I'm one of the people who watched the whole movie trilogy and then after that found out that The Godfather exists as a novel. Naturally, I had to purch...moreI'm one of the people who watched the whole movie trilogy and then after that found out that The Godfather exists as a novel. Naturally, I had to purchase it. It is a matter of taste, I suppose, but next to the movies - so elegant and grandiose - it feels a bit like reading pulp fiction. Maybe it's that the book is lacking the presence of charismatic Hollywood giants Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, whose legendary performances rival those of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind. It's hard to tell. I did feel like the story tended to lose focus once in a while in the middle of the excessive subplots concerning the graphicly described sex lives of Johnny Fontane and Lucy Mancini. But I understand that, at the time, the subjects of pornography and death (especially together) were very controversial and obviously helped a lot with the sales, as the author Mario Puzo himself admitted.
Anyway... the great thing about the book is that the Corleones are all in there of course; the whole main gang. And they get you hooked on everything they do. Classic storytelling at its best. The Godfather is basically an age-old tale about power passing between generations, more precisely from father to (reluctant) son. We have the "kingdom" of Don Vito Corleone and his "three princes". There's the rash and impulsive Santino (Sonny), the dim-witted but soft-hearted Fredo and the handsome and idealistic Michael. Vito also has a neurotic daughter called Connie and an adopted son named Tom Hagen. Who's German-Irish, btw, and works as a lawyer in the "family business". Don Vito is a very powerful and respected "wise old man". He is known for his hospitality and seemigly benign, "reasonable" nature. He grants people "favors" and he is such a master of his game that even brutal monsters like Luca Brasi have sworn loyalty to him. In short - he "makes you an offer you can't refuse". Because, in case you do, be prepared to find a dead horse's head in your bed.
The magic of The Godfather story lies in the fact that it is told entirely from "the inside". Which enables us to care about and relate to characters who, in real life, would be considered despicable as people. It's like an exclusive peek into the closed world of a genuine Italian Mafia family. And we look into this world from a viewpoint similar to the one of Kay Adams - the only outsider in there.
Vito Corleone makes his living mostly through gambling and prostitution and, staying true to his old-school methods, says "no" to drugs. Which is why the other Dons in the New York area decide that he is slipping and it is time to eliminate him. The night Vito is shot, it is his youngest son Michael who shows up in the hospital. Michael is an interesting isolated character. He announces proudly that he doesn't want to have anything to do with the family business and backs this up with his actions. Everything he does is different from his family - he goes to college, joins an army to fight for America and plans to marry a girl who doesn't carry a drop of Italian blood in her, Kay. He starts out as a hero that night, saving his father's life by moving his bed to another room and standing guard on the hospital stairs, displaying qualities (bravery, calculative and cool head under pressure, etc.) that make him an apparent "heir to the throne". When the Corleones work out their revenge strategies, Michael suggests that he should be the one to kill their enemies Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo and the corrupt police captain McCluskey (who has assaulted him with a heavy punch in the face). Against all odds, he ends up executing the two men in an Italian restaurant, during one of the most thrilling and suspenseful scenes ever created. Having done away with the immediate threat to his family, he is then in danger and needs to go into exile. With Michael's trip to Sicily, the narrative perspective shifts and the story becomes his. He travels through the land of his forefathers and discovers the terrifying and bloody history of this beautiful place - the birthplace of the Mafia. He seeks to "connect with his roots" by marrying a beautiful local girl called Apollonia. But blow after blow is delivered to him in there; first with the news of his brother Sonny's murder at home and then with the tragic death of his innocent wife and unborn child through the explosives planted in his car. Everywhere Michael goes, death follows him. Once he returns to America, he is no longer the man he used to be.
Michael's transformation from a young war-hero to a ruthless Mafia boss is both fascinating and devastating. And in the end we feel a deep sense of loss, because we've witnessed a man with so much potential for good and a bright, promising future simply sell his soul and go to hell. Was it the result of his decisions or just unfortunate circumstances doesn't even seem to bear real relevance in here - the story plays it out as an inevitability, as if it was always his fate. Michael is not the only one left to pay for his father's mistakes in a rather biblical manner, either... all of Vito's children do, in their own ways (poor, poor Fredo).
The late Mario Puzo has said that The Godfather is first and foremost about family than anything else. But how much a person would do for their family or how much it would cost them to betray their family are not the only issues it brings up. Layers upon layers upon layers of meaning emerges as the story unfolds. Questions that never find answers (unless you're the actor Tom Hanks who's convinced that all of life's questions can be answered by The Godfather). It somehow manages to authentically reflect the everyday operations of a criminal empire, be a character-driven psychological drama, a tale of immigrant experience (the backstory of Vito's arrival to America) and a study of Italian-American lifestyle all at the same time. While being structured as a modern myth. No wonder it's so popular.