The Godfather: Baptism and Murder
Despite the fact that a movie is only a way to depict a human’s life, and it cannot show all of its tints and hues, the final scene of The Godfather manages to create an illusion of living trough the film, and living with the film. One of the most impressive episodes, it provokes one’s thinking and suggests different points of view on the film. Because of its unusual structure and the means to build the tension, the final scene helps to create the full picture of the movie without letting any end loose.
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The very baptism ceremony was actually supposed to mean more than simply following the tradition established long before within the family and the society. It actually meant making the ties of the family to be bound together, for the members of the once great clan not to get broken and separated, and for the little newborn not to feel lost in the cruel world of the adults, full of cold, suffering and misconceptions.
Next to the scene of baptism, there is the scene of murder. Making a striking contrast to the cool-blooded murder which is happening outside the church, the scene of baptism also serves as the means to highlight the key idea of the book, driving the conflict between the dreams and the reality to the boiling point. With all its splendor and richness, the church looks like the place to escape from the dread and misery of the world outside, where murder and violence are so usual and not falling out of the ordinary for as moment.
Playing on the contrasts which people’s imagination sets as they watch the scene in the church, the film director makes them encounter the situation which they would have never placed in the religious surrounding, which makes the scene look even more natural, so dreadful in its realistic vision.
On the one hand, there is a slight air of surrealism of what is happening inside and outside of the church, yet in the other, the film director makes the audience believe that what they see is truth, which pushes the conflict between the ordinary frame and the scene in the movie even further.
Once a shelter for those who have been lost on their way to paradise and those who have been deprived of hope, the church becomes the place where the lead character of the movie can be safe for once from the cruel reality of what is happening outside of the holy place.
In this case, the church serves as the place where no evil dares tread, and where the lead characters can feel safe for a while, without fearing that the foes can bring any danger on them. A range of the religious attributes which have been depicted in the movie helps to restore the image of the church as the place of safety and sanctity.
One of the key elements which help the scene to become as tense as it can is the music. There should be no better solution for the movie to gain the necessary momentum.
The anxious sounds of the organ, and the solemn and ceremonious music, somehow making one think of the futility of life, also conflicts with the theme of baptism as welcoming the new life into the laps of the church. In general, the impression which the environment in the church sets is somewhat tense, making one feel alert, as if anticipating something weird and scary to happen.
The float of the ceremony contradicts harshly the action which is going on outside. With all its purity and innocence, the church atmosphere is the best background for the murder which is going on outside, for it provides the necessary shade, making the scene of the murder as cruel and useless as it can be. The image of the child, all flesh and blood yet its consciousness clear from the sins and miser of the outer world provides the best background for the murder which is taking place outside the sacred place.
What deserves being described in the most precise way is the religious imagery which Coppola uses to make the scene even more impressive and unbelievable. As the audience sees the church and its perfection, they understand that there must be some other idea which hides beneath the bliss of the richness and the spirituality of the church and its attributes. As the scene unwinds, one can see the church items which are so usual for the Catholic religion, everything dusted with an air of splendor.
Although the camera does not focus on them for a long time, simply snatching the pieces of the attributes bow and again and concentrating rather on the faces of the people in the scene, the people whose faces the camera has gripped in its focus speak better than the words can.
It is peculiar that Michael Corleone’s face expresses nothing but satisfaction, the happiness of being a godfather – and the Godfather… Being completely aware of what is going on behind the door of the church premises, he knows that his time has come, and it adds to his mournful delight of becoming the Don.
Meanwhile, Connie’s face expresses more than mother’s concern about the baby. There is that certain something in her eyes that will not let go even after the film is over. Is it the anxiety? Or the past experience of hers? Or the fear of the future? Anyway, she is afraid, it cannot be denied.
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Because of the method of cross-cutting, the movie looks even more convincing, and the scene becomes saturated with another idea, which is the idea of cool-blooded revenge and the fight for the power over the world. There is nothing personal, it is just business. The fight with the other clan is over, and the rivals have lost the war, which is another reason for Michael Corleone to celebrate his victory. He has proven once again that he is worthy of holding the power over the entire state which the mafia family is.
However strange this may sound, the fighting scene and the scene of baptism crossing each other create the atmosphere of calmness – or, it would be better to say that it heralds the coming of the new era for the family and for the Godfather. It s another stage in the formation of the piece of society which is the most influential one of all existing, for it holds the power over everything that happens in the world of money.
The final stage of baptism and the murder is the triumph of Michael Corleone, because there comes the moment of his recognition – his being recognized as the head of the mafia organization in the entire city. A moment worth living for and killing for, it makes for all the sufferings that Michael went through and makes the audience feel that for now on, he is worth being the head of the organization. The evolution of Michaels’ personality is what one can see in this final scene.
The cross-cutting also provides a retrospective idea of the story, allowing the audience to look deeper into the personality of the lead character and to understand the reasons for him to gain the weight necessary for the young man to become the authority with the people even more experienced and with even greater authority.
The scene adds to the magnificence of the godfather and makes it clear that the young man is o longer an inexperienced youth but a man with enough influence to make the criminal authorities thrill with horror and awe in front of the new Godfather. The smile on Michael’s face signifies that he is perfectly aware of what is going on outside of the church, and he accepts that as the fairest and the most just solution of the problem.
Michael has come to the idea that the famous “cosa”, the business, is the most important thing in his life, while the rest can be settled as time passes. The change of the situations, remaining the light switching off and on, from the church to the murder, form the baptism to the slaughter, provides the deepest understanding of the film and the ideas underlying it.
Although the ceremony could be considered as the background which emphasizes the cruelty and rage of the murder, in fact the ceremony of baptizing serves as the silencer for the cruelties of the savage judgment, turning them into the sequence of mishaps, the obstacles which Michael Corleone removes to gain the weight in the society.
The final scene shows that, although the mafia gas suffered very difficult times, it does not give up. Since the clan is headed by another influential man of cool temper and cold and calculating mind, the mafia will survive one more round of fight.
The Problem of Politics
Although it is a doubtful question whether art is supposed to be responsive to the events of the world or to abstract away from the reality, it seems that a movie industry is the sphere which is bound to be responsive to what is going on in the world. Like many great movies, The Godfather also touches upon the issues of the social life, as well as the politics.
The question is whether the issues that the movie raises are precisely the mores of the epoch when the movie was created. Has the entire spectrum of the political and social issues of the century been depicted in the movie is the question to discuss.
Since the century of the gangs’ rule was one of the most picturesque episodes of the twentieth century evolution, it well deserved depicting in a book, or in a movie, or both. It is a well-known fact that organized crime was a pain in the neck of the American justice in the middle of the twentieth century. The numerous gangs seized the power over the political and economical life of the state, and there was nothing that the legal authorities could do.
Practically, all their actions were restricted to either nonintervention, or to complicity in the deeds of the mafia members. Thus, the influence of the mafia power was huge, which is no wonder, for the very word mafia meant “arbitrary rule”, the notorious lynch law. Whenever there was an incident in which mafia was involved, it was bound to stay unsolved, and there was nothing the police could do.
The power of mafia was more than impressive in the distant 60ies. People dared not speak of the dreadful bandits who killed without mercy and could not be corrupted or annihilated. The members of the mafia seemed to be invulnerable to any influence form the outside, and the only hope for the rest of the people was that the mafia members are busy enough with the consociation. The spheres of their influence were the prior aim of their actions, while the mere mortals did not interest the giants of crime.
The fact that they did not pay attention to the innocent civilians was somewhat soothing for the anxious dwellers of New York of 60ies, since the people could be sure about their own safety and well-being. However, it was well understood that no one could be secured against the riots that could run as the mafia started acting.
Because of the increasing influence of the organization and the police along with the government unable to do anything to fight the rising tide of corruption and the influence from the outside, the citizen felt insecure and dependant on mafia – on the people who knew no mercy and were guided only by their own understanding of the law and order, completely different fro the one which was established in the society.
The representatives of the mafia were actually the new layer of society, the ones who were above the existing justice and the laws of morality suggested by the mere mortals. Although also following their traditions and their specific understanding of what a decent man must and must not do, they made the impression so terrifying that ordinary people could not withstand the very thought of living next to the members of the clan.
With regard to the situation described above, it becomes clear that it was impossible to take the mafia issues out the scope of the audience and the writers. The world needed someone to speak of the people who have been the bugbear of the society for a sufficient amount of time. Because of the scale of the problem, it needed a sufficient consideration, for the mafia families captured almost every sphere of people’s political and economical life.
In fact, the mafia families created an empire within a state, the empire invulnerable and impossible to defeat. The conflicts between the clans was a clash of strong wills and even stronger arms, with everyone who was somewhat connected to the mafia business running a serious danger.
The mafia was practically impossible to defeat, and the only hope for the citizens was that the members of different clans will finally destroy each other and the new order, so unusual and savage for the citizen of the civilized country. Indeed, the latter saw the descendants of Sicily as sort of civilized barbarians who could behave in the society with the due decency and with the politeness worth of a king, but who did not hesitate to kill the person whose point of view contradicted theirs.
On the other hand, there is an idea that it is the society which drives the filmmakers to create the movies with specific morals conflicting with the ones already established. Thus, the films which represent the morals new to the society are aimed at the specific needs of the one. Whenever there is a system represented, the people who area part of this system are subconsciously trying to test this system, checking whether there can be any other way to create a just system functioning on another basis.
In this respect, the movies in question serve as a kind of a valve for letting off steam. The idea is that people need some outlet for their emotions. However well the social system may function, there is always an air of irritation rising now and again about its imperfection, and people feel the urge to escape from the existing reality to see what happens if the imaginary vision of the world comes true. In contrast to the previous idea of the films depicting the reality of the New York streets, this idea can be dangerous.
Once idealizing the world of gangsters, people might take the means of mafia as the model for their social behavior, which may result in the future social tragedies. One of the most important points of the cinema is that it idealizes the characters it creates. Thus, hundreds of people are trying to imitate the heroes which the films create, and forget to live their own lives.
Since the images created by the cinema and the live people are incompatible, a huge conflict emerges, and the only way out is to accept the model of behavior suggested by the society, however unpleasant and inappropriate it seems to the spectator. Unfortunately, it is not often that the result of fighting the movies virtual reality ends up in the victory of the spectator.
On the contrary, it is often that the man is consumed by the world which has been suggested by the film directors to him. The situation becomes even more complicated as the spectator understands that he has been trapped in the image of the hero whom he has thought up himself. The image which people wanted to see on the TV-screen so much suddenly turned into an enemy of their own.
It is quite understood that the entertainment industry never contradicts the will of the audience, and in case people want to see something, they get it immediately. Because of the cinema focusing on what people want, not on what they need, there is a constant conflict between the reality and the illusion which the cinema creates.
Although the images of the heroes which cinema creates are the imprint of the century with all its famous personalities and the deeds of theirs, the audience fails to understand that these are the ideas, not the live people whom they see in the movie. Thus, the audience gets trapped into the pit of their own wishes and ambitions.
Indeed, following the footsteps of the famous gangsters and the other people of huge success is alluring, especially if the latter are portrayed as the people of great will and influence. As the audience watches the adventures and the peripeteia of the gangsters’ lives, the audience feels that becoming dangerous is another step to greatness.
Unfortunately, some of them try to put the newly acquired knowledge into practice. With all regard to the art o cinema, it must be well remembered that film directors merely try to take a snapshot of the epoch, but not to create the model for all people to follow. Indeed, the action movie heroes are an attractive material to apply to the everyday life. However, for the sake of one’s own safety and the well-being of the rest, this must not be done.
Thus, the question whether these are the people or the film directors who make the anti-heroes appear on the screen remains open. Such is the specificity of film-making that all the elements of a man’s life including the social and the political ones find their place in the moviemaking process.
However, it still seems that the impact of the society on the movie industry drives the latter to create the movies of the kind. Without the historical prerequisites, it would have been impossible to create the movies of the kind. Still, whatever the reasons for the given movies to be created are, there is no doubt that they are the masterpieces which are taken into the pattern of the art of the twentieth century to make the full picture of what the epoch was like.