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The Godfather is a 1972 American film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It is based on Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather. It is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made, especially in the gangster genre. It is powerful and depicts organized crime in depth while it delves deep into illegal plots and actions. The main actors, played by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, are the heads of a New York crime family. The plot of the film is based on a well-known crime family in which the patriarch delegated authority to one of his subordinates (Graham 1). Following that, a series of illegal and abusive incidents occur. Not only is this film an entertaining gangster story, but it is also a saga of a family, capitalism, and power. It also teaches some significant life lessons. This paper this discusses the organized crime in the form of illegal activities amongst other events as portrayed through the themes, motifs, and symbols used in the film.
The major theme in the film is criminality. The movie revolves around criminal activities. This includes illegal enterprise and the problems encountered in running it. The Corleones are criminals characterized with great power and influence. Don Corleone refuses to deal narcotics because it is a dirty business, according to him, and not his kind of criminal activity. He is interested in preserving his political connections (Cuzzola 58). According to Corleone, crime is treated like a business with the background ideas of what is acceptable and what kind of business practices is not allowed. For instance, despite objecting a drug dealing business, he allows the killing of a horse and cutting its head to terrorize Jack Woltz, a movie producer who denied his godson Johnny Fontane a chance in a new film. Clearly, Don has boundaries as there are some activities he is not willing to be involved in.
The theme of a family is also deeply emphasized in this film. The Corleones conduct their businesses as a unity. Additionally, they are portrayed as one of the five mafia families in New York. The relationship among family members is shown in different ways. When Fredo loses the sense of unity with relatives, his brother Michael warns him to never take sides with anybody against the family. This shows that a family is the most vital thing in the film (O’Hora 49). Vito the Godfather demands that the family sticks together no matter the situation. He warns against siding with people outside the family. He reminds them that no one will misuse or mistreat any member of the family. This is proved when his godson approaches him with a problem about Jack Woltz. Don Corleone does his best to ensure his godson gets what he wanted. He sends his lawyer to make this happen.
The theme of lies and deceit is also clearly depicted in the film. The criminal activities conducted are done using pretty deceitful means. For instance, Michael’s bodyguard Fabrizio attempts to assassinate him but ends up killing Michael’s wife instead. This shows how this bodyguard who was trusted by his boss uses it to deceive, thus killing his boss’s wife. Further, the Corleone family’s henchman, Tessio, becomes a traitor and ends up siding with the family rival, Don Barzini (O’Hora 52). Carlo, who is Connie’s husband, was involved in leading Sonny, his brother-in-law, into a death trap. As Sonny was motivated to save his sister from her husband’s violence, he is murdered through several gunshots as Carlo told the shooters about his location. Lies and deceit caused many deaths and murders in this film. Many people use this practice in order to achieve their hidden goals, which include murder and other inhuman things.
Another theme illustrated in the movie is power. The film shows how Michael and his family are affected by the changes and the flows of power. The five mafia families in New York are fighting among themselves in order to dominate the senior position in the city. Don Corleone is initially portrayed as wise from the beginning of the film (Cuzzola 58). When power is eventually taken from him, he becomes just a fond grandfather. On the other hand, Michael commences the film as a young gentleman in the army who is trying to establish a plan for his life. When he becomes older, he is forced to get involved in the family business. He claims his father’s legacy and, therefore, becomes more and more powerful. Michael’s character is seen to grow as he stops resistance when his family’s business is threatened. He is the only one who is capable of preserving the honor and the power of his family. This changes his character, and his inner ruthlessness is portrayed, thus shadowing any compassion he was shown to possess earlier.
Integrity is also common in this film. The characters are not illustrated as extremely violent or bloodthirsty, at least not outwardly. When Don Corleone causes the murder of the heads of the five mafia families, things are unveiled in implication. It is shown as more of a boardroom than a gang war. Violence is depicted to exist under the appearance of integrity, which is very crucial for the infrastructure (O’Hora 48). Don Corleone’s integrity is evident when he refuses to work with Sollozzo to deal narcotics, which is, in his point of view, wrong, and he stands by his decision, which later causes a turn of unpleasant events. His humility and integrity are later discarded by the new generation leadership through Michael. The older people are shown to possess more appealing values than the younger.
Business and personal issues are shown in several scenes. The cast seems to insist that its business is not personal, especially in regard to criminal activities. All the members of the mafias in the film refer to themselves as businessmen to ensure that the public does not identify exactly what they do. They manipulate a more gentle language in order to hide the truth of their actions. They not only need to tell the public that they are businessmen, they also have to persuade themselves so that they are not overwhelmed by the guilt of their reality (Parikh 548). This concept is used frequently in the movie, hence showing the desire to separate their personal lives from their mafia activities. The realms of business and home should never mix. Violence should never reach their wives and children as well as personal feelings should not affect business decisions whatsoever. However, this is much easier said than done, especially when murders are involved. No Mafioso can understand when the killer of his son only did so to reinforce a business deal.
Further, there is a conflict between legitimacy and respect. Michael is more interested in legitimacy whereas Vito is more concerned about respect. From the time Michael rules the business, he is highly motivated to make the family legitimate in terms of avoiding immorality and criminality (Parikh 544). Legitimacy implies being respected by the law and the society. Michael does not want to be involved in killings, violence, and drug trafficking amongst other illegal activities. Vito requires respect from all the people surrounding him. People value him because they fear and are interested in receiving favors from him. Respect is perceived as the backbone of any mafia family. Disrespect is rewarded with death among other punishments. For Vito, adhering to the leaders through exchanging favors and making requests politely are the part of the things that keep the structure and the hierarchy in place. This shows a conflict between the preferences of people from different generations as portrayed by Vito and Michael in the film.
Michael applies a linear cause and effect means of viewing problems (Poon 188). He regards the relations of all families as diverse links in one system of the power’s hierarchy. He assumes that women and children are not involved. Michael sees binary relations between those who are in the family and those who are not. He warns Fredo not to take sides against the family. Michael is portrayed as a male chauvinist as he convinces himself that his business has nothing to do with his wife. Therefore, he believes that she should not ask her about business. When asked by his wife Kay if he was involved in Carlo’s death, he lies by assuring that he has nothing to do with it.
Further, the difference between men and women is also portrayed when Michael’s father advises him after he took power that women and children can be careless but this is not allowed for men. Vito also tells his son that men and women live in diversified realms whereby men should not discuss business matters with women, and the latter should not question the judgment of men (Parikh 538). Vito claims that if a woman makes a mistake, the implication is not severe. Females can live a more relaxed life in comparison to men who must always beware of their surroundings. However, this barrier between men and women is broken by Connie who becomes more involved in the family business in the course of the film. Despite her involvement, no woman ever achieves any position that is equivalent to that of the Don in power since it is believed that they cannot bear such a heavy responsibility.
The film also contains a number of motifs. The first one is the return to Sicily. In this film, the frequency of the character’s appearance is directly related to how important he is in the film (Graham 2). For instance, Michael, Connie and Kay are common in all three parts of the film. Secondary characters, on the other hand, such as Senator Geary appear rarely. The plot is determined to focus on the primary and the most significant heroes whereas the less important ones are not the center of the viewer’s attention. However, there is one character who is an exception. Don Tommasino is the host for both Vito and Michael and is also a good friend who lives in Sicily, which is where Vito was born and the place the characters visit in every film. Tommasino is a secondary character. Nonetheless, the location Sicily is of the highest importance in the movie.
The first impression created by Sicily is that it is a hilly beautiful countryside. The area seems to be uncorrupted in the modern ways (Graham 1). The characters in this place are poorly dressed like peasants and look uncivilized. This impression is repeated in all the three parts of the movie. This gives the idea that Sicily is a pure land with the possibility of innocence since it provides fair life. It is a symbol of a completely different existence where one can go to escape the harsh criminal life of the mafia. Michael runs to Sicily to avoid the consequences of killing Sollozzo, a member of a different mafia group. Further, Sicily is also depicted as the area of Don Vito’s innocence in his childhood days. It is also seen as a place of art where Anthony is expected to make his debut art. Despite all this, Sicily does not fulfill the impression it creates. It is depicted as haunted by barbaric violence and blood disputes. It is where some dramatic acts of violence occur, for example, the killing of Apollonia who was Michael’s wife. Additionally, the deaths of Vito’s family happened in Sicily, and the revenge murder of Don Ciccio later in the film happens in this region as well. Mary’s murder also occurs there. In spite of its rural charm and attractiveness, Sicily is still the ancestral home of the mafia and therefore, criminal activities are common there.
Another motif presented in the film is corruption. Members of the Corleone family are criminals but seem more decent than most of the public officials they have to deal with during the trilogy. The film presents leaders who are not only extremely corrupt but also two-faced (Parikh 545). For instance, Sergeant McCluskey is not only a police officer but also a bodyguard for Sollozzo, a drug trafficker. In the second part of the movie, Senator Pat Geary is shown trying to extort money. Further, Archbishop Gliday, the head of the Vatican bank, is presented to be involved in criminal dealings and thus participates in the illegal corrupt activities, which include the murder of the pope. These officials have very respected roles in the society and keep growing more corrupt.
A number of symbols are used in the movie. First, windows divide the outside world from the inside. They are usually fragile and a bullet shot goes through easily (Parikh, 539). Michael’s house is shot at through the window and the curtains flutter indicating the invasion of the outside world in their privacy. Another symbol is doors as they separate rooms and divide the house between the female world of a family and the male world of the business. Throughout the film, a woman needs the permission of a man to go through a door. The chair is also shown to symbolize the throne. Remaining seated while others are standing is a sign of power.
In conclusion, this movie is compelling, particularly in terms of using a number of tools such as symbolism and motifs to reveal the characters’ interest and intentions, make the storyline flow easier, and gain the viewer’s attention. It shows a series of criminal activities, the fight for power, the importance of a family, and the distinction of roles of both males and females among other themes and methods to explain the plot.
Cuzzola, John, Jelena Jovanovic, Ebrahim Bagheri, Dragan Gasevic, Zoran Jeremic, and Reza Bashach. "Semantic Tagging with Linked Open Data." CSWS. 2013.
Graham, Paul. "Revisiting Violence in The Godfather: The Ambiguous Space of the Victimage Model." Journal of Religion & Film, vol. 9, no. 2, 2016, pp. 2.
O’Hora, Kendra A. "Life Validation Interview: One Way to Remember and Honor One’s Past." Journal of Family Psychotherapy, vol. 26, no. 1, 2015, pp. 47-55.
Parikh, Margie. "To Join Family Business or Not: Teaching Script and Intrinsic Motivation through The Godfather Trilogy." The International Journal of Management Education, vol. 12, no. 3, 2014, pp. 539-549.
Poon, Phoebe. “The Corleone Chronicles: Revisiting The Godfather Film as Trilogy.” Journal of Popular Film and Television, vol. 33, no. 4, 2006, pp. 187-195.
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