What is it that draws us to the Godfather? While not as common an icon as Al Pacino’s Scarface, plenty of Michael Corleone posters hang on dorm room walls 35 years after the film was made. On the surface it seems simple. It’s the fantasy of having a quick solution to an intractable problem. Sure Michael Corleone is a murderer, a liar, and controls an evil criminal empire. But he really gets results. He makes decisions clearly and quickly and he acts. When he meets his first wife, Apollonia, he asks her father for her hand in marriage that same afternoon, based on one look across a meadow. When he finds his wounded father unguarded in the hospital he uses a nurse, a baker and a bit of bluff to scare off a car full of assassins. The story of the first Godfather movie is the story of his rise to power, and perhaps the loss of his soul to the family business. It is also the story of a young man who comes into his own. In that respect, it is somewhat heartening to watch the younger brother of the Corleone family rise by his wits, ingenuity and loyalty to his family. Though the movie goes a long way to show his motives for all the bad things he does, there is an underlying current of ambition moving through the character. Does fate force his hand or does merely see every disaster as an opportunity to take control and move forward?
One of the most famous and effective sequences in The Godfather is the montage of the baptism, in which Michael’s vow to protect and preserve the soul of Carlo’s child is intercut with a series of murders that Corleone orchestrated. The priest asks him if he renounces Satan and all his works as the soundtrack thunders along with an organ straight out of a silent melodrama and Fat Clemenza blows away a mark with the stereotypical gun hidden in a flower box. That is the appeal of the character to me. We haven’t quite figured out whether he is the Devil, has made a deal with him or is something different we can’t name.