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Social Problems in The Godfather Movie Essay

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Updated: Jun 9th, 2020

Throughout the history, crime was one of the biggest problems in the society. Crime is commonly considered a form of behaviour deviated from the social norms and values. Nowadays, people face crime every day both in the real life and on the TV screens. In the reality it threatening the security and the wellbeing of the community, but in art and fiction it becomes a form of entertainment. Many writers, artists, and movie directors tell the amusing and spectacular stories about gangsters and other criminals in their works. The movies and novels have created a new image of criminals who are appealing and prepossessing. The crime and gangster movies and books are meant to entertain as well as to draw the attention of the public to the social problems.

For example, “The Godfather,” a movie created by Francis Ford Coppola in 1972 tells the story of the Sicilian crime dynasty located in New York. Coppola depicts the issues of the crime from the perspectives of the criminal group insiders. Although at some points the main characters of “The Godfather” are represented as honoured and fair, the analysis of the events constituting the movie’s plot make it clear that the criminal behaviour can be proliferated and maintained through the relations among the community or family members, and that the actions the criminals undertake on the way to success of their business create the huge problems in the society by violating the human and civil rights.

The Godfather

“The Godfather” narrates the story of the Sicilian mafia family located in New York. The settings of the movie embrace the period from 1945 to 1955. The movie starts when the paterfamilias, Don Vito Corleone, gives his daughter in marriage. At this time, his beloved son, Michael, comes back home from the Second World War. Michael is the war hero, and all the members of the family are very proud of him. And moreover, he isn’t eager to participate in the family’s cruel business and wants to live a simple and more Americanized life.

The main character of the movie, Don Corleone, is the head of the mafia family. He prefers to stick to the traditions and the old-fashioned methods of the business conduction. Nevertheless, the times change and the heads of the other mafia families want to transform the established order. They attempt to assassinate Don Corleone and to take hold of the greater power. After the assassination attempt against his father, Michael gets involved in the family business. At first he kills two of the competitors, Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey, in search of revenge. When he kills them, Michael is compelled to leave the country. Nevertheless, the mafia war continues. The family faces a lot of intrigues, challenges, and murders. After the death of his older son, Don Corleone becomes devastated and is determined to put the war to an end. He arranges the gathering of the mafia families’ heads and officially makes peace with the Tattaglia family. However, Mafiosi continue the conspiracy against Corleone.

After a few years spent in Italy, Michael comes back to the USA. His father resigns, and Michael becomes the head of the family. For recovering the dignity of the family, the other mafia leaders and the family’s traitors get killed under his direction. After the Don Corleone’s peaceful death, Michael becomes in charge of the family business and the Godfather.

Francis Coppola’s Perspective on Crime

Crime fiction is one of the most prominent genres in movies. While detective fictions and the crime thrillers where the criminals get exposed by the righteous peace officers are of great interest to the audience, Francis Coppola’s movie rather offers a new view on the crime from the perspective of the Mafia insiders. The movie “The Godfather” is based on the novel by the Italian-American writer Mario Puzo. It depicts the criminal activities as the part of the everyday life of the mafia family.

According to the author, the criminals in the movie are divided into two basic opposite types. The first type is represented by Don Corleone, a traditionalist Mafiosi, who respects the family bonds and for the sake of honour and conscience can refuse the participation in the new kind of business even if it promises to be profitable. The second type is the criminals who betray the others, who don’t respect traditions, and are aimed merely at the financial benefits. The second type is represented as the completely immoral and dehumanized while it is possible to recognize the sentimental feelings, adherence to the ethic, and dignity in Don Corleone. In the movie Don Corleone represents the mythological and idealistic image of a dignified Mafiosi that is basically created to appeal to the audience.

The attractive mafia representation in “The Godfather” is rather fictitious than the real-life situation. Even so, Coppola successfully adverts the issues of the crime pervasion to the social and political institutions, the officials’ corruptibility and the inefficiency of jurisdiction. According to Coppola, the politicians and the police representatives play the crucial roles in the crime support and proliferation.

Michael Corleone’s involvement in the family business deserves some special attention. Initially, he didn’t feel any attraction to the criminal deeds but as the events gather momentum and become more sorrowful for the Corleone family, he gradually finds himself in the business. “It was the love and affection of Michael towards his family and especially for his father which made him took up revenge and pushed him to join the family business” (Abhilash, 2015, p. 8).

The Michael’s killing of Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey is the personal matter. However, as the events continue to develop, the Michael’s character evolves. In the end, he becomes “a far more ruthless and immoral man when compared to his father” (Abhilash, 2015, p. 8). It is evident that the main factor for the Michael transformation was his closeness to the family and the connection to the criminal environment. This situation described in the movie is very close to the reality, as it is observed by many researchers that the people often learn deviance from their community members.

In “The Godfather” Francis Ford Coppola’s perspectives on crime are partly realistic. The criminals are shown as the ordinary people who have emotions, weaknesses, and moral principles. The mafia is endued with the features that provoke sympathy and seem attractive to the audience. These features do not correspond to the reality, but the corruption and injustice that are a part of the movie’s plot seem to be real. Coppola also efficiently depicts the reasons that can cause the person’s engagement in the criminal activities – a person can become a criminal influenced by the circumstances or the relations with the other criminal community members.

Crime in the Real World Society

In the real world society, crime is regarded as the opposition to the normal behaviour and the regular values. The sociologist from around the globe research the issues of crime, the reasons for the deviant behaviour and its impacts on the society. Nowadays, a great number of theories on crime and deviance exist, but functionalist perspective is one of the most fundamental. According to this theory, deviance is “unrecognized and unintendent buttress of social order” (Downes & Rock, 2011, p. 3).

It means that by violating the laws and the established social orders the criminals, in fact, emphasize the significance of the conventional forms of behaviour, and thus assist the sustaining of control. It is possible to say that crime functions as the magnifier of the importance of the political institutions. Many researchers see crime as the intrinsic part of politics (Downes & Rock, 2011, p. 6). The eternal struggle of crime with the politics that is aimed to suppression of law-breaking behaviour supports both of these phenomena. One cannot survive without the other.

Ambiguity is the distinctive feature of crime. Although crime is considered an inherent part of the social life and its function of the order maintenance is recognized, the negative impact of the criminal activities is evident. At the micro personal level, crime is nothing more than the violation of the civil rights, the violation of laws, and the acts of iniquity. From the perspective of morality and ethic, the attacks on the human lives or property and the violations of freedom can’t be regarded as right and normal things. Nevertheless, some individuals or the groups of people are engaged in criminality and perceive it as something ordinary.

The issue of learning and maintenance of the criminal behaviour is of current interest for many researchers. The explanation for the adoption of the criminal demeanour by a person lies on the junction of psychology and the social studies. According to the interactionist perspective, the most social interest for a person is in the identity (Serpe & Stryker, 2011, p. 225). Through the identification with a certain state or condition and through the interactions a person learns behaviour and develops his or her self-images and conceptions.

The social behaviour and social structures are interdependent. A person not only begins to identify himself with a particular “social self” but also is regarded by others; this recognition by the public consolidates and acknowledges the personal self-perception (Serpe & Stryker, 2011, p. 226). In this way, a person can adopt the frames of the normal and socially approved behaviour as well as the deviant and criminal one.

The personal attractions and relationship play a significant role in the learning of social behaviour. It is also observed that it is more likely that a person with a low self-appraisal will behave abnormally and will be prone to involvement in the crime. Thus, learning of the social behaviour is highly dependent on the psychological factors of consciousness and self-esteem.

The media messages also influence the learning of norms and perception of values to a great extent. The scenes of cruelty, the reports about violence and crimes can affect the psychological states, especially in childhood. It is proved by many researchers that the idea of values is socially constructed, and the mass media play the essential role in the formation of the cultural and ethical concepts in the society (Akers, 2011, p. 65). Since people behave according to the extent of their beliefs and understanding of morality, the dissemination of more ethical and peace-oriented information could create a more positive psychological environment and thus reduce the crime and conflict rates.

The Consequences of Criminal Activity

Though it is considered by the functionalists that crime is naturally derived from any kind of political structure, the crime neglecting can have the negative impacts on the variety of aspects: social, political, moral, etc.

First of all, crime has evident negative effects on morality and culture. By an average person, criminality is perceived as the indication of immorality and social discord. This indication of negativity creates fear of crime that can be even more increased by the mass media reports. Public fear negatively affects society; it provokes conflicts and causes the psychological discontent that influences the overall social mindset (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2015, p. 105).

The increasing criminal rates also inevitably invoke the public dissatisfaction in the security and justice policing. The sense of insecurity interferes with the regular flow of social life and provokes disorganization. Thus, it is possible to assume that the uncontrolled crime threats the political structure rather than emphasize its significance.


Crime is the social, political, and moral issue. A big number of reported criminal activities demonstrate the inefficiency of policing and instability of the social structure. The reasons for the involvement in crime are many – they can depend on the situation or, as it is showed in “The Godfather,” can be influenced by the affection towards the family members who conduct criminal and cruel business. Despite this, for the decline in the social behaviour deviation, the multilateral approach should be implemented by the government and the members of the community and social institutions to provide more social equality and to increase the public awareness regarding the moral and civil values of mutual respect.


Abhilash, S. (2015). International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research, 3(2), 6-12. Web.

Akers, R. (2011). Social learning and social structure: A general theory of crime and deviance. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Downes, D., & Rock, P. (2011). Understanding deviance: A guide to the sociology o crime and rule-breaking. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Mooney, L., Knox, D., & Schacht C. (2015). Understanding social problems. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Serpe, R., & Stryker, S. (2011). The symbolic interactionist perspective and identity theory. In S. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, &V. Vignoles (Eds.), Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 225-248). New York, NY: Springer.

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