The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

The club's caporegime, an old hand at conducting ritualized slaughter designated him by the tribal chieftain, is directing an innocent young man he's known from birth on how to carry out his first ritual. Having been socked in the face, the young man's accepted this responsibility to establish catharsis for the tribe as it'll conveniently result in his own bloodthirst being satisfied: shooting a couple of suckers in the head who had it coming to them. The capo, Clemenza, reassures the kid, Michael, with wisdom garnered from experience: “These things gotta happen every five years or so, ten years. Helps to get rid of the bad blood.” He's referring of course to the all-out mercenary bloodbath that'll ritually follow the arranged assassination. Michael's rite of passage into the order, as with all young killers looking to “make their bones,” is what sustains the order. See, like the opening undertaker, everybody “believes in America” until somebody throws a punch. Then it's a bad blood contagion and it's only getting appeased in the theater of violence.

The wounded vanity of the Five Families dresses up as wounded honor; order can only be restored once honor is restored, honor can only be restored once vanity is restored, and vanity's only getting restored once there's bloodshed. With this reality in plain view, Clemenza justifies himself and the leap into the pit that he's allowing his charge to take. With all masculine confidence, The Godfather might as well be gesturing at the world and asking: what more of a license to kill does a guy need? But mere cynicism doesn't make for tribal membership; you need to join in the romance for the ritual to do its work. The undertaker can't just pay his godfather a few bucks to rough up those kids; he's got to become a Friend of the Family for his desired “justice” to be served. Kiss the hand of the gangster godhead, and his blessings will be upon you. Watching Michael Corleone imitate what he sought to escape expresses the slavery at the heart of the romance: we'll renounce Satan when asked, but we're still here performing his ceremony.

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