I watched The Godfather the other day and was asked to give a review of it, so these are my thoughts, though I think I may have gone a bit off track somewhere along the way.
The Godfather is a movie about the Corleone’s, a powerful Italian-American family in the 1940’s, who publically are in the business of olive oil, and privately have their hands in gambling and other criminal activities. The Corleone’s are one of five powerful families in new york, with them being the most powerful they have ties to politicians, newspapers, restaurants, and just about every section of the city. A comparison can be made to other well-known families, such as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, and Bush families. The family and business are run by Vito Corleone, who’s priority above all else is his family and their well being — The movie also get’s its title from this character, who is the godfather to many friends and families children, the title of godfather is a very important and respected privilege to the Italian-American community. Everything that Vito does is justified in his eyes as being for his family, whether it be threatening the head of a studio to boost his godson’s career, or refusing to deal with drugs because he believes that it would tear apart the eco-system between the other four families.
I could continue talking about the machinations of the movie, and my interpretations of the characters and the plot, but I’m going to shift a little to talk about the technical side of the movie. There was some very incredible lighting that I took note of whenever Vito Corleone was conducting Business; the lighting was set up to cast shadows on his eyes so that you couldn’t see them, it creates a menacing look, this could be partly in due to the fact that like a mask, when people are not able to see someone’s eyes they become a little less human, and it put’s the mind on alert. You can tell that the movie was shot on film partly because of the slight noise on screen if you watch closely, but largely because if you watch, the colors at times can seem a little washed, this is because the film itself is washed out and slightly damaged, causing certain scenes to have more offset look. They also really liked fading when changing scenes, but I’m sure that can probably be attributed to the fact that they were limited by the technology they had available at the time; where you didn’t have a lot of choices when it came to making a cut, or scene change, not like today where everything is digitally edited and you can make some absolutely gorgeous scene changes. Another thing was the flow of the movie, I thought that it did a very good job of keeping a steady rhythm, never really dropping in pace.
There’s the mark that this movie has left in modern cinema, iconic elements that have become a part of pop-culture, such as the voice of Vito Corleone, the sort of respiratory breathing, coupled with a low scratchy Italian-accented voice – the line “Make them an offer they can’t refuse” coupled with the implied innuendo has also become a staple remark when talking about making a “persuasive deal” with someone.
On the use of narrative devices and getting the point across, it is conveyed from the first five minutes of the film just about everything you need to know about the presence Vito Corleone has, and that he is, in fact, a powerful individual – you can see that he’s surrounded by consul’s and bodyguards, while an associate asks a “favor” which is implied to hold a lot of weight. I think it’s impressive how much world building and information there is to take in from that short amount of time. The use of deaths can feel heavy, but I think that’s because unlike your modern action/crime movie, the deaths have an impact on the story. Look at a James Bond movie; plenty of people die, but they’re unknown entities, or they’re chalked up to as “grunts” or “bad guys”, but killing and deaths in those movies are more romanticized, they have you rooting and cheering for the protagonist as he creates enough bodies to fill a cemetery at his feet, versus a movie where deaths are used sparingly and are not handed out like candy on Halloween. It makes it feel important since you know these characters, and have watched them it feels more tragic to see them leave the screen, but if you break it down the moral ambiguity disappears, because if you strip them away of all their features, characteristics, and individual traits, your left with a death, which is from a moral standpoint equal to everyone, that is to say, nobodies death should be held above another.
So why is it that we have audiences cheer for characters who are almost like death incarnate? Because from a literary standpoint it is a biased point of view. You’re looking at things from that character’s point of view, you see things from their perception as they’re presented to you; in turn, you befriend their opinion and choose to agree with it, because they’re the familiar character – In fact we are willing to go so far as to ignore and justify detestable actions made by a character in order to accommodate the present bias. However, if you were to take a step back and look at both sides of a story you might see that things are not as straightforward as they seem. You might see that the views of the main protagonist are in fact corrupt — some movies take note of this and actually use it as a narrative device to create a conflicting turmoil in the mind of the viewer because it is clear that the main character is acting in a more heinous way, but they might be charismatic, or charming. But does that justify their actions? One thing that is used to nudge the viewer to sympathize with a character like this is to have a traumatic backstory, something to justify why they are like this, to in turn justify their actions. It takes a lot of skill to successfully pull this off, to have a “bad” protagonist that the viewer agrees with. That’s my view on things anyway.