Considering his passing last week, I figured that I had to choose a shot by Gordon Willis this week. But with so many iconic images in so many iconic films, which would it be? I’m betting that when it comes to this movie that many of you would have selected a different moment, but for me this shot says a lot.
To truly appreciate the image, we need to remind ourselves what has just happened in the story. Moments ago, Vito Corleone made a power-grab by killing The Don of his part of New York City. He did it because he didn’t believe in the way The Don worked. He did it because he believed he could do a better job. He did it by first earning the Don’s respect. He did it in cold blood. He hid in the shadows outside of Don Fanucci’s door on the day of a festival and killed him without warning.
There’s a saying about what’s fair in love and war that probably applies here.
But that brings us to this moment. After the deed is done, Vito doesn’t run and doesn’t hide. He calmly walks away…as if he’s killed a rodent that has been bothering a neighbour. From Fanucci’s door, he calmly takes the scenic route back down to the festival below. There he rallies up with his family on the stoop where they are watching the celebrations. He joins his wife Carmella (quick show of hands – who actually knew that was her name?), and his three sons Santino, Fredo, and Michael. Behind them, musicians play along with the festivities. Around them, the community is gathered in joy.
Vito Corleone has just snuffed out a human life – one that will greatly impact the people gathered on the street this day – and here he sits like nothing is wrong.
Perhaps that’s the trick to killing in the name – you have to be able to convince yourself that it doesn’t matter. Perhaps that’s the reason it became such a big part of the way America was built – something that is winked at with the flags Santino and Fredo are playing with. In this moment both parents’ faces are hard to read. Carmella looks somewhere between concerned and confused. If we’re to go on what we know about Corleone Family Business, we should suppose that she doesn’t know what her husband has just done. That look though would suggest she knows something. She has to – she would. As great a liar as any man thinks he is, there are tells that a wife can pick up on. So Vito might be telling himself that what he has just done was “strictly business”, but I’d suggest that Carmella already knows that isn’t true.
But even if it was “strictly business”, that doesn’t look like something Vito is comfortable with yet. His expression is very numb, very distant. He can’t revel in the celebrations happening around him, and can’t look his wife in the eye. All he can do is hold on to Michael and lose himself. Is he hoping that Michael won’t one day have to do what he just did? Is he worried that he will have to teach him? If he is, then these hopes and worries are already too late. He has sealed his family’s fate. They are destined to become a powerful piece of the landscape in his city, and likewise his country…and it’s a destiny that’s been mapped with bloodshed.
Vito fled from Sicily to escape a man who had no reservations about killing not only his enemies, but his enemies’ family members. Now here he sits in his adopted homeland…well on his way to becoming the very man he came there to run away from.
Here’s three more from THE GODFATHER pt. 2 for the road…
This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far