I caught The Godfather at an AMC Dolby 4K restoration screening. Just fantastic. Beautiful visuals that at times have the crystal-clear clarity of an open window. Remastered audio that livens and bolsters environments to a realistic scale. The way in which a quality screening experience can transport you into a fantasy land of mobsters and betrayal is unforgettable.
As for the film itself, film fans of all kinds have heard these observations before, but it’s fun to explore greatness with a newfound freshness. I had not seen The Godfather for a little under a decade. I was at a friend’s house and only newly broadening my film horizons. The film confused me at parts due to its large cast, but I understood the quality before me. I knew there was something brilliant taking place, but I couldn’t understand it at the time. This time around, in terms of plot engagement, I made it until the last 20 minutes before I got lost in the characters again. I can’t be the only one. But, even if I got a little confused in terms of how layered the plotline can be, the atmosphere and messaging are ever-present and hard to miss.
Vito is a gentle man. A soft spoken, patient, slow personality that borders on observational than integral. He’s old and tired. His life is coming to a close. As everyone thinks forward, he’s meditating on the past. During a meeting about a new business opportunity, one that guarantees a 10-year investment with little immediate offerings, Vito looks exhausted. 10 years? Will I be here in 10 years? Where was I the last 10 years? Where has my family been? Where did I want to be in those 10 years? Please, let me return to my daughter’s wedding.
There’s so much life yet to live and experience that Vito has on his shoulders. And, in a way, there’s a lot of hope that things could be better. There’s a lot of shame. Much of it. But if one of his children turn out alright, perhaps there’s freedom from the life he’s been living.
Michael is that hope. He’s been away from the family, both literally and emotionally. There’s a part of the family he doesn’t intend to emulate, and Vito is clearly at peace with this. It’s the best thing in his family. One child that’s pure. That’s innocent. That has no part in the shame, guilt, and horrible world that Vito has partaken.
Vito has never had to apologize. Never lived a life where it was necessary. But maybe living in America is what brings people to shame. There’s a contrast between heritage and home. That Vito is mystified by the past. By his legacy as a Sicilian. Their home property is like a little-Sicily in NY. A garden for wine and oranges. A place to celebrate. Respect and appreciation. Care. There’s a love for America, for the opportunities it can provide, but there’s a reverence for heritage. Can it be preserved? Maybe that’s harder said than done.
And Michael, a man whose name even sounds American, a man who served his country – chose to risk death for it – and dates an American woman, a man whose clinical “just business” attitude becomes the way of the land – no, it is the way of the land – for him, It’s never personal. It’s never disrespectful. It’s just business. And maybe it keeps the lights on, but it doesn’t feed the heart. It doesn’t bring peace to the soul.
I think, in part, one reason I can fall off the last 20 minutes is because of how dreary the film becomes. Vito’s gentleness is gone. The hope, peace, and sense of humanity that danced on the end of a pin has fallen. All that’s left is business. There’s nothing left but to finish the day’s work. A man cannot be careless running around a garden with his grandson. He must be alert, observant, and focused. One mistake and you’re dead.
And I do think Michael makes a mistake. I think that’s why he’s so momentarily unhinged at the end. Yelling and hitting tables. What’s left of his family turning on him. Business? Nothing is ever just business. Everything is personal. It either affects you immediately or 10 years later. Maybe it hits you when you’re in a hayfield or buying fruit. Maybe when talking to your son over some wine.
Michael experienced this gentleness. In part. His time in Sicily is respectful, even as he courts his wife. When he’s finally intimate with her, it truly seems like their first time kissing. He never oversteps boundaries. And even during their marriage they provide for others rather than the American wedding that begins the film, where thousands upon thousands of dollars are gifted to the groom. Perhaps the vengeance that’s killed all the men in Sicily has freed up such peace to thrive. But the American dream has long, spindly fingers. Its nails are jagged and claw at the Earth. Sicily was never safe.
Can hope and heritage ever win? At least in The Godfather, I don’t know. Maybe it has. Maybe that’s what makes Vito such a beautifully tragic figure. Is not the mere experience of shame, if only temporary, enough to revive the stone-cold heart of a crime lord? To witness the fruit sewn years ago. To want out. To have hope that maybe someone can survive, overcome these barriers to freedom.
I think there’s so much more to life. That there is hope even if we often project that our futures will be overtaken by monsters like Michael. That if we don’t constantly ruminate over what’s going to happen next, always looking over our shoulders while steering the vehicle forward, we lose. I don’t think that. I think, individually, there’s a peace to endurance. There’s a joy in doing what we can now over what we cannot change then or cannot influence later. Maybe our time is best eating meals with our family. Learning to drive. Chasing kids in the backyard. Celebrating marriages.
Joy comes in many ways. Never too late. Sometimes it comes in a backyard garden.
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Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!