Michael Corleone's Transformation

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In this paper I will argue that in his film, The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola orchestrates the filmic elements (especially: editing and mise-en-scéne) to give the audience an intimate view of the complex world of a Mafia Don: Coppola's techniques sensitively portray the life and transformation of Michael Corleone; he leaves his status as a family outsider to become king of the underworld.

Michael is the son of Vito Corleone, Don of the Corleone Crime Family1. The story of The Godfather is the story of both Vito and Michael. Vito passes away and leaves his throne to Michael, who steps out of a seemingly innocent world ordinary American life to receive his father's crown and to assume control of the Corleone Family. As my thesis focuses on Michael, I will recount the events of The Godfather and then discuss Michael's role in the film. Thus, I will present a chronology of The Godfather which covers the events from the title scene until the final credits. After this chronology, I will explain how the film portrays Michael Corleone and his life. In my thesis, I claim that Michael changes from the beginning of the film to the end. Thus, I will examine the opening wedding scene as well as the final scene in which Michael is christened, Don Corleone. In addition, I will study two intermediate scenes, one in which Michael crosses the line and enters the Family, and another which is the baptism sequence, the apotheosis of Coppola's filmic depiction of Michael Corleone's life. The juxtaposition of these four scenes will show the changes in Michael's life as well as the filmic devices which Coppola employs to depict the subtleties of this transformation.

There are over 30 scenes in The Godfather, but here I group them into 13 segments whose titles correspond to significant events in the story:

The Title Screen. A black screen and the song "Main Title," or "The Immigrant." Action at the Family Compound. Inside his office, Vito Corleone meets with Bonasera, Nazorine the baker, and Luca Brasi. The wedding of Vito's daughter takes place outside of the office and around the family estate. Vito's godson, Johnny Fontane, arrives, sings, and meets with his godfather in his office. Hollywood. Vito's consigliere2, Tom Hagan, goes to Hollywood to meet with producer Jack Woltz. He tries to get Johnny a part in a big movie, but Woltz refuses. This leads to the famous scene in which Woltz wakes up in bed with a bloody, severed horse head. The Sollozzo Business. Sollozzo, an associate of the Tattaglia Family, approaches the Corleone Family. He wishes to become partners in a drug operation. The Corleone's decline. The Tattaglia's and Sollozzo respond: they assassinate Luca and "put a hit on" Vito.3 Michael Gets Pulled In. Michael rushes to the hospital to check on his pop, who survives despite being shot five times. Police Captain McCluskey punches Michael, who is protecting his father. Michael's brother, Sonny, arrives with his crew to pick up Michael and protect Vito. Michael and Sonny return to the family estate to have a meeting. In the meeting, Michael decides that the Family's best response is to assassinate McCluskey and Sollozzo. Michael volunteers to do the hit himself. Consequences. A montage sequence in which the Family "goes to the mattresses."4 Vito returns home from the hospital. Michael goes to Sicily until the Family clears him of charges. While Michael is in Sicily. Abroad, Michael meets Apollonia and gets married. She is killed by men trying to assassinate Michael. At home, Sonny tries to protect his sister and he is gunned down on the causeway. Michael's Return. Vito arranges a meeting between the most powerful Mafia chiefs from around the country, from the Bronx to Kansas City to California. Here, Vito and Philip Tattaglia amend their bad relationship and Vito explains that he is going to bring Michael home. Home, Michael reaffirms his love for Kay. Vito explains to his capos5 and consigliere that Michael is...
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