Monday, February 15, 2010

Godfather Blogging, Part II (***Spoiler Alert***)

Does Fredo need to die at the end of Part II?

Part of the power of Corleone family's decent is that the patriarch, Don Vito, is such a family man. He makes the Machiavellian calculation that it is better to be loved than feared (or to at least balance the two). As a result, Vito lives a happy and fruitful life that is, paradoxically, epitomized by his death: playing with his grandchild in his home garden. "The Godfather" reminds us time and again that gangsters don't often get to die of natural causes. In this sense, Vito's is a happy death.

But when it's Micheal's turn to become Don, he makes the decision that it is better to be feared than loved. There are perhaps few scenes that contrast these decisions better the opening sequences of Part I and II.

In the first film, Vito agrees to help a lowly undertaker who is seeking vengeance for the rape of his daughter. The conversation the two men have is important : Vito never explicitly agrees to kill or harm the men who raped the undertaker's daughter. Instead, he offers his "friendship" and promises to give him "justice." It's a pretty heavy conversation between a very powerful man and a very common individual, who's name just happens to be Amerigo Bonasera, literally "America Good Night."

By contrast, the conversation Micheal has with Senator Geary in the beginning of Part II is essentially a mutual shakedown. Geary walks in thinking he can extort Micheal only to leave with Micheal extorting him. It's a power struggle between two powerful men. Being "loved" is not part of the equation.

But does this mean that had Don Vito been in Michael's shoes with regard to Fredo, Vito would have granted his brother clemency?

Towards the end of II, Michael and Fredo are talking about how Fredo was set up by Roth. Fredo says he didn't know they were going to try and kill Micheal, that he was just looking for respect; but in doing so he admits that he's jealous of Micheal. Fredo's weak and stupid, but the very thing that should save Fredo -- i.e. the fact that he's Micheal's brother -- will turn out to be the thing dooms him. Fredo will always be jealous of Micheal, and because he stands to inherit the family business from his younger brother should something ever happen to Micheal, Fredo becomes a permanent liability.

Therefore, Michael has no choice but to kill his brother.

It's also important to note that Vito was an only child. He never had to deal with intrafamilial power struggles. The first members of his "family" in America are Clemenza and Tessio. Interestingly enough, during Vito's last on screen conversation with Micheal before he dies he gives his son what will turn out to be two contradictory pieces of advice. First, Vito tells Micheal to stay close with his family; but then Vito tells Micheal how to identify the person in his inner circle that will eventually betray him to Barzini. This person turns out to be Tessio, one of Vito's "brothers" when he first arrives in America. In a sense, Vito is providing Micheal with instructions for fratricide.

"The Godfather" chronicles Micheal's fall from Grace, while "Part II" is the story of how Micheal destroys his own family. Fredo's murder is a heart-breaking conclusion to the movie, more so given the intertwining storyline accounting for how Vito built his family. The dual narratives also remind the audience that Vito wasn't an angel either and that the sins of the father will be revisited on the sons.

So in perhaps one way, Fredo was destined to die at his brother's hand from the very beginning.

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