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Design & Composition in “The Godfather” Film Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jul 15th, 2021


In films, the visual representation of characters and events in the context of a specific design plays a critical role in conveying a certain message and provoking emotions in the audience. The Godfather (1972), directed by Francis Ford Coppola, can serve as a vivid example of the importance of design, composition, and colors in creating the desired meaning and effect on viewers. This visual impact can be achieved by intentionally using the elements of composition and colors, focusing on the relationships between characters and moral or philosophical issues. It is possible to state that the scenes in The Godfather are built according to the principles of a compositional frame supported by a dominant color palette selected by Coppola. The purpose of this paper is to analyze how the details of design and composition as well as colors used in The Godfather contribute to accentuating relationships between characters and emphasizing moral and philosophical dilemmas.


The role of design in films is to express the meaning by the visual language and composition, evoking a strong emotion in the audience. In The Godfather, some key elements of design are used to complete Coppola’s goals: differences in angles shift accents on characters, and the use of colors supports the themes of family, love, dedication, and death (Block 159). In his film, Coppola is focused on contrasts that play different roles. For example, in the scene of meeting Vito Corleone and Bonasera, Corleone’s office is shadowed, as well as the figure of Vito, to put emphasis on the power and secrets of this character in contrast to Bonasera. Furthermore, in this scene, Vito has a red rose on his lapel that contrasts with the surroundings of a dark office and attracts the viewer’s attention (The Godfather). In the first case, the contrast allows for thinking about differences in positions of these two men. In the second case, a red rose typically associated with a love symbol can provoke thoughts about blood.


The detailed focus on the composition of scenes in The Godfather helps to reveal the following aspects: much attention is paid to camerawork and creating different angles and perspectives. As a result, the way of how characters are set in a scene and how they are accentuated with the help of camera movement contributes to emphasizing the relationship between them (Mercado 2). For instance, in most scenes where characters communicate with Vito, they stand or sit in front of each other in dark settings, stressing tension and a possible conflict between them because of hierarchy (The Godfather). Thus, dark settings typical for indoor scenes highlight the importance of conversations between the characters, the content of which should not be disclosed. On the contrary, the composition of scenes that represent family members is different, and these characters tend to sit or stand on the left or right of each other, demonstrating their closeness and attachment. Color and light schemes in these scenes are brighter in comparison to scenes portraying Vito.


The prevalent color palette in the film includes black, white, dark brown, red, mahogany, and orange to accentuate key messages and moral issues. Warm colors like orange, red and mahogany can make the audience think about family and coziness of home, but in contrast, they support black in scenes where conflicting characters demonstrate violence. The used colors contradict viewers’ feelings, and they emphasize immorality of the Corleone family’s actions explained with love and benefits for all family members. Using such color effects, Coppola draws the audience’s attention to philosophical and moral dilemmas referring to the family’s well-being as the reason for making controversial decisions (Block 159). The orange-black dichotomy is represented in The Godfather in those scenes where it is important to accentuate the complexity of characters’ moral decisions as they need to choose between the good and the bad. Furthermore, Bellantoni notes that “The color flow in this film is exquisite. Never has a church been as dark for a baptism as in the baptism/slaughter sequence” (116). Thus, the color also stresses religious and philosophical issues with reference to the role of a godfather in family and society.


The analysis of design, composition, and colors used in The Godfather to create a certain visual effect has been presented in this paper in the context of their role in explaining relationships between the characters. The composition of scenes serves to lead the audience’s attention from one character to another depending on their hierarchy. Furthermore, it is also important to state that the use of the orange-black dichotomy supported by the palette of saturated and rich dark and warm colors contributes to representing moral dilemmas in the characters’ behavior. In the film, male characters face issues that cause them philosophically rethink their role in the family and society and make a problematic decision. Thus, it is possible to conclude that the world of the Corleone family is depicted in the film with the help of warm and dark colors in order to accentuate the ambivalent nature of their actions.

Works Cited

Bellantoni, Patti. If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling. CRC Press, 2017.

Block, Bruce A. The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media. 2nd ed., Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

The Godfather. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, performances by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, and Sterling Hayden, Paramount Pictures, 1972.

Mercado, Gustavo. The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Design & Composition in "The Godfather" Film." July 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/design-amp-composition-in-the-godfather-film/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Design & Composition in "The Godfather" Film'. 15 July.

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