Based on Mario Puzo's 1969 novel of the same name - The Godfather (1972), is considered as one of the greatest films of all time. The movie was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. When Coppola and Puzo were making the first Godfather film, the book was not yet the phenomenon it would eventually become. Similarly, the second Godfather film was released within two years of the first one. By the time Part III was released, nearly two decades had passed. The Godfather films had become cultural institutions. However, Part III is often criticized for numerous reasons and not given the same reverence as the first two films.
30 years since its original release, Part III is due for a re-appraisal: When Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola's wrote the screenplay for Part III, they called it - "The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone".
Three decades after its original release, a definitive and re-edited version of The Godfather Part III is going to be released this December.
Godfather Part I (1972): A king with three sons
One of the significant decisions Francis Ford Coppola took when adapting the novel was to focus less on Vito and more on Michael. When Michael is introduced in the movie, he is presented in bright sunlight. He enters his sister's wedding like an outsider. A sense of naive innocence is evident when he assures Kay: "That is my family, Kay. That is not me."
Coppola envisioned the Corleone family to belong to a Shakespearean universe: A king with three sons, each inheriting part of his qualities - Santino inherited his robust strength, Fredo inherited the sweetness of a young mind while Michael inherited the cunning intelligence.
Michael is a decorated WWII hero. His family had the power to get him out of the service but he chose to fight for his country. He looks down on the crime empire his family runs - and it would be safe to assume that the latter fuels the first: He chose to serve knowing, that in some ways it will affect his family negatively.
What begins his descent into villainy of the film are the actions he is forced in taking. Michael is forced to assume an active role in the family business when his father gets shot. Outside forces compel him to get more involved in the family business. The first character change occurs when he assures his father: "I am with you now," and saves his father. He takes control of the situation. He shrewdly handles a potentially fatal situation. Later in the house, circumstances force him to assume even larger responsibilities.
The obvious transition of Michael into a so called "bad guy" occurs when adverse circumstances coerce him to commit a cold blooded murder. He is pushed to the extreme, to match with what others around him are doing.
Then he would go on to choreograph the murder of his enemies. All but one of these would be carried out indoors - places others would also assume to be safe. Michael perpetuated such heinous acts of violence, in order to assume the ultimate position of power.
Thus comes the exchange of power: from the old to the new. As the transfer of power takes place, Vito gets his only chance to exercise his eloquence with soliloquy. In the extraneously presented monologue gives Vito a well-deserved moment of clarity. A moment where a father can apologize to his son for an unintended fate.
Vito's death allows Michael to execute a plan he was patiently waiting for. The day he becomes Godfather for his nephew, is planned to coincide with the day he executes his enemies. His way of using his alibi to carry out violence of towering proportion not only earns him everyone's respect, but fear and dread also. In the famous baptism scene, Michael literally becomes a godfather and simultaneously carries out a brutal murder spree that asserts his power to the rest of the New York families and his enemies.
That is the moment when the film's metaphor for capitalism reaches its zenith. The baptism scene shows that to be successful, Michael has to pay a price. And the price is to trade soul for success. A sacrifice Michael made, adding commentary to the way of capitalism - where ruthlessness in the market is not just paramount for success but also for survival. There are no sentiments involved, Michael had learned it long ago.
Godfather II (1974): A brother's sin
Watch the trailer of Godfather Part II here
Part II sees Michael Corleone trying to control and expand the empire his father built - and also the consequences of Michael's violence. As Michael's story continues in Part II - in parallel to Vito's arc in flashbacks, it is a reminder of how much the family has changed. Michael never gets the same respect as his legendary father did, from his enemies and even from his own two families.
The color and lights in Connie's fairy-tale wedding in Part I introduced various characters and contrasted that family unity against the darkness of Don Vito entertaining favors to his guests. Godfather Part II reintroduces the characters, and the obvious focus in Michael - with the once shy university student now fitting very comfortably in the role of a Mafia Boss. The family drama takes over the criminal elements:
Betrayal and attack not only comes from outsiders but also from within Michael's own family.
If Part I was about how outside forces can force a good man to turn bad, Part II is about how the consequences of that bad man's actions and paranoia can further take him down the path - alienating and isolating him.
The alienation of Michael's wife deteriorates to the point where Kay decides to separate from him and aborts one of their sons, saying she will never bring any more of Michael's sons because "all this must stop". Michael's own siblings also begin to become distant from him and Fredo even betrays him and forces Michael to commit perhaps his greatest sin - murdering his own brother, something that would haunt Michael for the remaining of his days.
Godfather Part III (1990): An epilogue to a saga
Watch the trailer of Godfather Part III here
Part III portrays Don Michael Corleone as an aging patriarch, full of regret and unable to escape his own history.
The Michael Corleone audiences were familiar with, had a thick slick back mane. On the other hand, part III follows a diminished Michael Corleone - sick with diabetes and gray hair. This is no longer the virile, powerful Michael Corleone. Rather than the unstoppable force from the first two films, this is a King Lear-like figure with a steely gray brush cut.
This portrayal of an aging don by Michael juxtaposes the tuxedo draped Vito Corleone from the first film. As if the red rose in the godfather's lapel symbolized the don's compassion, his strength and the source of it. This red mascot Michael is seen wearing symbolizes the nature of his power. Vito's eyes are intentionally left darkened in the film, while Michael hides his gaze behind tainted glasses - as if verisimilitudes of the persons they became.
Long separated, Michael and Kay meet at his induction ceremony into the papal order. Despite Kay remarrying, there remains unsaid love between them, with veneers of dread on Kay's feelings about Michael.
The choice of Santino's bastard son as the family heir feels almost like an explicit nod to Shakespeare. Michael's son Anthony remembers how his father ordered to kill Fredo and harbors resentment for that. He leaves law school to become an opera singer - and never works for his father. Bullets intended for Michael hit his daughter Mary and kill her - as if a payment for Michael's sin of killing his own brother.
In the twilight of his life, Michael Corleone lived with immense regret and agony. The saddest part of his final moments is the lack of conviction - as if destiny led him to a path of self-destruction. Vito died while playing with his grandson in the garden - in the arms of his son.
Several decades later, Michal wouldn't die in the arms of his son, nephews, nieces or his grandchildren - he would die alone in an Italian villa, ironically a peaceful passing of a man who has caused and known so much bloodshed and suffering.
From a naive & stoic war-hero, Michael becomes a cold, heartless and vengeful mafia don. The tragedy for Michael is that he couldn't escape the inevitable doom of succession, despite his prior knowledge. For Michael Corleone, death alone is not a punishment, it only marks the end of his tragedy - an epilogue to a saga.