The Don and his sons.
(Paramount Pictures publicity still)
*Somerset, PA Daily American
May 29, 2010
as "A Great Man Movie"
Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written content only
In 1972, a movie hit American theaters that had a defining effect on our culture. “The Godfather” chronicled the story of a Sicilian-American organized crime “family,” the Corleones.
The story captivated the public to be sure, but men especially were riveted by the story. The characters were larger than life, and in a twisted sort of way, became role models. Suddenly, the Mafia had become cool. And in the decades since, the Godfather Saga has become irretrievably etched into our lives, to the unending exasperation of Italian-Americans across the nation.
Women are almost universally repulsed by the movies, due mainly to the violence and the portrayal of the female role in that that culture. My wife bought me for my birthday, the latest DVD incarnation of all three movies with the proviso that I could only watch them when she was out of the house.
Men, on the other hand, embrace Godfather, as Tom Hanks put it in the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” “the I Ching of life.” He was referring to the ancient Chinese “Book of Changes,” that helped people deal with life changes by providing solutions and a measure of solace. The aphorisms that the film created have found their way into the daily lexicon from the Boardroom to the ballfield:
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“Go to the mattresses.”
“It’s not personal; it’s business.”
“Luca Brazi sleeps with the fishes.”
“I want you to see what he’s got under his fingernails.”
“I heard you were a serious man; to be treated with respect.”
“You have to answer for Santino, Carlo.”
“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
They’re great phrases, adaptable to any number of situations and because they’re so well known, the intended meaning is instantly clear.
As to why males find the story so fascinating, the answer to that question I believe lies in the culture of manhood.
Men strive to power. Even as children, we are told that we must command the situation; rule the room. To do less was to be less of a man. And to wield the power of life and death is the ultimate expression of power.
Because of the way we’ve been acculturated, men innately understand power, although that understanding is rarely vocalized or even acknowledged. Intertwined also with that understanding is the desire for respect. Within the public world, respect is rendered through an appreciation of a man's honor and integrity; his skills and abilities; the capacity to do what no one else can. But because fear is a darker form of respect, it is the ultimate expression of deference. We all want to be the man who can silence a room simply by entering.
The Godfather is also a morality tale. In the unwinding of events, we see how seductive and addictive power is. And how thoroughly it corrupts.
There are other inducements -- wealth, women, the flaunting of the law. But it is having that power of mortal decision that draws a lot of men irresistibly to this powerful epic.
There are also political overtones.
In its beginnings, the Corleone family becomes powerful by, in part, being the strong arm for immigrant people rejected by the rest of society. The Mafia Dons provided protection for those who could not find it anywhere else. The price of that justice was complete loyalty, but to poor immigrants, it was a small price to pay. In the powerful opening scene, Vito, castigating the undertaker for his lack of faith, communicates the value of his friendship.
"And if by chance an honest man like yourself would make enemies,
then they would become my enemies.
And then...they will fear you."
And the price…
“Someday… I will call upon you to do a service for me.”
Even in Sicily, La Cosa Nostra was the government when there was no government; the justice system when there was no justice; and the army when there were no soldiers.
This is the political lesson of this story. When a government refuses to be champions for its people, the people will find their own champion.
Even if that hero carries a whip.