I think Michael Corleone is the best character ever written. Find out why below.
I saw The Godfather First time when I was 13 years old. I downloaded it because it was an R rated Mafia movie and I thought it was going to be every 13 year old’s dream. Instead, I was given an exceptionally deep dive into the American Dream, a treatise on family, and possibly the greatest movie ever made. But that’s just my opinion.
Since then I’ve become a big one Godfather Fan. Not the kind of fan who puts up posters in their basement or gets a tattoo, but the kind who loves to quote here and there and spend $ 20 on a bottle of Coppola’s wine to look classy every now and then.
You know, a normal fan of the movie.
Having recently re-watched the entire trilogy, I feel comfortable saying that the protagonist of the series is the best-written character of all time. Check out this video from Just an observation and let’s talk after the jump.
Obviously there will be spoiler for the trilogy below.
Michael Corleone’s bow for all three Godfather Movies prove he’s the best character ever
Getting a character to move across a movie is hard enough, but just imagine switching someone across three of them all the time!
When Francis Ford Coppola sat down to write the original Godfather Film with Mario Puzo, he never knew where the story was going. He had the original book to work through, but he didn’t plan for all three films to happen.
I think that’s an important fact to think about when looking at this character. The first film formed the basis, the second film gave us what it thought was the finale, and the third he revisited to show the end of the family.
All of these arcs have been written with just the ability to deal with the preceding, which is vital when writing your ideas. Don’t spend hours writing three films. Write a great one, then build from there.
Let’s go film by film and see Michael develop as a person and take his place in the annals of film history.
In the first film, Michael Corleone is presented separately from his family. He openly admits to his girlfriend Kay that his family is part of the Mafia, but he isn’t. That important distinction is why she falls in love with him and sticks with it. Michael’s family is wealthy and Michael benefits from it without ever getting his hands dirty. He’s a war hero, and his father Vito has plans to maybe one day become a senator.
But Michael is sucked back into the family after his father was nearly murdered. When he comes back it’s out of love and support, but Michael can’t get rid of the feeling of obligation to do something. This includes murdering two people and fleeing to Italy. While he’s there, he sees that his name will follow him no matter where he goes.
He’ll always be a Corleone. And violence will inevitably accompany him.
Michael’s arc in the first film not only goes to the dark side, but also becomes a leader his brothers could never be. Someone willing to follow the great Vito Corleone and lead the family towards bigger and better endeavors.
At the end of the film, Michael orchestrates a slap on the heads of the five other families, taking over New York and consolidating himself as the head of the most powerful criminal family in New York City. This changes who he is as a person. He turned into the guy he’d promised Kay he’d never be. From someone separated from their family to the leader of their family.
The Godfather II
When it came time for the second film in the trilogy, Coppola had to figure out where to take Michael. You can’t go backwards and get him out of the family. He’s got kay, he’s got money, where does he have to go? As Kay mentions at the beginning of the film, Michael promised her that the Corleone family would be legitimate in five years. It has been seven years and that end seems nowhere in sight.
In the second film, Michael’s bow is much less defined than the first. I think it’s more of a character study of what the idea of ”family” means. In the first film, we saw that Vito Corleone defines a man when he is with his family. In this film, Michael loses his family. Fredo turned him on, Connie just wants him for money, and Kay abandoned his son to make sure this Mafioso legacy ends with Michael.
This is Michael’s burden to bear. If in the first movie he was a man who reached out to have it all. In the second film, he becomes a man who is able to cut out some parts of his life in order to have the control he has over the others.
That means getting custody of the children and pushing Kay away. It means killing Fredo to take care of his back. And it means keeping your enemies close until it’s time to strike.
Again, this is a subtle arc, but it changes as a man. He becomes a distillation of a vengeance and anger. Something more than his father could ever have imagined, with endless power and wealth. Still, none of this can buy happiness.
At the end of this film, he not only excludes Kay from his life, but closes the door to the family completely. He proves that he is there for himself. So that the name Corleone survives.
The godfather III
Coppola returned to The Godfather in the 1990s looking for a hit. He had experimented a lot in the 80s and badly needed a blockbuster.
For me this film will always be the “what if” of the series. What if Paramount paid for Robert Duvall’s quote? What if Winona Ryder didn’t get out? Still, the film happened. Originally titled The death of Michael CorleoneThis is the end of the saga.
This is the story of the setback. Michael reaps what he has sown for years.
“The power to clear debt is greater than the power to forgive,” notes Michael. This film only has him in it. He is now the only godfather in this world, without Vito as a memory or as a man to balance him out.
Michael has stepped into his role and appears to have a legitimate family. The Catholic Church gives him an award, and he eventually believes that he can get out of business unscathed by life.
As Michael openly admits, there may be no chance of legitimacy.
“The higher I go, the more crooked it gets.”
In this cynical final chapter, Michael finds out that there is no happy ending for anyone. The mafia is only organized crime, but the rest of the world, even the Vatican, is obsessed with money and power. Little did he know, when he told Kay that the family would become legitimate, that no one in the world was legitimate.
And when Michael appreciates his daughter and sees her lured into this life, he fears that he has missed the only things that matter – family. And when the assassins come and miss for him, they’ll take the only thing he had left. Michael would rather die than suffer without a family, and now he’s doomed to do so for the rest of his days.
At the end of the original cut, Michael is sitting alone. He paid off all the family debts with blood and money, but he has no family left. He is one man alone. Even his father died hunting for grandchildren. He dies in a chair and stares into the distance. Alone.
What began at a table full of siblings and waited for his father’s birthday is now a man who dies alone. He’s powerful, he’s rich, but he’s got nothing.
Many people come to No Film School because they want information about cameras, equipment, and script. We recognize that the luxury of attending film school is not available to most people in the world. So we’re doing our best to keep you all updated on what’s out there and how to shoot and create to the maximum possible potential while filmmaking.
But what is the root of all filmmaking?
Storytelling and Screenwriting! Click above to learn more!