Due to the brouhaha over the slap controversy from this year's Oscars, many things slipped under the radar. One of them would be the speech by Questlove after his win, which was abruptly left out of the live telecast. The monumental win by an independent film like Coda also got shadowed. The saddest part for many film-lovers like me was to see the The Godfather tribute not being the highlight of the ceremony. Even while these awards have no direct relation to cinematic value or artistry, it was unfortunate to see the three icons not receive more-than-deserved limelight.
Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Francis Ford Coppola – the iconic trio from the 70s had made something so monumental that any further adaptations were inevitably compared with its depth and mastery. It cannot and should not be dismissed as just a mafia film narrating the extravagant lives of gangsters, for it conveys much more about the themes that still persist. We all have families, the ones we are born into and the ones we create – be it purposefully or without intent. That makes the themes universal even if the tradition of Godfather is specific to a particular culture. Trust, loyalty, the complicated relationship with morality – all the aspects discussed in this magnum opus are ingrained in social structures all across the globe.
It is astonishing how much the screenplay brings out from Mario Puzzo's eternal classic. There is so much to uncover in both the Oscar-winning films, which makes it impossible for me to pick just one as the superior. I don't mean to be dramatic, but it feels as if I'm asked to choose between my children, both of whom I adore just as deeply! While the first film makes unbridled creative choices, the sheer restraint exercised in the second one is deeply moving.
In the 1972 film, we witness a narrative of generational succession through an inevitable shift in the morality of an individual. In his fading years, Don Vito Corleone is looking for a responsible person to hand over his throne and he believes his youngest son, Michael to be the right person for the role. His unshakable belief in Michael stems from his reliability, intelligence, and clear-headed judgments. Michael hitherto stayed away from his family's shady business affairs and tried to stay on the good side. His disinterest in such a position stemmed from the same value system. Yet, that disinterest eventually turns into a chain of venomous acts of vengeance that he performs to make a showcase of his status – to assert himself as the strongest in any room that he walks in. Through him, we encounter the terrible tragedy of the loss of innocence.
A film filled with an abundance of depth in its narrative is just as impressive in terms of its form. There are several significant scenes that stand out for their sheer cinematic genius. With a great understanding of space and time, the creators flesh out these scenes, considered to be some of the most remarkable ones in cinematic history.
Think of that scene where Michael Corleone sits in an empty restaurant, with an enemy on the opposite end of the table. He is trying to summon up the courage to do something from where there's no turning back – from which point, he will be known as a killer. Not just the perceived identity but his self-image will be tainted by the sheer weight of the burden of killing someone. A deliberate push-in of the camera along with the muted sounds assists in further illustrating the mental state of a quivering, sweating Al Pacino. During the turning point of the scene, the viewpoint suddenly shifts from a tight close-up to a wide view. From the muted sounds, our focus shifts to the all-encompassing silence in the room, filled with just the exterior sounds. The subtext is communicated through an ingenious mix of form, script, and acting performances. It is hard to not be enamoured with such unparalleled work.
The sequel from 1974 interlinks the journey of a father and a son with respect to different eras. While both of them find power in different shapes and forms, all it takes for either of them to start giving in to greed and corruption is ja touch of sin. For Vito, it is a package filled with guns; and for Michael, it is the slap from a police officer and inadvertently to his ego. They get a taste of what power feels like. The fable of morality digs deeper into the ways they lead their lives that are reflective of their respective pasts.
Vito comes to America with the identity of an immigrant, who needs to create his own presence to gain respect. In a way, that was his way of survival in a foreign land where he needed to struggle to be accepted. On the other hand, the position of power was bestowed upon Michael, whose struggle was not to assert himself in foreign territory but to live up to the image of his father, to be a worthy successor. Towards the end, all he becomes is a puppet for the huge legacy of the Godfather, forgetting his past moral self.
The lengths that the male characters from these narratives go to maintain their bloated egos hold up a mirror to toxic masculinity with a raw emotional potency. The journeys transcend the realms of a plot and achieve gravitas with a visceral kind of thematic exploration. In the end, what The Godfather and its sequel establish is how our choices define us, shape us, and can isolate us from the joys that we were once fighting to protect.