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Film Studies: “The Godfather” by Francis Ford Coppola Essay

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Updated: May 28th, 2020


The much-acclaimed movie ‘The Godfather’ introduces one to the life of a multi-ethnic American family that was of American and Italian background. The film paints a picture of life as it was in the 1940s and part of the 50’s, majorly zeroing in on the most prominent family as far as crime was concerned. The film was directed, Francis Ford Coppola. The producer was Albert Rudy, adopted from Maario Puzo’s and Coppola’s screenplay.

The movie was a sequel to 1969’s novel ‘The Godfather’. The film starred Marlon Brondo and Al Pacino as the head to a powerful New York cartel that was run majorly by a single-family. The storyline revolves around the years between 1945 and 1955. It features around Michael Corleon, a family recluse who transforms from a law-abiding individual to head the mafia whose management is basically a family affair. In this scene, he is portrayed as a cold-blooded leader as due to the nature of his relationship with the Corleone family under the leadership of Vito Corleone, Brando in the movie (The Godfather Movie).

Thematic analysis: seen and unseen

Analysis of the movie would be incomplete without an insight into the major glaring themes within the movie. Some of them, as listed and explained below, include; The business touch to every aspect as distinguished from a personal perspective, the difference in the worlds of men and women then, and the difference that arises from respect and legitimacy. These are explained below;

Business as usual, nothing personal

This phrase has been used several within the play in myriad scenes symbolic of the difference between personal acts and business as it is. Sometimes it tends to emerge as a slogan within the gang cycles, but this briefly describes their daily activities or routines. It is a euphemism to the gruesome activities, and this assists them to view themselves from the secondary adjective they use, as such hide their guilt away. Other phrases used to describe such include family business, and also ‘offer he can’t refuse’. The above affects the audience through the adoption of such phrases in even the highest offices. Phrases such as ‘nothing personal, it’s just business’ have been used in many places and are the usually accepted norms. Their overall effect however is to conceal the speaker’s intentions.

The different worlds of men and women

The movie is wrought with chauvinistic phrases and attitudes that demean women and raise the stakes accorded to men. This occurs in several instances such as his father’s advice when Michael took to head the vast business that is the family empire, “women and children can be careless. Not men” (The godfather movie). The father also reiterates that in business men should not discuss issues with women, and also steps on women with the notion that a woman is not supposed to question any choice or decisions a man makes.

This is also expressed in Vito’s assertions that “women can be careless and can make mistakes because when they do no one dies” (The Godfather Movie). The prima facie explanation to this notion is that women in their world are careless and that they are allowed to live a carefree life. The same is not accepted for men. The reality to this in normal life occurrence cannot be denied given the fact that women are normally secluded from making any decisions that pertain to both family and business interests. During that time the society had segregated women to house roles and taking care of the home, and such women groups and other human rights associations were lobbying for equality (The godfather movie).

Conflict between respect and legitimacy

In the movie, there is a huge disparity between legitimacy and respect. The characters hold different meanings to these principles, for instance with Vito respect fares higher compared to legitimacy. Legitimate in this sense means that ridding the family off all wrongs, both criminal and immoral. Michael wants to cleanse his family; he wants to bring an end to the senseless killing sprees, the bribery, the extortion and gambling (The Godfather Movie).

People respect him out of fear and the favors that accrue from their loyalty to him. On the other hand, the whole mafia families are controlled based on strict adherence to respect, them that defy such are punished by death. The same implies in the normal social set-up given the fact that respect and legitimacy much of the time operate at loggerheads. Legitimacy wields more weight in the normal societal make up given the fact that it draws from many other aspects and has a barring in law. It is therefore enforced, while respect is sometimes discarded as long as one does not step on or break the law in the process.


In the movie, we see the producer’s efforts to bring out clarity and thematic symbols by the styles of words and the surroundings he chooses, the mode of shooting is also at play as he employs several techniques to bring out his desired effects.

The above is illustrated in the following instances: the point in the movie where Michael is seen driving in the company of McCluskey and Sollozzo. That reduced the costs of reverse projection by alternating the position of lights with the car in order to create desired illusion. The most shocking scene in the movie involves a real head of horse; this was, however, detached from the rest of the body that had been borrowed to be used in filming.

Some of the scenes in the movie were inspired by real life events, for instance, the shooting of Moe Greene in the movie thanks to Bugsy Siegel’s death, a notorious criminal. The most intricate part was filming the gruesome death of one Sonny Corleone. It features midway through the movie. To achieve this, his suit was fixed with one hundred and twenty seven squibs of fake blood; these were set to explode simultaneously in correspondence to the simulation of the machine –gun shots.

The colors in the movie are varied to achieve certain dimensions relevant to the script. The color sets the tone and the mood, for instance on occasions where Vito is shown in the office acting the Don, there is minimal light engineered to give a dark dangerous impression. However, the light is just enough to make him visible to viewers. The brightest scene in the movie is definitely at the wedding scene. This occurs in the initial stages of the movie which is a result of the illuminations of bright sometimes shiny costumes which give the wedding a rather celebratory touch. Much of the coloring in the film tends to lean toward dark shades, which give a wholly ghastly representation of the gangs within the movie (The Godfather Movie).


While shooting the movie, the key principals to lighting were adhered to in order to bring out the desired effects. These were majorly the three dimensions to light as are used in filming; key lighting, fill lighting and backlighting. Key lighting was used mainly to illuminate objects or people in the movie who appear close. It is the main source of light that was used in the movie though it was closely accompanied with the other two sets to bring out the desired effects. If it would be used alone key lighting would result to shadows behind the images, therefore fill lighting was used to soften the shadows cast. This other source of light is placed close to the eyes or pictures and images being recorded. Other than this there was a tertiary source of lighting that was used in order to attain depth and give quality to the images.

This light that was used by the director of the film is referred to as backlight and is placed on top of but behind the object being filmed. Again, the above would never be used alone since the resultant images would have silhouettes cast on the screens. The director therefore combined both of these in order to disengage subjects from their natural settings to create the desired atmosphere within the film. Low key lighting as witnessed in the film where Michael swears to kill his enemies is attained by the fusion of highly contrasted ratio between the key and fill lighting resulting to the almost bleached appearance of his face amidst a dark background. Uniform brightness as was the scene at the wedding in the beginning of the play is the result of low contrast ratio between key light and fill light. The resultant feature is a bright atmosphere that is the aura of one happy scene in the movie courtesy of the wedding.


Generally, the movie tends to paint an era in a society where gangs and mobs ruled the cities of New York. The crime rate then was unprecedented, operating at its peak thought history. The effects as such were seen and witnessed while the long-term unseen effects to their malice continued to haunt their subjects and the people they meted their brutality on. As such the movie set out to depict such, only in this case the death of Michael’s father sparking a chain reaction in the name of retaliation by an otherwise formerly patriotic and law abiding citizen. These repercussions were unseen, but they were meted on their enemies.

Reference list

Mark McAuliffe. Bendigo, Vic.: Movieclips.com. 2012. YouTube. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Film Studies: "The Godfather" by Francis Ford Coppola." May 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-studies-the-godfather-by-francis-ford-coppola/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Film Studies: "The Godfather" by Francis Ford Coppola'. 28 May.

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