I watched You’ve Got Mail again over the holiday break, but that is not the topic of today’s post. Sitting here and typing away (is typing still the correct word when it is a computer and not a typewriter?) I feel a bit like Tom Hanks communicating with Meg Ryan in that movie.
During that movie Tom Hanks quotes something from The Godfather (“Go to the mattresses”, meaning preparing for battle). She asks why men seem to relate to The Godfather and he replies “The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question.”
Now that may not be entirely accurate. I once lost my keys and when I went to The Godfather for the answer, I was still no better off.
However it is a masterpiece of a movie, another one of my personal Top Ten.
The scene I would like to present to you from that movie is the opening of the first of The Godfather movies.
The scene may be viewed at:
It is 1945. Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the head of the Corleone Mafia family, hence his title of Don Corleone. He is known to his friends and associates as “Godfather”. It is the wedding day of Don Corleone’s daughter Connie and he is holding court. As he later explains, “no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day.” He meets various persons in his study, some who have requests and some who wish to pay respects.
The study is dark, although it is bright outside, as can be seen through the blinds. The room is quiet, nothing intrudes, whether light, sound or persons.
Don Corleone sits at his desk, a kitten on his lap with which he plays.
An anguished father, Amerigo Bonasera, addresses the Godfather:
Bonasera: I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonour her family. She found a boyfriend; not an Italian. She went to the movies with him; she stayed out late. I didn't protest. Two months ago, he took her for a drive, with another boyfriend. They made her drink whiskey. And then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her, like an animal. When I went to the hospital, her nose was a'broken. Her jaw was a'shattered, held together by wire. She couldn't even weep because of the pain. But I wept. Why did I weep? She was the light of my life beautiful girl. Now she will never be beautiful again. I went to the police, like a good American. These two boys were brought to trial. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison - suspended sentence. Suspended sentence! They went free that very day! I stood in the courtroom like a fool. And those two bastards, they smiled at me. Then I said to my wife, for justice, we must go to Don Corleone.
Don Corleone: Why did you go to the police? Why didn't you come to me first?
Bonasera: What do you want of me? Tell me anything, but do what I beg you to do.
Don Corleone: What is that?
[Bonasera gets up and whispers in the Don's ear]
Don Corleone: That I cannot do.
Bonasera: I'll give you anything you ask.
Don Corleone: We've known each other for many years but this is the first time you've ever come to me for counsel or for help. I can't remember the last time you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is Godmother to your only child. But, let's be frank here. You never wanted my friendship and you were afraid to be in my debt.
Bonasera: I didn't want to get into trouble.
Don Corleone: I understand. You found paradise in America. You had a good trade, made a good living, the police protected you and there were courts of law and you didn't need a friend like me. But, now you come to me and you say "Don Corleone, give me justice." But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my home on the day my daughter's to be married and you ask me to do murder for money.
Bonasera: I ask you for justice.
Don Corleone: That is not justice your daughter is still alive.
Bonasera: Let them suffer then. As she suffers. How much shall I pay you?
Don Corleone: Bonasera. Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you to treat me so disrespectfully. If you had come to me in friendship then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies then they would become my enemies. And then, they would fear you. Bonasera: Be my friend... Godfather.
[kisses Don Corleone's ring]
Don Corleone: Good. Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But, until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day.
Bonasera: Grazie, Godfather.
Don Corleone: Bene.
Don Corleone: [to Tom] Give this to, uh, Clemenza. I want reliable people, people who aren't going to be carried away. After all we're not murderers in spite of what this undertaker thinks.
From the opening moments of this film we learn immediately of the power of Don Corleone, a man who can order men to be killed in a soft voice and with no more emotion than discussing the weather.
Bonasera kisses Don Corleone’s ring in the same way that the faithful kiss the Pope’s ring.
It is made evident that whilst the police and the courts exist to deal with crime and evil, the real authority, the true and only effective means of dealing with wrongdoing is private, via the Godfather. Bonasera went to the police and the courts and the courts let the men who beat his daughter walk free. Don Corleone does not berate Bonasera, does not criticise the police or the courts, but simply asks why Bonasera did not come to him first. He is the true and effective dispenser of justice, not the police or the politicians, who are on his payroll anyway.
The threat, the menace, the power are all implied as Don Corleone speaks softly, stroking the kitten. (The kitten was not scripted, Brando picked it up in the parking lot and kept it with him as the scene was filmed). He tells Bonasera that his simply being a friend of Don Corleone will make his enemies afraid.
As Don Corleone’s daughter’s wedding celebrations take place outside in the light, he sits inside in the darkened study ordering the execution of 2 men. The scene shows that outside the study is a world in which people get married, a world in which they go to the police if they are wronged, under the naïve and mistaken belief that world is fair and just, the world in which Bonasera lives. Inside the study is the real world, a world where men such as Don Corleone control and rule the outside world.
But it is not a world of chaos or animals. Don Corleone, the Godfather, is fair and just. “Accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day” he tells Bonasera. The gift to Bonasera, mentioned in the same breath as the mention of Don Corleone's daughter;s wedding, is the execution of the 2 young men. This gift he gives Bonasera is “justice”.
There is no delay, no lawyers using the system, no flawed jury verdicts. The Godfather decides and others implement. Had Bonasera come to him first, had Bonasera treated him with the respect he deserves, the 2 men “would be suffering this very day.”
All of that in the first couple of minutes.