Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Godfather (1972)

     Happy New Year, friends, and thanks for coming back to read “Reel Christianity”. I hate, however, to start this new year with some sad news: I’m declaring 2013 my last year for writing this blog. I’ll continue throughout the year, but I feel like this may be a good time to end so I can pursue other ministry God has put in front of me. But I look forward to continuing to share my heart with you all, and I’m excited for how we can grow together by finding God in the movies.

     That being said, I’m starting out 2013 with another staple in the history of cinema. It seems a little funny that I haven’t gotten around to writing about “The Godfather” movies yet, but I guess that’s because—and don’t hate me—I don’t find them as groundbreaking as everyone says they are. I do recognize these movies (the first two, anyway; I still haven’t seen “Part III”) as beautiful, powerful films, but I just feel like they’re not that much different, in terms of at least the acting, than some other movies before it, like “On the Waterfront” (ironically also starring Marlon Brando).

     But I still find them an interesting commentary on power, especially in this Catholic context, and so I’ve decided to start the new year with “The Godfather”. The first film introduces us to Don Vito Corleone (played by a magnificent Marlon Brando) and his family—which happens to be a huge, HUGE Italian family. He has three sons, Sonny (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale), and Michael (Al Pacino), with another adopted son named Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and a daughter named Connie (Talia Shire). Michael is courting Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) and brings her to Connie’s wedding, where she marries Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo). And on the day of his daughter’s wedding, Don Corleone cannot refuse a business request from any man.

     What is his business? Well, he’s a Mafia boss. And in the first half-hour or so of the film, we see him promise a man justice on the two young men who beat his daughter, another man that his daughter will be able to marry a young man about to be deported, and his godson, singer Johnny Fontane, that he will be able to get the lead role in a new Hollywood war film. This latter promise we actually see happen—Tom Hagen flies to Los Angeles to meet with the film producer, who is raising a prized horse on his enormous property, and when the producer refuses to put Johnny in the role, Tom has the horse’s hand cut off and planted in the producer’s bed as a threat. (It’s actually a pretty disturbing scene when the producer wakes up the next morning, literally screaming bloody murder.)

     But the way we see Don Corleone, it seems that he has respect for even the other mob bosses in his area, and he also even has limits for the kind of business he wants to do. For instance, when businessman Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) offers Don Corleone an opportunity in the narcotics racket, the Don refuses, calling drugs “a dirty business”. Sollozzo, anxious for the political connections that the Corleone’s have, doesn’t like this, and has an assassination attempt put on the Don so that his oldest son Sonny, who was in favor of the deal, will become the new Don and let Sollozzo in.

     However, when young WWII veteran Michael starts getting involved, things start to get ugly. Michael doesn’t exactly understand this idea of justice versus revenge, and when a corrupt cop working for Sollozzo breaks Michael’s jaw when he tries to visit (and protect) his father at the hospital, Michael is anxious to meet with Sollozzo and the cop to try and settle business—and then kill them both. Sonny’s first reaction to this is the following:

SONNY: (laughs) What, do you think this is like the Army where you can shoot them from a mile away? No, you gotta get up like this, and badda-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. Come here; you’re taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.

MICHAEL: Where does it say you can’t kill a cop? …I’m talking about a dishonest cop, a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. …It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.

     And Michael indeed meets with them, kills them, hides out for a year in Italy, falls in love, watches his lover killed in a car bomb (planted by somebody from the mob looking for him), and then comes back to go through the recovery of his father, the moving of Fredo to Las Vegas, and the assassination of Sonny. So after all that, Michael slowly assumes his father’s position as his father becomes weaker and eventually suffers a fatal heart attack. And once he is the new Don Corleone, he becomes godfather to Connie’s son, orders hits on all the other mob bosses around, and gets deadly revenge on Carlo who evidently played a part in Sonny’s death.

     Like many of the other classic movies around it, such as “Citizen Kane” or “Vertigo”, “The Godfather” is the story of a man who becomes so obsessed with worldly things—in this case, power—that he abandons the things and the people closest to him: I didn’t even mention the ending, where Michael lies about his ordering Carlo’s death to his now wife Kay, and then closes the door on her as he is named Don Corleone by his servants. “The Godfather Part II”, which I probably won’t write about, takes it even farther when Michael orders Fredo’s death and leaves Kay.

     And as I did last year when I wrote about “Citizen Kane”, I’d like to share one of the most powerful Scripture verses I’ve ever read In Matthew 16, when Jesus told his disciples: “‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’” (16:24-26) In order to follow Christ wholeheartedly, we must forget about the things of this world: money, power, even revenge. And instead, we need to look toward Heaven to eternal life. Only then can we be truly satisfied. My prayer for you is that you will indeed be truly satisfied in Him today.

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