Monday, February 15, 2010

Micheal Corleone in Love (More Godfather Blogging)

One of the most frustrating aspects of the first Godfather movie is the "Appolonia Detour" the film takes right around the middle of the narrative. I don't know a single person who has not said after watching the movie for the first time "What the hell was that all about?"

From the very beginning of the movie, the audience is led to believe that Kay will be Micheal's love interest. Unfortunately, we're given remarkably few details about their relationship. We never find out how they met. We never meet Kay's parents (her nuclear family). She's conspicuously not Italian--her last name is the WASP-y sounding "Adams." She seems to be very much in love with Micheal, but it's never really clear how he feels about her.

At first Micheal seems to see her as a way out of the family business. During Connie's wedding. Kay bombards him with questions, anxious to learn everything she can about his family, but Micheal is reluctant to get into much detail. Eventually, he relents and tells the story of Johnny Fontaine and the bandleader. After that point, Kay's been allowed into the family. Micheal even insists on having her be a part of the family wedding picture.

At the same time, Michael is absent for most of the first quarter or third of the film. Tom Higgins goes to LA to shakedown the head of the movie studio, while Sonny is clearly the heir apparent. He's in on the negotiations with Sollozzo and the Tattaglia family and is also the family enforcer when it comes to Carlo's abuse of Connie. Micheal's so distant, in fact, that the way he hears about the assassination attempt on his father is from a newspaper. The fact that he's on a night out with Kay when this happens suggests she's the reason he's been so absent.

This is the last Micheal will see of Kay for some time--years, in fact. This should be considered odd. When he offers to kill Sollozzo, he is told he will have to lie low for a while, Kay's name is never brought up, and suddenly Michael is off to Sicily ... where he meets Appolonia.

From he audience's perspective, this relationship is more complete. We see when Micheal first meets her, we watch him court her, we meet her father, witness their wedding, are invited into their honeymoon suite, and watch her die in the car bomb. It's a hot, fast and tragic relationship filled with the kind of combustible energy missing from nearly every other love among the Corleones.

Is this just an aside that helps to showcase the complexity of Micheal's relationship with Kay? If so, it stands in stark contrast. When Micheal returns to America he will ask Kay to marry him in one of the most depressing proposal scenes captured on film. The film will conclude with Micheal emotionally shutting her out of "his" family by lying to her about Carlo and then physically shutting her out when the door closes at the very end. In "II," Kay will return the favor by having an abortion. Micheal will physically assault her and threaten to kill her if she leaves with the children. It's an awful marriage by nearly every standard. The only thing that approaches a happy or intimate moment between Kay and Micheal comes after the First Communion party ... which is subsequently interrupted by an assassination attempt.

The Appolonia Detour is important because it's teaches Micheal an important lesson about fear and love. Vito may have tried to teach his son to be feared and loved in balance, but Appolonia teaches him what it means to love. For Micheal, love means loss. When he returns to America he falls back in favor with Kay precisely because he doesn't love her and likely never did. If he did love Kay, he would have never volunteered to kill McCulskey and Sollozzo; or he would have kept in touch with her while she tried so hard to keep in contact with him; and, most importantly, he would have never married someone else.

Michael marries Kay because he knows that Kay loves him. Godfather's, like Machiavellian Princes, are to be loved and feared. They don't love or fear in return. Maybe that's why Coppola and Puzo sent Michael back to Italy to learn that lesson. Micheal rejects love for fear for that moment onward, and his tragic marriage to Appolonia is a big reason why.

[We put it another way here.]


CJ said...

Gotta disagree with you in the first few paragraphs. Michael does the "hit", protects his father in the hospital, then the family moves him "out of harm's way" in Sicily, only to have been "marked" qhile residing there. He falls in love with the lovely Appolonia and she gets what what meant for him.

To me it was clear. But that might have to do with "eredità e storia della famiglia" (family heritage and history).

Kay appealed to him for the very reason he initially attracted to her. She was not familia. She was waspish, American.

Michael was going to break away from the family, but could not. There was no one else to be trusted. No one else with the strength to lead.

This was the central point, the tragedy of the entire movie. Family weakness, betrayals, protecting one's own. No one else could or woud do it and all hated Michael for it and he for them.

From the very beginning, I knew that if Kay would not/could not conform, her life would be in jeopardy. He at the very least, respected her as the mother of his children and being of a new era, granted her a divorce. She feared him enough to know this was tenuous if she reached for more.

He had, essentially made her an offer should could not refuse.

CJ said...

I've blended all the stories together.

That's what happens when you read the book first and know people who know people who know people...

Frank, not Michael said...

After watching as many clips of the GF as I can stand, I have decided that Pacino is a brilliant actor (surprise!)
But not because I enjoyed the GF, I didn't, never enjoy giving too much time to assholes and Michael Corleone is one. On infinite levels.

That he may have had a "moment" or two with Appolonia only serves as highlight of the shitty pile of shit the rest of his life(and he) was.

However - Pacino.
As I have said, NOT a Godfather watcher but I have seen Scent of a Woman many times. In that Pacino is a great man. In all the ways he personified what a good Man ISN'T in the GF he opposes in TSOAW. In that movie he even says himself "well I think Michael is hysterical" Lol

You said M. Corleone is paralyzed by fear (even saying he is "paralyzed" gives it a victimized tone and down-plays free will that Corleone squanders) but contrast to that situation there is the "driving Blind" scene of the Scent of a Woman (as if to show to Charlie that is all any of us are doing anyway). and so on in so many ways.

So yeah - Pacino, brilliant actor that he can do both the killing Carlo/Kay abuse/ring-kissing scenes and the tango/assembly/walking up the driveway scenes in the later movie.

I might even imagine that Pacino has contempt for Michael and that is how he can do that incredible facial expression as the men kiss his ring and then close the door on Kay. What an ugly ugly human being getting off on power. I want to think contempt fueled the passion and accuracy of that portrayal, but then, how can I know.
But "victim of circumstance" or "product of my environment" doesn't cut it as an excuse for Corleone.

and you asked "did Whozit HAVE to be killed" in your other post. I say yes absolutely given the structure of Micheal's reality and his perceptions and reasoning, but I dunno if I'll come back and say why. well I try to be quick -

In abusive groups the point of the "discipline" or retribution is not eve so much to 'pay back" the target for transgressions as it is an EXAMPLE to the rest of the group. Corleone's very poetic ways of doling out death ;like the mini-god he wants to be is mostly for the benefit of the survivirs, The horror factor. keeping them in line. It's too late for the transgressor. You lose your life - there is not Good Death or Bad Death as you said - all are bad from the point of the dying person. The poetry of the way the death is administer by the micro-god is what impacts the larger "family" and is the whole point. It is the psychological glue that holds the unit together. NOT love. It's all fear. and Michael is a very frightened man as you say. Maybe most frightened of life NOT as the Godfather. because if he really did walk away from that life what would he walk TO?

Life as a regular little guy mowing the lawn and helping kids with math does not appeal, he probably fears a mundane life more than anything. He wants to be a Big Man. Not a husband and father, but his weak and boyish ego demands that he live his life as a GOD (father)with the constant affirmations that he is a really Big Man. Even the ring-kissing is a shadowing of what they do to the Pope isn't it?
Whatta really a gross little bastard.

well, that's my view. I'm outta here....