#32 The Godfather Part II

“You know when I was your age, I went out to fishing with all my brothers and my father, and everybody. And I was, I was the only one who caught a fish. Nobody else could catch one except me. You know how I did it? Every time I put the line in the water I said a Hail Mary and every time I said a Hail Mary I caught a fish. You believe that? It’s true, that’s the secret. You wanna try it when we go out on the lake?”
Fredo Corleone

The Godfather part II, much like its predecessor, deals with the slow corruption of Michael Corleone.  While the film carries with it a feel that Michael may eventually realize the error of the ruthlessness he gained at the end of the first film, there is, in fact, very little change in Michael at all. Except that is, his increased fall into depravity.

Unlike his father, Michael does not suffer from compassion, love or even honour.  Anything that Michael does that could be interpreted as one of these things is actually just his own way of preventing himself from feeling any sort of discomfort.

“I don’t want anything to happen to him while my mother’s alive.”  Michael says, of his brother Fredo.  These are perhaps the only words that Pacino needed to speak in the film.

The man who had once planned to legitimize his family had now crossed a very serious line.  Michael had killed before, but this is so much worse.  With this sentence Michael proves that he values other people’s lives less than values looks of approval from his mother.

Michael is not the sympathetic character that his father was.  Vito would kill ruthlessly, but he would never not kill to save face.  Some how this is worse though.  Perhaps this is because we get to see Vito play with his grandkids that we are willing to forgive him his trespasses, but whatever it was that allows audiences to sympathize with Vito for generations was not present in Michael.

Michaels’s story is not a circular story the way that Vito’s is.  Vito lost his son to a war, and to his country, but he gained his son with a bullet.  Michael loses everyone, save those that are paid to occupy his proximity, but what is really sad about Michael is that nothing so important as a war steels those close to him away.  Michael’s friends and family are not pulled away from him.  Rather, they are pushed.  They leave because anything is better than his presence.  Sadly for Michael, not even a bullet will be able to return these people to him.

Coppola realizes this fact about his character though and does not try to sway the audience’s sympathy.  Michael is wrong, and, unlike his father, he is not meant to be felt sorry for.

Coppola does a lot well in this film.  It is paced, as any Coppola film is, slowly, but this allows the story to play out in a natural way.  Pages weren’t cut in pre-production because the studio was afraid that the audience would lose interest somewhere in the second act.  If there is any criticism towards the actual direction of the film, it would have to come from its use of flashbacks.

The film is told in two separate story lines, which are woven together so that the audience isn’t forced to read too much subtitles for any extended period of time.  The main timeline, which occupies three quarters of the film’s run-time focuses on Michael and his plans for the family’s consolidation to Nevada, and expansion to Florida and Cuba.

The other story line gives us a glimpse into who Vito was before he was the “the Godfather.”  This story line takes place in turn of the century New York, is mainly shot to look like a dream sequence, and has its characters speak virtually nothing but a southern dialect of Sicilian.

The flashback sequences accomplish two things.  First, these scenes slow the film down.  They also gnaw away at the tension that the present day story line works so hard to create.  The second thing that these scenes accomplish though is to juxtapose Michael and Vito’s motives.  For Vito, his own personal moral code was more important than anything.  And while this may have conflicted with the silly little “laws of the land,” it always demanded him to do what was right in his eyes.

Unfortunately Coppola could not accomplish this massive contrast without these scenes, and this contrast was necessary to truly understand the levels of depravity to which Michael had so terribly sunk.

Had the Vito story line been released as a forty-five minute short, meant to accompany the “Michael” feature, the film would have perhaps been a better work of art.  The producers may have ripped their hair out looking at the sales differences, but the art would have been a higher quality.

Ultimately though, the somewhat chaotic, and at times confusing layout, of the film (I still don’t know what exactly happened with Cuba) can be forgiven because what is truly important about this film is accomplished.

Michael’s dissent is completed, and it is understood.  The cinematography, the scene in which Fredo is teaching Michael’s son to fish in particular, dictates that nothing is more important to the world than Fredo, and, when he is finally killed, Michaels transformation is complete.

The film does do a lot right, and it saves the best for last.  If nothing else, the final scene of the film is worth sticking around for.  As the Camera slowly pans in on Michael’s face, a face which, do to a third timeline flashback, still contains all it’s innocence, it is hard not to cringe at what the coming years are going to bring for the Corleone family.