers, they don’t have real jobs, and they think ruining a local restaurant is contributing to the better of society. This seems pretty mafia to me.
And Missouri voted down right-to-work on a plebiscite vote 2-1. You see billboards here telling you to not watch the NBC affiliate because they angered IBEW.
So, Michael kills Sollozzo and the police chief and flees to Sicily. He sees his future first wife taking care of children. He is “struck by a thunderbolt”. She is somewhat angry at this kind of stare and walks away, because she has modesty. She doesn’t invite attention. She keeps to herself and lets the men deal with these things.
Michael and his men unknowingly meet her father. The old man says, “The girls here are beautiful … but virtuous.” There’s pride in that statement. Women of the village don’t whore around like American women. They don’t listen to jazz and invite men into their hotel rooms like Kay does. They don’t sleep with married men like Sonny’s side girl does. Instead they understand the importance of family in the same way that Vito Corleone does.
Michael tells the man who he is and says, “There’s a lot of men who would pay a lot of money for that information.” He sells out his security and his family in New York for the chance at a beautiful woman. Again, he’s acting like an American. Sex above all else.
For whatever reason, the man allows Michael to court his daughter. This seems like a plot convenience.
Notice the contrast between this scene and the opening scene. “I raised my daughter in the American fashion.”
Life was so much simpler when you knew what was expected of you. You become an adult, you get a job so you can support a family, and then you start a family. It was all very simple. There was little choice involved, and so there was no choice agony.
Today we glorify choice as the greatest value one could have, and we stress when we go to a restaurant and can’t decide between the beef and the chicken. Picking a career or a spouse is paralyzing.
Next scene. It’s revealed that Vito’s daughter, Connie, has been beaten by her husband, Carlo. This is the American fashion. Sonny tracks him down, beats him and says he’ll kill him if it happens again.
Michael has a traditional Sicilian church wedding that his family never finds out about. Again, his unevenly developed family values.
Then we get his wedding night scene. So far there has been some sex in this movie. Namely, Sonny with his mistress standing up against a door during the wedding reception at the beginning. Which was all just casual fun. But it’s in this scene alone that we see “making love”. That is, a real relationship built on values and understanding and not on sex.
Next scene. Kay shows up at the Corleone compound. She’s still in love with Michael. No one knows he’s married.
Next scene. Connie finds out that Carlo is cheating on him. All these scenes with different concepts of love and family are pushed right next to each other. She breaks the dishes. He beats her with a belt.
That’s what happens when you marry “in the American fashion”. When your relationship is based on infatuation, you don’t know what to do when the infatuation cools down.
This scene is the opposite of Vito Corleone’s respect. Carlo doesn’t inspire respect. He’s a coward whom no one trusts. He gets angry easily. He views his wife as a means to an end instead of an end in herself, and so she is unable to respect him.
We see in the 40s, before “women’s liberation”, the traditional dynamics between men and women dissolving. It’s the American fashion. You don’t find this in third world countries. It’s a product of our American wealth.
Like Carlo, Sonny is quick to anger. But unlike Carlo, his anger is never without a reason, and he’s not a coward.
And with that anger, he rushes off to get revenge and is murdered at the toll booth. Which is also a plot contrivance that doesn’t make sense. They sort of explain this later that Carlo set them up, but that would involve perfect timing and planning. You can’t get twenty mobsters together in a toll booth in twenty minutes before Sonny rushes across town. And then they shoot him and totally miss each other. And the toll booth people are just okay with this.
But whatever, that’s not the point of the movie.
None of Vito’s kids are at all prepared to take over the business. None of them have Vito’s calmness. Sonny is rash, Fredo is cowardly and Michael is naive. All of them are controlled by sexual lust.
Sonny’s dead. Fredo is in Las Vegas, staying out of the way, because he can’t do anything right. The only hope for a dynasty is Michael. So Vito brings him back and spends the rest of the film trying to communicate to him what it means to be a man. But that’s not something that can be communicated through words. Michael never understands it. He didn’t struggle like Vito did. Michael was handed everything.
Michael reminds me of a lot of pastors’ kids. Even and especially the good ones who want to be a pastor too. I had a Baptist pastor who had a master’s degree in physics. His son was homeschooled, went to a Christian college, then went to seminary, and then got a job at a church. The closest thing to a secular experience he’s ever had was a college job at Chickfila. I don’t know how he will ever be able to relate to working people.
Vito senses something is wrong. He doesn’t run from bad news. He seeks out Tom Hagen and gently demands to know what’s going on. Vito is of course upset at the news, but he doesn’t get emotional. He keeps cool and immediately gives out orders.
I want no acts of vengeance. … This war stops now.
Something no one else except maybe Tom would have said. No one else was able to truly separate the business from the personal.
And then he hugs Tom. Always thinking about the people under him. That’s why they love him so much. Vito is a father to everyone, and they love him like a father. I think there’s kind of an image of God in this, that your “fear of God” comes out of a fear of disappointing your father.
There’s a lot of complaints that young people don’t respect our elders anymore, but I think that’s more of a reflection of the kind of people our elders are. Elders aren’t respected because they are old — they are respected because they have things to teach the young. Instead our elders give us bad advice and then laugh when our lives don’t turn out how theirs did.
Vito brings Sonny’s body to the morgue and tells the owner to clean him up.
I don’t want his mother to see him this way.
Vito takes the burdens of his family. There’s no “gender equality” here. Vito spares his wife from the pain of seeing her son with bullet holes.
Next scene. Sicily. Michael’s wife dies.
Meeting of the five families. Vito foregoes vengeance on Sonny but assures them there will be hell to pay if something happens to Michael. This is the Austin Method, done to perfection. Better than I ever do the Austin Method. What is the Austin Method? It’s to be blunt and honest and let fall what happens. The Austin Method is about radical integrity, and while people think I’m being an asshole, you would be amazed at the results I get through the Austin Method. Jesus regularly employed the Austin Method, and Donald Trump became the first political outsider to become president through it.
Vito says what it is and lays out the terms exactly as they are. And they know that, unlike his children, Vito would never lie or set up something on false premises, no matter what the reason.
Michael returns to America. No resolution with his father-in-law is shown. He marries Kay without any passion. This appears to be the cold rationalism of his father, but it’s not. It’s another imitation. He doesn’t love Kay. Or at least, he thinks of love only in the American sense. He doesn’t understand how Vito can love his wife while being dispassionate.
In the scene where he sees Kay again for the first time in several years, she is teaching school outside. This echoes the scene where he first sees his Sicilian wife, in which the girl was herding children. You can see the distance between the two scenes. The passion (in both the American sense and the Orthodox sense of the term) from the Sicilian scene is gone. With Kay he’s just matter-of-fact, in imitation of his father in the last scene, but without the inherent trustworthiness.
I’m pretty sure if I ever have a son, he will end up just like Michael.
Like Vito, he refuses to talk business to women. Except that he’s dishonest. He tells her that the family business will be “completely legitimate in five years”, which is obviously a lie. He also tells her that he loves her, which is also a lie. She knows he’s being dishonest, but she goes along with him anyway. She never got over him.
The wedding is never even shown.
Michael is moving to Las Vegas. He’s rootless. Leaving the family compound that his father built. If you’re familiar with the hero’s journey, this is sort of that, that the hero undergoes his change in exile, returns to his home, and then leaves if he cannot readjust.
All of Michael’s incompetence is highlighted like a beacon in the scene where he meets Moe Greene. This scene is done brilliantly. Just in general, I feel like the people who wrote this film (and the book) accidentally produced a masterpiece and didn’t mean to put this much depth in it.
Half an hour before the end of the movie, Vito gives some amazing advice. The casual way he does it so great. It really shows that this wisdom is just part of him. It flows from him naturally without him having to think about it.
I spent my life trying to not be careless. Women and children can be careless, but not men.
And you get the impression that the screenwriters thought he was being a sexist old man out of touch with “the American fashion” instead of this being a pearl of wisdom.
The final scene. Michael screams at Kay to not ask him about his business. See, the women never asked Vito about his business, because they trusted him. They didn’t need to worry about it. But no one trusts Michael. Women don’t want to have to worry about business, but men like Michael force them to.
Kay knows in her heart that Michael killed Carlo. She pries into his business to learn something she knows is true but wishes isn’t. She knew what she was getting into when she married him — he was honest about working for the mafia. And now when the reality of that manifests, she buckles and begs him to be something he’s not.
So he lies to her and says that he didn’t kill Carlo, which she believes. Women are expert lie detectors until it comes to the delusions they wish were true, and then they will fall for any scam.
So these are both terrible people — or at least, very foolish, very American people — who deserve everything that happens to them.
We’re a nation of Michaels and Kays.
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