The anniversary of The Godfather
Essays & podcasts on the beginnings of doubt regarding American justice
I recently published two essays on Coppola’s signature movie, for its 50th an., examining the ways in which Michael Corleone is un-American & the ways in which he does Americanize.
First, for the Acton Institute, I wrote about WFB’s review of the famous movie & the defense of American politics he wanted to mount against a movie he understood to be subversive. I give you a startling thought to whet your appetite:
In The Godfather, therefore, Coppola raises the question, Will America stay America? Will it be the country you read about in the rhetoric of Lincoln? Or—was it ever that? What if the American people experience their political-theological drama in a very different way? This is not to say that Coppola suggested America might be in for a future where divine kings roam the fruited plains, only that the belief in the Constitution, individual rights, & impersonal justice might fade, or at any rate be weakened in significant ways. In that respect, Coppola has proved prophetic—Buckley had every reason to abhor the vision before his eyes. We look around these days & we’re not sure what we’re even trying to articulate when we talk about justice in America.
Next, in The American Conservative, I wrote about the milestones in which Michael does Americanize, or how he finds an opportunity, a success that lead him to tragedy:
The immigrant’s story, the self-made man’s story, the American story of achieving great success, which is compatible with & perhaps even necessary to national greatness, is almost entirely reversed in the Godfather. Michael Corleone succeeds precisely by corrupting American institutions & putting on a show of respectability in business. He is part of a gradual political corruption of America that seems to start from moral corruption, one that affects elites especially. & it is their level at which he operates, typically behind the scenes. While every idea of representation or deliberation is corrupted by such conspiratorial activity, Corleone is much more a symptom than a cause of the loss of political virtue & public spirit.
If you’d like a longer, deeper conversation on the movie, here’s my podcast with my friend John Presnall.