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Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Godfather Part III, or The Death of Michael Corleone: "A Long Contemplation of Eternity"




At the conclusion of The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone has succeeded in creating a zombie household. Ornately decorated, there is no communication within the Lake Tahoe estate. Michael’s lethargic appearance, indicative of his decay (Coppola describes him as “syphilitic, like Dorian Gray”), is a part of Pacino’s remarkable performance, and may have been indebted to the actor’s struggle with pneumonia at the time of filming, in addition to a stream of exhaustion (he went from Godfather I to Scarecrow to Serpico to Godfather II, working almost non-stop). The serendipitous result is a character who has lost his sense of space and time, content with the vines of isolation that are growing around him, separating him not only from the larger society, but from the warmth of people who love him and whom he loves.

After tying up all his loose ends, Michael doesn’t anticipate that he is still vulnerable to retribution; his logical approach fails because he is not immune from one thing: Himself. True to the Nixonian spirit that influenced his creation, Michael is very cerebral, and being cerebral he has a conscience and cannot help being tormented by a restless mind. The specter of his mortality causes this retributive spirit to become more potent. The opening of Godfather III is a haunting montage of images of the now-abandoned Lake Tahoe estate: empty, flooded, with broken windows (most conspicuously those spider-web designs), neglected dolls, and a Madonna swathed in darkness, the omen of Michael’s ultimate sacrilege. The famous Nino Rota score is completed with thunderous and dark music following it, like a shadow. In a voiceover is the unfamiliar voice of Michael reading from a letter. He sounds huskier, older, withered. He has long since moved away from Nevada, and is back in New York, where he has been involved with Catholic charities and is now, in 1979, to receive an honor from the Church: the insignia of the martyr St. Sebastian.

In this letter addressed to his children, he wants them to convince Kay (now remarried to a judge – suggesting that she wanted to get as far away from illegality as possible) to come to his ceremony, with the hopes that the four of them may achieve a kind of stable “family function.” “The only wealth in this world is children,” Michael writes. “More than all the money, power on earth. You are my treasure.” Coppola, mourning the loss of his son, is writing this from his heart. For him, children are indeed wealth.

Cutting to the first image of the 60-year-old Michael Corleone at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, bowing to receive the insignia from the Archbishop Gilday, we are struck by his appearance. His face has been sapped of potency from the inside out. He suffers from diseases of the body (we learn that Michael is an insulin-dependent diabetic) that mirror the diseases of his mind. Whether in Commendatore uniform or in an expensive suit, with his spiked iron-man hair, deep shadowy lines, and deliberate speech, Michael’s soul is struggling to play a role in social theatre. Looking closely, we can see the despair behind the fa├žade. He has a stiff gait and is hunched over, suggesting a spiritual castration. As Gilday prays through the Commendatore ritual, Michael’s thoughts hopelessly drift back in time, seeing his brother recite the Hail Mary before Al Neri’s bullet killed him.

The Catholic ritual that kicks off Godfather III sets the religious and confessional tone for the story. The colors of St. Patrick’s are accented on gold, yellow, crimson, and brown, a beautiful autumn palette not only pointing to decadence, but also suggesting the possibility – or longing – for redemption. Michael is now as old as his father was at the beginning of Part I, and though his wrinkles crease his face in shadow, he still lacks his father’s noble sprezzatura or natural resolve. He is morally conflicted. When we first see Michael in uniform, it is an echo of his introduction in the first film, where he was also wearing a military uniform and conflicted. He’s come full circle, distant from the character that emerged after the return from Sicily in 1949 and whom we left in 1959.

What we see happening behind him – Connie making the sign of the cross, Joey Zasa bowing and doing the same before sitting in a pew, and then Al Neri standing in front of a Madonna with candles lit before it – addresses the key issue of the whole movie, which is an explicit inquiry regarding religion: this world is surrounded by Christ, but where is Christ? The symbols of Christianity are everywhere, the values espoused by everyone (“Do you Michael pledge to have a special care for the poor and the needy, and those who are ill?” so much like the baptism from Part I), and yet within them: nothing. Here in this introduction, with its overabundance of Catholic iconography, Coppola doesn’t need to say that violence is the ironic juxtaposition to the values of Christ: it’s the arid dryness of our everyday lives. One doesn’t have to be a gangster to be in a psychological double bind. The victim is everyone in the prevalent secular culture. We are all stones in a fountain, not penetrated by water.

The crest Michael is receiving is that of the Order of St. Sebastian the Martyr. A notorious icon in Christian mythology, Sebastian is often depicted in art as a beautiful, almost fully naked man pierced by executioners’ arrows, suffering but not dying. According to legend, Sebastian survived the arrows (but was clubbed to death at a later date). This perfectly ties in with Michael’s tragedy as a “dry stone,” a cold steely man wearing his niceties warmly while suffering internally. Sebastian is the saint of exposure. His dignity is shoved to the wayside by his religious passion. His martyrdom associates with full disclosure, open suffering, grief not withheld or performed.

Compare this with Michael Corleone, the well-dressed, mask-faced billionaire Commendatore, moving with a peculiar gait as a well-known businessman, who believes he can achieve grace by purchasing it. His abundance of charities is not selfless. It’s a PR strategy that grants him the Pope’s favor. We notice his Public Relations manager, Dominic Abbandando (grandson of Genco), rebuke underworld related questions from the press by saying, “Hey cut the crap. The Pope, the Holy Father himself, has this day blessed Michael Corleone. You think you know better than the Pope?” (That Abbandando is portrayed by Don Novello, best known as the hypocritical Father Sarducci from Saturday Night Live, is a slyly humorous jab on Coppola’s part).

What matters to Michael, through his bid for Papal approval as he tries to become the head of Immobiliare, is the public seal of forgiveness, the officially documented exchange of his debt as a sinner being paid. He won’t shed his dignity, lying to himself as he tries to hold on. The passion of Sebastian, whose seal he now wears, mocks him. At the end, we will finally see Michael properly emulate this martyr whose order he swore to fulfill. For now, he descends from the alter with the Archbishop’s blessing, the Marcia Religioso being performed by the choir. The hypocrisy runs deep, as this was the same music that accompanied Fanucci at the festa in 1917 as he bought a rosary, put money on the Christ icon, and blew a kiss to it. Whereas Ciccio was Michael’s unlikely double in Part II, he is now paralleled with Fanucci in Part III.

Cutting from this ecclesiastical opening, we are at the new Corleone home in Manhattan, where the party for “Commendatore Michael Corleone” is ongoing. An expository sequence much like the family functions of the first two pictures, it is a tacky affair, not nearly as culturally fascinating as the private ethnic wedding of Part I. It is the next stage of degradation following the shimmery glitz of Part II’s Tahoe Communion. Connie and Dominic try to rouse the crowd with songs, swanky late ‘70s elevator music paints the interims, and a tired Johnny Fontane charmingly smiles through “To Each His Own,” apparently Michael’s favorite song, though not good enough for the Commendatore to stick around (“I’m off to the kitchen to listen to some Tony Bennett records,” he jokes, saying he’ll be back – but he won’t).


Michael’s daughter Mary is the fragile and warm-hearted apple in her father’s eye, but as “chairman” of the Vito Andolini Corleone Foundation, dedicated to helping Sicily’s poor, we might notice how she is “directed” by Dominic, her public offering of $100 million to Archbishop Gilday presented as an innocent and sincere moment of charity, but we know it’s just another part of the show. Kay understands how suspicious everything is. She congratulates Michael (whom she hasn’t seen in eight years), “Well Michael, that’s really quite an honor. It’s a little expensive, don’t you think?” Moments later in his study, she lays out her feelings more bluntly. “Now that you’re so respectable, I think you’re more dangerous than you ever were. In fact, I preferred you when you were just a common mafia hood.” With increasing anger she says, “I didn’t come here to see you disguised by your Church. I think that was a shameful ceremony.” As theatrical as the party is, Michael is resistant to Kay’s demand that he allow Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) go his own way as an opera singer, and not get in the game of politics and lawyering. The performer (who knows that his father killed his uncle) understands how the stage extends beyond the theatre and into real life. Michael’s world of duplicity, with false friends, churchmen, bankers, and politicians, is an opera unconscious of itself.

This plugs into Coppola’s interest to how the world of The Godfather is now subset to a culture of pre-established texts and tropes. Joey Zasa may never have read Shakespeare, but he knows enough to define Vincent Mancini, the bastard son of Santino Corleone, as bad fruit, “a stone in my shoe,” because “all bastards are liars, Shakespeare wrote poems about it.” Vincent’s retaliation, almost biting off Zasa’s ear, we learn is also the stuff of the stage, as the ear-bite plays out in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana during the film’s final half-hour. Third generation Corleone Vincent is privy to a script, whether with Zasa (“They put me in a room with Joe Zasa, what’s going to happen? I bit the guy’s ear off”) or a shallow exchange with sexy Grace Hamilton (in bed she pleads that he tells her that he loves her).

One of the reasons the incestuous love story between Vincent and Mary is so awkward is that we recognize the two players, particularly Mary, as lovers stuck on dialogue. Compare such post-modern romancing, directed by culture, to the discrete whispers between Santino and Vincent’s mother, Lucy Mancini, in Godfather I, or how Michael and Kay interact. Interestingly, in Michael and Kay’s early stages they are playful about their roles as lovers. As they exit Radio City Music Hall after seeing Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s, Kay asks, “Michael, would you like me more if I were a nun?...What if I were Ingrid Bergman?” By contrast, Mary and Vincent don’t seem conscious of the influence pop culture has on them (though in an early draft of the script, Mary says that she models herself on Katherine Hepburn – something that director Coppola probably realized that his daughter Sofia could not hope to pull off). In spite of Sofia Coppola’s stumbling performance (her first impression, as she flirts with Vincent, is god-awful), there’s something to critic Owen Gleibermann’s defense of her when he writes, “she’s obviously a non-actress, yet her Valley Girl nonchalance is apparently just what the director wanted. Coppola is saying that in a mass-culture age, even the daughter of a titan is as much a product of the world around her as she is of her family.” (Also note that Roger Ebert, who praised Godfather III along with Gene Siskel, was a defender of Sofia; for other glowing raves of the picture from major critics, see Janet Maslin’s piece from The New York Times, and Michael Wilmington from The Los Angeles Times; closeted Godfather III defenders may be legion, as I learned from Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri, who disclosed to me his own appreciation for it and how achingly personal it feels as a Coppola effort).

The stand-off in Michael’s office between Vincent and Zasa shows Michael’s own immobility. He is a king resistant to taking an active position other than keeping everyone happy. Zasa is essentially the Corleone inheritor, controlling the New York territory that belonged to the Genco Olive Oil Company. According to Connie and Vincent, however, “he runs it like a disgrace.” Though Vincent has been working for Zasa, Michael had originally offered Vincent “legitimate” work but was turned down. Vincent, a favorite of Connie (who now plays a Lady Macbeth-type of enabler for the more nefarious side of Michael), has a lot of Santino in him: he is a foul-tempered hot-head, fiercely and loyally devoted to family at the expense of reason. Vincent explains that Michael should let him kill Zasa, a two-faced scum who says “fuck Michael Corleone” all the time, because the elder Michael, though now only a Wall Street businessman, still essentially runs the Commision and is keeping Zasa from rising in it. “Say it to his face one time!” Vincent bids Zasa, who curtly flicks a cigarette. Michael, already exhausted with a conflict in which he has “no interest or percentages” stands over Zasa and says, “If someone is saying, ‘Fuck Michael Corleone,’ what do we do with a piece of shit like that? He’s a fucking dog.” That’s it. No retributive action, just a label: “fucking dog.” End of story as far as Michael is concerned. He says to Vincent later, “You are what you are.” A sinner like Michael can only accept an individual’s debits and go on living.

Michael accepts Zasa’s tribute and asks Vincent to make his peace. The two men embrace, though Zasa whispers to Vincent, “Bastardo,” prompting the younger man to lunge forward and clamp his teeth on Zasa’s ear, biting a good section off. Michael raises his hand depressively to his head. These are rustic Sicilian Old World values at odds with the progressive and humanitarian social appearance that the godfather seeks to construct for the Corleone name. As if to pun on Zasa’s maimed ear, Vincent reminds Michael what he doesn’t want to hear: “You’re involved with stocks and banks of Wall Street, but everyone knows you’re basically in charge.” His businessman persona is, as Kay told him, a disguise.

In his commitment to reason, Michael requests Vincent stay with him for awhile. Although Vincent has a different last name and is a bastard nephew, he is still a Corleone, and still salvageable (hence Michael plucking Vincent from his mother Lucy, having him in the family portrait). Over time, the futility of Michael’s good intentions will lead to his final sin, omission. (The other adopted son Michael is looking over is Tom’s son, Andrew Hagen – played by John Savage – who is an ordained priest looking to find a station in the Vatican; that this relationship isn’t dealt with more fully is rather unfortunate, as it could have made an interesting parallel to the Vincent-Michael relationship, given the dynamics of sacred and profane. Andrew, unlike some other Vatican elements in the film like Gilday, is “of the true faith.“ This is an example of the exquisite architecture that Coppola outlined, but failed to fully construct and examine).

Since Tom Hagen died, B.J. Harrison (George Hamilton) has come to represent the machinations of big business deals, so far removed from the “man-to-man” small business with which Vito Corleone involved himself. Harrison outlines the practices of the “legitimate” Corleone foundation: “It’s no different from any other large corporation; controlling a lot of money with very little; minimize taxes…no government control.” The Corleone Foundation may be “legitimate,” but it also represents a huge and unregulated business that can easily get out of hand.

From Harrison and Michael’s breakfast, we cut to a telling image: a church viewed upwards from the ground, its sacred pillars dwarfed by the large skyscrapers reaching so much higher, visually demonstrating how money trumps spiritual aspiration. Inside the church, Michael and Harrison are having their meeting with Archbishop Gilday, a greed-afflicted charlatan using his ornaments of God to disguise his true nature. The original – and preferable – beginning of the film plays out. “Don Corleone,” Gilday begins. “I need your help. And not just to light a little candle. My gift was to be able to persuade people to give to the Holy Church. Then, Rome decides to put me in charge of the Vatican bank. But I was never a true banker. I trusted my friends….these friends used the good name of the Church to feed their greed. If money was lost…then I am to blame. Oh…if only prayer could pay off our $700 million deficit.” The original version of this moment quoted Dante and invoked Constantine (bridging Christianity to its Roman roots), and some of the Byzantine strength is lost in the revision. But the scene retains a kind of larger-than-life sense of spirituality conflicted with an economy growing more global (and less holy). In the background, we can’t fail to take note of the gigantic world maps. Gilday, as the Vatican banker who has “lost” $700 million, is asking Michael to help financially bail him out (if only it was that easy today). Michael is well aware of Gilday’s problem, correcting him: “$769 million.” And then he offers a “solution” that details his grand modus operandi.

“The church owns 25% of a large corporation. Immobiliare. You know the one I mean.” Harrison elaborates, “Largest landlord on earth, real estate all over the world worth $6 billion.” Michael continues, “And the Vatican vote is necessary for control.” Gilday is stunned by the proposition: Michael will help Gilday if the Archbishop can guarantee that the Vatican will endorse this infamous businessman in a bid to control a huge real estate organization, instantly making him one of the richest men in the world while establishing him clearly as a respectable pillar of the financial and political communities (and, as a landlord controlling the homes of millions of Europeans, a true pezzonovante).

“No. No, no, you’re mistaken,” Gilday says. “This isn’t a question of one person deciding – one deciding vote. This is like any other company in the world. We have directors, we have rules – we have very old rules. The Pope himself would have to approve YOU…” Michael explains himself (and this would have been tremendously helpful as an introduction 40 minutes ago): “We’ve sold the casinos. All businesses having to do with gambling. We have no interest and investment in anything illegitimate.” Harrison rises, “The Corleone family is prepared to deposit $500 million in the Vatican bank at such time as Mr. Corleone receives majority control of Immobiliare.” Michael speaks now as the innovative businessman, “Immobiliare could be something new: a European conglomerate.”

Gilday replies nervously with a key line worth repeating, “It seems that in today’s world, the power to absolve debt is greater than the power of forgiveness,” and, as the skyscraper peering over the cathedral demonstrates, he’s right. “$600 million.” Michael tellingly counters, “Don’t overestimate the power of forgiveness.”

Yet Gilday’s beak having been wetted, along with his knowledge of Michael’s past, leads him to be tenacious. “This deal with Immobiliare could make you one of the richest men in the world. Your whole past history, and the history of your family, will be washed away.” That’s the key. He repeats himself. “$600 million.” How ironic it is, at this price and this circumstance, that the godfather is approached with an offer that he can't refuse. If Michael succeeds, he will "officially" achieve redemption without having to repent or pay for his sins. Therein lies his tragic flaw, placing him at odds with the “honor” of being in the Order of St. Sebastian.

Wanting to create movement and progress, for himself and for this new business outfit, Coppola’s title of “Immobiliare” becomes a joke. Michael is immobile as a mob boss and patriarch, just as the interests around him, legitimate and criminal, are devoted to keeping things as they are, in their original place. Just keep the flux of money consistent (something out of Megalopolis). He becomes prey to the demands of his mob ties. The elderly Don Altobello claims to be speaking for Michael’s former partners on the Commission, but in truth is pointing out his own frustrations. He says that Michael should let the other bosses in on the deal – “to purify their money.” Michael is insistent, however, that Immobiliare be a completely legitimate enterprise. Though fiercely independent, he is not free. The fact that he has so much power is what makes him vulnerable, much like his father and the Commission’s drive for narcotics in 1945.

More nefarious than the greedy new world gangsters of the Commission are the Old Europe political forces with whom Michael has voluntarily become entangled. In Vatican City to meet with the other Immobiliare shareholders, Michael and Harrison learn that Pope Paul VI, who was going to ratify the Vatican vote giving Michael full control of the company, is bedridden and near death (immobile, as it were!) These European Catholic businessmen, who begin their meeting with a dutiful prayer, are opposed to this American with new ideas taking over their ancient enterprise. They remind the Corleones that they are not in control yet. “The Vatican vote must be ratified here, in Rome, by the Pope,” says the man known as “God’s Banker,” Frederick Keinzig (Helmet Berger). Without the Pope’s personal authorization, Gilday is powerless to act. The function of the meeting, so it turns out, is for the European businessmen to relay the message to Michael that “all bets are off.” Michael has already begun depositing large amounts of money, which is no doubt being distributed to corrupt figures in high places. These “legitimate” criminals are quick to remind Michael Corleone, whether as a Mafioso or economic innovator, that he is not one of them.

The leader of the board members is an Italian politician named Licio Lucchesi, an ominous figure who stands out with his thick rimmed glasses. “You will take control of our little fleet,” he says, “but our ships must all sail in the same direction.” In other words, as controller of the board, Michael would not be able to have any ability to utilize his innovative ideas of bridging Europe and America to “pool wealth and share markets.” He would be controller in title only, remaining circumscribed by the status quo (much like any other idealistic politician preaching change and hope). Lucchesi then threatens Michael, “Otherwise, who can say how long your stay with us will last. It’s not personal. It’s only business. You should know. Godfather.”

Michael storms out of the meeting room, vociferously comparing the Catholic businessmen to the Borgias. Immobiliare, the “legitimate” business, is tainted by the corruption of these pezzonovante. This becomes more apparent during the Commission meeting in an Atlantic City high rise, where Michael essentially buys his way out of the mob. “Friends, we have prospered, and now our business is done,” he says. But to go amiably, he hands out hundreds of millions of dollars in casino shares to the old dons who sit at a large round table with a gigantic fruit basket in the middle (again – pay attention to the oranges, people!). But Michael’s affiliations won’t release him; Zasa is upset that he is getting no money (he didn’t invest), and throws a tantrum to pinpoint Michael as an enemy. The other dons, though well paid, still want a piece of Immobilaire, one of them pointing out that Michael’s “legitimate” company has already been laundering money in Peru and Nassau: so why shouldn’t the Vatican’s “holy water” also wash their money clean?

Michael’s ties to the Commission do not matter, as a helicopter attack kills almost everyone in the room. The Atlantic City sequence is very telling about Coppola’s attitude and approach in Godfather III. The style of the attack feels like the kind of action set piece that dominated post-Godfather Hollywood throughout the 1980s. In contrast to the mob meetings of the first two films, the party room in Atlantic City is garishly tacky, where the dons act less like reserved businessmen and more like excessively gluttonous  decadents, passing around a plate of jewelry, hookers and lounge music perfuming the air (the scene also is similar to a secret meeting of Union bosses at the Tammany Building in Megalopolis, where the Machiavellian 'wild rich youth' Claude Hamilton, similar to Zasa in how he employs the city's minorities, rains death from above by having the roof collapse). Continuing the motif of performance, Michael gives his “speech” of gratitude and resignation, followed by Zasa’s hammy response which again is pure theater: “You will not give, I’ll take!” There is indication that Zasa, the magazine-cover “Best-Dressed Gangster,” had worked out the staging of this monologue beforehand, if we notice how he interacts with his “co-star” and co-conspirator, Don Altobello, who knows exactly when to exit stage left before fire rains down from the clouds.

Michael is immobile. He is at a loss of where to move or how to act when the gunfire begins; Vincent is the one who pulls him up and carries him throughout the room, at last escaping. Tom Santopietro writes of the scene, “When Michael is faced with an attempted assassination, the spectral presence of blinding lights, whirling blades, and helicopter-mounted machine guns seems to render him incapable of movement, and he is saved only by Vincent’s quick thinking. Coppola is underlining Michael’s decline through his lack of action; the aging don is no longer in total control, and the torch has been passed to the new generation.” The king eager to abdicate his throne and divide his kingdom among his peers, like Lear, is “pulled back in” to a role he has forgotten how to play.

Back home and wondering who is directing this conspiratorial drama that imperils him, Michael stammers, drinks water, is low on breath, and short on temper. “Our true enemy has not yet shown his face,” he says. He becomes dizzy and collapses, shrieking. Connie and Neri run to his aid as he is in the grips of what appears to be an uncontrollable seizure. When Connie runs to find Vincent, Michael begins saying irrational things. The thunder and lightning behind him evoke Lear: “Run at thunderbolt! Thunder can’t hurt! Harmless noise…bullshit!” And then, Neri and Vincent holding him down as his body shakes violently, he viciously spits truth: “You deceitful old fuck! Altobello you fuck!” The portents of the storm reveal the personage backing Zasa; and then, his reasonable facade lost to him, his remorse surfaces before the loss of consciousness: “Fredo! Fredo!”

Michael’s seizure was brought on by diabetes. This rare moment of seeing not only Michael losing control but being almost providentially “afflicted” makes his story, for me, very real and very emotional: whereas Michael was hardening himself into stone during Part II, his physical torment here works superbly in showing a man completely unraveling and losing time. Michael’s father needed gunshots to incapacitate him; Michael is tortured by that which is coming from within, which is far less evasive than stalking assassins. The brush with death forces Harrison to stress the importance of the Immobilaire deal going through, with the financial (and spiritual) interests of Michael Corleone entering a race with time. Gilday, however, appears to have been swindling Corleone with the aid of Keinzig all along. “Play for time,” is his philosophy, which has been the Corleone philosophy for years in regards to their play for legitimacy. “A habit born of a long contemplation of eternity.” As every Catholic knows, there is always time to repent later.

Connie and Neri have given Vincent approval to kill Joey Zasa: a public assassination during a festa, again crossing holy images (a parade of men in white suits carrying a large scaffold with the Madonna) and violence. Of the three plotters, it’s Connie who is the most reluctant to apologize to the angered and ailing Michael: she, as the only other second generation Corleone, remains devoted to her father’s way of handling things (or what she believes is her father’s way. The same way Michael believed he was being strong in Part II); Talia Shire here exhibits something that Godfather III is lacking when compared to its forebears: an abundance of strong supporting characters. Connie, compared to the more predictable American lot like “third generation” godfather Vincent or mob heavy Zasa, is mesmerizing as the cold and arcane Widow of Vengeance, particularly given the restrictive sexual politics of the Corleone family.

As a Rockefeller-like businessman governed by Reason, yet panged with his conscience, Michael cannot endure two things from Vincent: blood violence or the romantic relationship with Mary. “When they come, they’ll come at what you love.” What primarily bothers Michael is not the sexual taboo of first cousins, or even that it’s his daughter, but the fact that Vincent’s relations to an illegitimate world makes Mary more vulnerable. He is thinking of his first wife, the innocent Apollonia. There has to be clear divisions between the public and the private, social appearance and personal relationships – at the expense of love and spirit, even. This is good logic, but it’s also what makes him privately suffer.

The action moves to Sicily. At the villa of his old protector Don Tommasino, joined by Harrison, Abbandando, Vincent, and one of Michael’s Sicilian bodyguards from the first film, Calo, Michael asks the 90-year-old don about the Atlantic City massacre. Tommasino believes that Lucchesi is the responsible force. “Italian politics have had these kind of men for centuries,” Michael reflects on Lucchesi. “They’re the true Mafia.” The idea of Lucchesi, all this time (as one of Gilday’s “friends” responsible for the $769 million deficit in the first place), was to take Corleone’s money and have him killed, with the money being handled by Keinzig. Corruption is not only related to the Mafia, and then not only to politics, but most significantly the Vatican: Lucchesi and Gilday are the same problem.

Tommasino recommends Michael confess his financial woes to a powerful and trustworthy priest, Cardinal Lamberto. The incentive for Michael talking to a priest is that it would allow him the possibility of “dealing with things in a civilized way” – even if his foes are criminals. A relationship is drawn between Michael’s idealistic attitude that longs for “honorable business” and being a transparent individual, as Michael, in the presence of a wise priest, will be put in a place where not only his business woes will be revealed, but private spiritual ones.

Vincent, acting covertly for Michael, gives hints to Altobello that he would betray his uncle if the older don would help him further a marriage with Mary, the goal being to make Altobello believe that Vincent’s motives are to take over Michael’s fortune and separate it from legitimate business. Now in the old man’s trust, Vincent discovers that Altobello is linked to Lucchesi, who backed Zasa from the beginning as someone to battle Michael. The motivation for all of these dinosaurs is their desire to keep an established paradigm of business: Vincent is referred to as “the peacemaker” and a “child of God” by Altobello, precisely because his betrayal will hamper any of Michael’s progressive ideas.

This whole moment is grounded in Megalopolis: the Roman aristocracy aligned itself against Catiline because they disliked his new economic ideas,and campaigned against him by noting his criminal history (in the screenplay he is thought to have murdered his wife and is prosecuted for statutory rape with an underage pop star). Mayor Cicero notes, in conjunction with classic Godfather themes, “Politics is the personal made public.” The integrity of business and politics is secondary to keeping the means and methods of the established structure in place; finance and politics have no ends: “Finance is a gun; politics is knowing when to pull the trigger,” Lucchesi tells Vincent. Or as Michael says, “Politics and crime. They’re the same thing.”

8 comments:

  1. Speaking of a ““syphilitic, like Dorian Gray”: Godfather III was set 8 years after Godfather II, but filmed about 16 years later. The difference in years shows in the face of Pacino which creates an implausible discontinuity in the timeline for me. And that wasn't helped by the spikey short (graying) hairstyle of the Michael Corleone character in GFIII. Now I understand that Coppola may have wanted to project the continued degeneration of "Dorian Gray" in GfIII. But I think he overdid it. I might be splitting hairs (no pun intended), but Pacino's character in GFIII would have been more identifiable if he had looked more like Lt. Col Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, but exuded a persona closer to the “Dorian Gray” of GfII than of Col. Slade. So for me, the Michael Corleone of GFIII looked and acted (in mannerism) like a 70 year old Frank Slade. And I feel that greatly detracted from the narrative coherence of the trilogy.

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    1. Thanks for the comment--but just to clarify, Part III is set 20 years later. (Part II concludes in 1959; Part III is 1979).

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    2. Correct, the 8 years is now long Michael has seen Kay.

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    3. However, if you notice Michael in the last shot of GFII alone in the chair, his hair is much noticeably grayer and face more wrinkly than the entire movie. Therefore, I have a hard time believing that GFII ended in 1959/1960. Seems like they jumped ahead several years in that final shot. I'm interested in hearing someone else's take on that.

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    4. So inattentive. The film is set 20 years later, not 8. And Frank Slade did not exist for several more years after this film. You clearly haven't followed this essay's analysis of Michael Corleone's evolution.

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