The Godfather-Film Analysis

The Godfather-Film Analysis

Name of student


Date of submission


The formalist theory is one of the styles that an avid viewer can use to analyze, interpret, and understand a film. The theory looks at the structure and form of the movie to deduce meaning. It uses internal evidence and focuses on their style and design. An ordinary viewer can get the message put across by a film by looking at the moral of the story that might be obvious for everyone to see. However, formalist theory tries to unearth the implicit content that is not apparent to an ordinary viewer. The theory evokes emotions by using various system designs such as lighting, sound, and costume to pass a message. We are going to employ this method to analyze the film, The Godfather.

Stage One: Analysis

Contextual Information

The title of the movie is “The Godfather.” It was released on March 24th, 1974. The cast of the film include: Don Vito Corleone (Marion Brando) who is the patriarch of the mafia family, Michael (Al Pacino) who is the youngest son of Vito and a decorated U.S. Marine who became The Godfather at the end, Sonny (James Caan) who is the eldest son of Vito and in line to succeed him, Fredo (John Cazale) who is Michael’s elder brother, Tom(Robert Hagen) who is the family lawyer of the Corleones’, Kay (Diana Keaton) who is the girlfriend of Michael, Sollozo (Al Latieri) who is a rival mafia boss, and McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) a corrupt law enforcer (Puzo, 2009). The Director of the movie is Francis Ford Coppola, the Executive Director is Robert Evans, The Cinematographer is Gordon Willis, and The Distribution & Production Company is Paramount Pictures. The Godfather is a crime thriller, where there is a lot of anticipation, suspense, and violence involved. It is a gangster genre film, where the theme revolves around the gangster underworld (Dika, 2000).


In the summer of 1945, guests are gathered for the wedding of Vito’s daughter Connie and Carlo (Coppolla, 1972). Vito and Tom are hearing requests for favors. According to Sicilian traditions, one should not refuse requests on his daughter’s wedding day. Famous singer Fontane petitions Vito to help him land a movie role in Hollywood to catapult his career, after Jack Woltz the head of the studio turned him down. Michael, who is a marine returning from World War Two, arrives at the wedding and introduces his girlfriend Kay to his family and tells her about their life but promises not to engage in it. Afterward, Woltz refuses to grant Fontane a casting role. The next morning he wakes up next to a severed head of his favorite horse (Coppolla, 1972). Sollozzo, who is backed by the rival mafia families, asks Vito for funds as well as political and legal protection for the heroin trade in New York. Vito refuses. In retaliation, he is gunned down in an attempt on his life. However, he survives. Sollozo abducts Tom, and blackmails him to offer the previous deal rejected by Vito to Sonny, who is now in charge, but he also refuses. Michael visits his father in the hospital and finds him unguarded. He rebuffs Sollozzo’s men who had come to kill Vito. Later, McCluskey breaks Michael’s jaw when the latter tells him that he is corrupt and works for Sollozzo. Michael arranges a meeting with both Sollozzo and McCluskey where he kills both of them, which forces him to be sent into hiding in Sicily. When Sonny learns that Carlo mistreats Connie, he beats him up. Carlo connives with the rival mafias to have Sonny killed. Sonny is later shot dead. Rather than revenge, Vito meets with the Five Families and agrees to sponsor them in the heroin trade. After the death of her lover in Sicily, Michael returns from exile and re-unites with Kay. At this moment, Vito is semi-retired. Michael takes over as the head and promises his fiancée that he will make the business legitimate. Afterward, Vito tells Michael that a close associate will be used to lure him to a meeting where he will be killed. Vito dies in the family garden while playing with his grandson. At the burial, Tessio proposes for a meeting with the rivals which identifies him outright as the traitor. Michael arranges a series of murders where all the heads of the Five Families are killed. Tessio and Carlo are also killed. The film ends with Michael’s close associate Clamenza, kissing Michael’s hand and calling him “Don Corleone (Coppolla, 1972).”

There is two narrative structure of a movie; continuous action and parallel action. Continuous action is where the story unfolds chronologically from the start to the end while the parallel action is where the story cuts back and forth between scenes. The Godfather mostly employs continuous action (Puzo, 2009). From the beginning at Connie’s wedding to the final scene where Connie is called Don Corleone, the scenes are related and arranged chronologically. Examples include the transfer of power from Vito to Michael, and Michael growing from being the youngest son who was upright to being a Godfather. All the above examples show growth that develops linearly. Michael grows from being timid to someone ferocious; there is the moral downfall of Michael, and Vito changes from being a powerful Godfather to a playful grandfather. There are a few instances that parallel structure has been used. As Vito, Sonny, and Tom discuss business with Sollozzo, there are flashes of scenes of a meeting being arranged. Also, there is the mafia war following Sollozzo’s murder. There are flashes of gangsters going about their daily lives as well as newspaper headlines on the aftermath of the violent mafia war (Dika, 2000).

The story of this movie revolves around the moral downfall of Michael as he replaces his father as the head of the family business (Puzo, 2009). On the other hand the plot of the film takes us through the moment Michael returns from the war as a hero, the mafia wars which forces him to commit murders and escape to Sicily, returning and becoming more brutal than his father, the death of his father because of heart attack, and Michael becoming the Godfather. In short, the story gives us the overall view of the film while the plot connects the events that arrive at the overall view.

Aesthetic Choices

Mise en scene refers to those elements put in before filming starts to enhance the presentation or achieve a particular objective. They include lighting, sound, costumes, and props. All these were incorporated in The Godfather. Light is used where it is used to illuminate Vito’s face making the eyes darkened (Coppolla, 1972). It creates a unique image of him thus illustrating his personality and profession. Prop is used where the gun is planted in the restaurant, and Michael uses it to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey. The gun signifies Michael’s new life. Costumes are used where the mafias wear black suits with black ties, and driving expensive black cars which are a classical mob character. Also, Michael progresses from wearing the military uniform to expensive suits to match his profession. Sound used in this movie is nostalgic and with a lot of sadness to match the theme (Coppolla, 1972). Another aesthetic choice is editing that includes cuts and transitions and camera shots. In this movie, there is parallel editing where multiple events occur concurrently. Michael attends the baptism of his godson while his hit men execute the Five Dons of New York. There is the varying of camera shots. In the church, it is conveyed through long shots, close-ups, and tracking shots that are paralleled by the preparation for the murders. There was the close-up of the baby being cuddled by the mother at the church (Puzo, 2009). Another aesthetic choice is the use of technology. It is widely touted that The Godfather revolutionized the cinematography world. It introduced a phenomenon called shooting darker, which was novel at that time. At that time, movies were shot in areas that were quite lit, but shooting more unlit is where shots are taken in quite dark places. Unlike this era of digital cameras, during that period it required a lot of expertise to shoot in the dark. It led to situations where a darker version of movies could be produced in the theater.

Social/Personal Impact

Since the invention or inception of motion pictures in 1927, films have had a social, political, and cultural impact on society. The Godfather has had its repercussions too; it changed Hollywood. Italians were now fully recognized as people and part of America, and not stereotypes (Dika, 2000). It was an Italian movie made by Italians, unlike the previous ones that had been directed by non-Italians. Also, the movie Italianized American culture where those who had watched the film memorized famous pick up lines like “I am going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” In the 80’s it was not uncommon to find people quoting different lines of the movie. Moreover, the movie made the Italians of that time to have a sense of belonging because the movie depicted their lifestyle, which the rest of America had to understand (Dika, 2000). At that time, there were a lot of stereotypes that Italians were violent people, but the film made people understand that the so-called violent people were compassionate people ready to defend their families at whatever cost. On top of that, the film set precedence, and set a standard or threshold for subsequent gangster-genre movies. It can then be said that it revolutionized Hollywood. Also, the film portrays the struggle of every American to achieve the American dream. Any American viewer can identify with it, especially the struggles their parents or grandparents underwent to fit into the American dream. The film also introduced us to the Italian way of life that had been stereotyped for a very long time (Puzo, 2009). The eating of Italian pasta at the wedding, their family life where men run the business exclusively and women are homemakers, the violence stereotyped to Italian Americans, the Catholic church associated with them, and strong family ties where they stay in close knit set ups. It made the rest of America embrace them. The film was inspired by the mob wars that were persistent in New York at that time, and their mysterious nature since no one knew how it was organized. The film was based on several underworld mafias that existed in New York. Don Vito had the same personality with mafia bosses of the time who were engaged in rivalry wars and the illicit drug trade (Dika, 2000).

Stage Two: Reflection

Movie analysis equips one with valuable knowledge and technique of interpreting movies and other literal works. It enables me to determine how the film uses the various cinematic features and their designed system. In The Godfather, the cinematographer using darkened scenes to put across the theme of the movie, and also the faces of the cast, were shaded to match with their personality (Coppolla, 1972). Also, movie analysis enables one to come up with objective criticism. Criticism in this context means dissecting and understanding a film, and appreciating it. One can come up with real criticism through deep reflective thought and conducting research on the subject matter. Moreover, it enables one to look at a movie as part of a broader context of a society. It can be achieved by looking at the theme, culture, place, and time it was made. The Godfather was made at a time when there were a lot of stereotypic views against the Italians (Dika, 2000). The movie served to demystify that notion and enable the rest of America to understand and embrace them. Movie analysis gives one the ability to understand various theories and apply these ideas to film. It can be said then that film analysis is the practical aspect of applying those principles learned.

Movie analysis has imparted me with some valuable knowledge, and from now on film watching will never be the same again. With the various film theories in mind, movie watching will be from a critical perspective, and understanding the plot and hidden meaning in the film. A good example is a formalist theory where interpretation is achieved by looking at the style and design used like lighting and sound, or the auteur theory that looks at the film director’s life and previous work. The course has enabled me to learn that each and every film normally has reasons behind their production. They are made out of societal experiences. The Godfather was made so that the rest of America could understand the Italian Americans (Puzo, 2009). Lastly the course has given me skills in movie analysis and criticism. I can now watch a film from different dimensions; deciphering the explicit meaning of the plot and the implicit meaning which the director wanted to put across, and this will go a long way in helping me in my filming career. Analysis can be achieved by applying the various theories like formalist theory that enable one to interpret and understand a film, and come up with an objective criticism of the same.









Coppolla, F. F. (Director). (1972). The Godfather [Motion Picture].

Dika, V. (2000). “The Representation of Ethnicity in The Godfather.” Francis Ford Coppolla’s

Godfather Triology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Puzo, M. (2009). The Godfather. London: Arrowbooks.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *