The mobsters of the classic “The Godfather” understand well how the quest for the American dream can turn into a nightmare.
| Photo: Reproduction
On the anniversary of years of “The The Godfather”, by Francis Ford Coppola, it is worth analyzing the frightening opening scene of the film. A face emerges from the shadows and says, “I believe in America.” The scene looks even scarier now, as our major institutions, companies and even Hollywood espouse disbelief and aversion to the United States – as seen in the destructive and nihilistic mythologies present in “Spotlight: Secrets Revealed”, “03 Years a Slave”, “Moonlight: Under the Moonlight” , “The Shape of Water”, “Nomadland” and “Attack of the Dogs”, in addition to the subversions contained in the infamous Project 1619.
Coppola didn’t foresee any of this . The face he reveals is not that of a wigged, Caucasian Founding Father, but that of a dirty beggar who awakens our solidarity. This immediately broadens the definition of the American character to include ethnic varieties (or “people of color” in odious contemporary parlance). The popularity of “The Godfather” is also due to the fact that the film inspires a worldwide identification. The film’s vivid portrayal of the Corleones, a mafia family, involves more than a simple critique of the capitalist USA or the country’s social contradictions.
As Coppola revealed in two necessary sequels, the story of ambition, success and tragedy contained in “The Godfather” updates the epic story of the struggle. confusion of Humanity in search of secular happiness. Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his son Michael (Al Pacino) attempt to escape the shadows of working-class servitude and national ignominy through relentless competition, violence and betrayal. Of course every country has its Corleone — as is clear in “The Godfather Part II” and “ The Godfather Part III”, in which the saga reveals its connections with the cultural heritage of the Old World. Legendary critic Pauline Kael described the truth of Coppola’s concept as “the seeds of destruction that immigrants brought to the New World, with Sicilians, wasps and Jews socially separated, but together in crime and political corruption.”
Today, however, in the post-Vietnam War and post-fight for civil rights world, American corruption reverberates in another way. Rewatching “The Godfather” while the United States and Hollywood are on the brink of collapse reminds us not only of the moral compass that guided Coppola (and that has been lost in today’s cinema), but also of the laughable state of world politics.
It is not enough just to revisit “The Godfather”, neurotically sharing the same romance and suffering. Coppola’s classic should inspire viewers to explore the films that influenced “The Godfather,” which continues its faithfulness to the rigors of Greek tragedy, Shakespeare and even the Gospels. Among the film’s successors are “Vincere” by Bellochio, “The President” by Makhmalbaf, “Where’s My Delivery” by Benny Boom, “Incendios” by Denis Villeneuve, “Robbery from the Mafia” by Raymond DeFelitta, “Mother and Father” by Brian Taylor, “Vox Luz” by Brady Corbet and “Brutal Justice” by S. Craig Zahler.
In these films, highlighting the domestic stories that face the complexities of Coppola’s film – the experiences in which the confused American psyche rejects certain characteristics and demands of contemporary life and resists the clichés of social justice vigilantes. These films after “The Godfather” “reject Americanism itself”, as Robert Warshow wrote in the essay “The Gangster as Tragic Hero” [O mafioso como herói trágico], by 1280. They are in search of something recognizable and even frightening in American life – not like the characters in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” who are distortions of the American dream, perversely seducing us to be a part of the crime, betrayal and sadism. Scorsese betrayed the ethical perception of his semi-autobiographical “Dangerous Ways“ , but Coppola resumed his approach to her when “The Godfather Part III” brought to the fore the Church (Michael’s repentance” and the Opera (Michael’s punishment).
It is the ethnic-religious conflict of “The Godfather” (the counterpoint between baptism and mafia warfare, as in the battlefield prayer sequence that Coppola created in “Patton“) which makes it a rebuttal of recent Scorsese trivia movies. And that frighteningly distressed Sicilian beggar face in the opening scene grounds the story in a still relevant to the North American ideal.
In the struggle against the overwhelming anonymity of society, the American dream can become a nightmare. Coppola’s nostalgic mobsters understand this better than than the radicals of today. These radicals prefer films that propose a narrow, deteriorated, emasculated, race- and gender-based view of the American self-image – which explains the enthusiasm for the allegory present in “Parasite,” Bong Joon-Ho (after all, the disbelief in the United States). States also reaches out to those who admire Bong’s fascination with South Korea’s fascist potential).
“The Godfather” has set an artistic standard that is also a political and moral challenge. Films that don’t face this challenge are fake – symptoms of cultural decay.
Armond White is a cultural critic and writes about cinema for the National Review.
©1619 National Review. Published with permission. Original in English