Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Have you seen The Godfather from 1972? If not here’s a new product just for you! It was revolt-ionizing during its time and even today is like many favourites, myself included. This is an analysis of The Godfather as a gangster film, its forms of portrayal, and the power that the central character Michael Corleone has during the film. We will examine the imagery, the characters, and how the power is brought out in the film. The Godfather is highly praised by many and is considered, despite his power and violence, to be one of the foremost works in film history. The purpose is to analyze mainly how it uses its imagery to portray the power of the main characters and what it means during the development of the film.
Multimodality, or forms of design, affect both sound and image, and how these communicate with each other. The perspective is how the Godfather uses imagery to portray the power of the main character – Michael Corleone. The Godfather uses a lot of image composition and camera work to clarify the characters’ positions with each other. A clear example can be found in An Introduction to Film Analysis: Technique and Meaning in Narrative Film, where the authors, with pictures, show a radical change in Michael when he becomes the new leader of the family business. Production Company Paramount Pictures had dubious discussions about whether Francis Ford Coppola was the right man to direct Mario Puzo’s bestseller. The director laid a new foundation with this film and the doubts from Paramount Pictures were reduced.
With the nice camera work together with excellent acting from the whole ensemble, the dark tone of the film has a clear effect. The characters we get to follow are not the most common protagonists, the Corleone family are gangsters, villains who are entrusted with their lives by occasionally taking revenge on their enemies, and a system built up by services. After all, there is a moral to Vito Corleone (Brando) and Michael (Pacino) that the film largely revolves around. Even if they are gangsters and criminals, it is still easy to get involved in the film. During the first five minutes of the film, a kind of everyday life is presented to Don Vito, this becomes more believable with the help of the distinct colour temperatures, the camera work, and the acting, which keeps the same level throughout the film. The genre of Gangster film is depicted in The Godfather. An example is that Michael’s girlfriend Kay, played by Diane Keaton, acts as a support to the character. Those women most often become a support for the central character. This type of genre is addressed in Alternative Scriptwriting: Beyond the formula. Kay is the one Michael is entrusted with and tells how he feels about his family. Until the end, she acts as a reflection of his feelings. As his power increases within the family, it is most noticeable to her, the more he rejects her, and their relationship becomes even more instant.
Until the assassination attempts on Don Vito Corleones, we do not know much about Michael, as the father is in focus. After Don is subjected to the assassination attempt, Michael steps forward as a character and takes a larger place. From An Introduction to Film Analysis, exemplifies how Francis Ford Coppola uses this to show that Michael has made a change – as he sits down in the middle of the room in the armchair and plans revenge on other gangster leaders. Here, both authors talk about how the camera slowly zooms in on Michael to show that he is the one in power and an indication of who will be the new Godfather. The camera focuses on Michael to disperse his men aside and isolate him alone. It is Michael who takes over and it is now he wants to take power, but it does not go so well even if he finally shows what he is capable of. It’s a meeting in progress and they’re preparing. The dinner scene functions in many ways as a key scene, throughout the film. This is the first time Michael shows what he can do and that he is prepared to go to great lengths to be able to exact his revenge. Without that scene, the whole film’s narrative structure fails.
This is further addressed in Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. After the double murder, we start cheering on Michael, he is now a kind of hero, and we want to get away with the murders. Without that scene, his wife in Sicily would not have been blown up in a car, he would not marry Kay and his brother Sonny would not die at the toll. I find that scene leads to Michael becoming the new Godfather. Because if he had not murdered Sollozzo and McCluskey, he would not have had to flee the country or even have his brother killed. Michael still wants revenge, because when he has returned to New York after several years abroad, he is the new head of the family business. Don Vito has since retired until his death. Shortly afterwards, Michael goes with his half-brother Tom Hagen (Duvall) to Las Vegas where he meets his brother Fredo, the casino owner Moe Greene and John “Johnny” Fontane. Johnny appeared earlier in the film and asked the Godfather for a role in a Hollywood movie. The artist and actor Fontane is the godson of Vito Corleone. The director denied him the role, but the Corleone family gave him an offer that emphasized their power – a severed horse’s head in bed. Because Johnny got what he wanted, he owed Michael a job, which was now responsible for the family business.
At previous meetings that both Michael and Vito have, you can now understand why Johnny is doing Corleone’s family, a favour because otherwise, he is dead. To prove that the Corleone family has power and wants to show what they stand for, they mainly use violence and death threats if they do not get their way. Once Michael is back in New York, Michael steps into gangster life in parallel as he becomes the Godfather of his sibling’s child. This happens in connection with the baptism of Connie’s boy, as it is a quick parallel haircut where Michael’s men kill the top five bosses in each gangster family. Carlo, his brother-in-law, is killed after betraying the family for the murder of Sonny. This leads to Connie having a breakdown and Kay witnessing it. Even if she asks if it’s true, Michael denies it. Despite her doubts, she makes a drink for both of them, at the same time as Michael is introduced as Don Corleone. During the last act, Michael has replaced his father as the new Don for the family business and has regained his power.
As Sonny (James Caan) was killed during the film’s second act, it is clear here that Michael has a taste for power over the family and its criminal activities. He has been given a new identity as a character, which is reflected in his sister Connie and wife Kay who does not like his new position of power. The film thus lives up to its intended metaphor – capitalism in America. This is further addressed in Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. It is also mentioned here that the film is not about organized crime but is a family chronicle. Many of these death scenes take place outdoors, including Don Vitos, Sonnys, and Carlos. Here one can conclude that those who die within the family, do so outdoors while the enemies die indoors. According to Film Analysis, it may be because Michael feels calm indoors in his office, hence the warm lighting, he is more fragile and harmful outdoors. Most likely that’s why the film ends the way it does – Michael has a new identity, and is indoors and safe.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In this film, it is Vito who shows the family’s power as a starting point and after the assassination attempt, it is Michael who takes after him and becomes his replacement. As Michael’s position of power increases, there is a deepening of his character. The crime that the film revolves around becomes subtle and familiar. Power becomes part of the film, part of the protagonist and his actions. The film has a warm colour temperature, and the cutting in the death scenes is fast and efficient to maintain the tension. The camera work is intended. My opinion is that the family chronicle makes it easy to relate to it. The family and the game of power constantly influence each other. On the other hand, I would say that family is the primary and power play is the secondary focus. All characters are either related or see each other as a family. The Godfather makes the gangsters’ power play and violence feel natural due to the film’s atmosphere, characters, and genre. Even so, it has an impact fifty years after its initial release.
- Dancyger, Ken & Rush, Jeff, Alternative scriptwriting: writing beyond the rules, Focal, Boston, 1991
- Geiger, Jeffrey & Rutsky, R. L., Film Analysis: a Norton reader, 2. ed., W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 2013
- Ryan, Michael & Lenos, Melissa, An introduction to film analysis: technique and meaning in narrative film, Continuum, London, 2012
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