It’s a perfect film.
What’s the point of reviewing a perfect film? Pretty much everything has been said about The Godfather. The baptism scene and its juxtaposition; the wedding and its energy juxtaposed with the quiet meetings with Vito; the ending shot and its perfect encapsulation of Kay and Michael’s relationship; the garden scene, representing the mob in its entirety:it’s all fun and games and then suddenly you fall over, dead. The list goes on and on and on. Everything about this movie is iconic, everything is legendary.
And yet one thing I haven’t seen people talk about is a small detail: the leitmotif.
I looked all over the internet and couldn’t even find the music track I’m talking about, only the “theme music” of The Godfather. I literally had to figure out how to record audio on my computer, then I had to scroll through “The Godfather Epic” on HBO GO and find one of the moments where the track is used, record it as a video, save it as an mp4, etc. And yet there is nothing that sums up the film for me better than the track I’m thinking of. In case you don’t know what it sounds like, here’s the track I recorded:
The leitmotif tends to be played after a moment where the mob has affected someone’s life directly. Normally, this comes after shootings; Vito’s near-death experience, Sonny’s death at the toll-booth, and so on. But the moment I always found the most interesting is the moment where Michael truly becomes a part of the mob. (The clip is here) He discusses with his father topics outside of the “family business,” and tells his father he can handle everything that he wants to do. Then the music starts. This is an absolutely brilliant moment because it truly is the turning point; Michael is engraved in this forever, and he’s determined to do his job. The mob has affected him, not in a physical way, but as a character; and the change is heartbreaking.
So why is this particular music selection played? Well, I think it just has to do with the notes. I see it as a metaphor for mob life in general. It goes slightly up, but then it goes down. No matter what, the mob life will end downhill, and it will be ugly. The song is beautiful, yet sad and short. (The life is marvelous, but filled with sadness and will end quickly.)
This was really just an essay on a tiny detail in The Godfather. I think that goes to show just how layered and dense this film is, and there’s so much to discuss about this masterpiece that I just wanted to discuss a little thing inside of it that I appreciate.