The Godfather: Part II

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By Craig Joseph

A few Saturdays ago, I got together with my friends, Brian and Melissa, to undertake a monumental task: introduce Brian to The Godfather trilogy by watching all three films in one sitting.  A daunting endeavor, to be sure, and we were so emotionally exhausted after the first two installments that we couldn’t suffer through Sofia Coppola’s abysmal acting in the third.  But the day did confirm one thing for me.

This is the greatest movie sequel of all time.

It’s got fantastic acting.  A killer screenplay.  DeNiro and Pacino together.  A story of ascendancy and another of decline being told in tandem.  A seminal score.  This list goes on and on.  It’s better, I think, than the first.  And the only other time that’s happened is when The Empire struck back.

But it took watching this in community with three very different people to appreciate the film’s finest attribute: its ability to generate (and support) a wide multiplicity of readings and meanings.  For Brian (the father of two young children, upsetting the current balance of his family’s life to head to med school), Part Two was about how present-day Michael destroys the family for which past-tense Vito struggled and provided.  Melissa (his wife) saw everything (in the first two films, in fact) building to the climactic moment when Kay confesses and likens her marriage to the abortion she’s recently had; the closed door motif breaks down and – for the first time in the series – a woman’s voice must be heard.  What I saw this time around terrified me.

Myself.

To be sure, I won’t be hacking up a prostitute any time soon in an effort to blackmail a Canton city councilman into allowing gambling in my gallery.  But I am capable of fervently pursuing a misguided course of action, despite the warnings of others and means that don’t justify the ends, if I can fool myself into thinking my motives are pure and honorable.  And that’s what was chilling about Pacino’s performance for me this time around: he actually thinks he’s protecting his family – even if it means killing his brother, imprisoning his wife and driving an old-time associate to suicide.

But isn’t that the truth about humanity?  Very few of us are just evil, wicked and cruel.  But all of us are prone to self-deception and, at our worst, we’re delusional.  And that’s what makes us (and movies) fascinating to watch.  Say what you want to about Dubya and oil and greed; I think that somewhere – in his heart of hearts – that guy actually believed that we were fighting a life and death battle against terrorism – and that he needed to play hero.  Remember Oral Roberts and his shenanigans?  You’d never behave that audaciously unless you actually believed that God had given you a divine mandate.

I cite some extreme cases, but I don’t know that I’m that far off.  The desire to be proven right and vindicated runs so strong in my blood that it’s a rare day when I’ll abandon a conviction that I’ve passionately held – even if it’s going disastrous.  And so, even though I’m not ordering assassinations, surrounded by henchman, I’m starting to view The Godfather, not as the chronicle of a Mafia boss unlike me, but as a sort of Everyman who has a few things warnings to dole out.

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