This page is an abstract from our full analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting.
Genres, registers, tones
The question of genres within The Godfather does not appear very complex. The movie stands as the story of a dynastic transition amongst a mafia family opposed to other rival families. We are dealing with a family drama, and with a story of gangsters.
The family drama side is illustrated by the thematics of:
- the rival brothers, Sonny the heir, Fredo the useless traitor, Michael the unsuspected Hero, and Tom Hagen the adoptive and a bit unloved son.
- the relationship father/sons (Vito/Sonny: partly made of conflicts, with Sonny who doesn‘t rise to Vito‘s expectations and own value; Vito/Fredo, a quasi non-existent relationship; Vito/Michael, a privileged and close relationship, made of mutual protection and care).
The story of gangsters runs on the opposition between the Corleone clan and Sollozzo then the Five Families.
The alliance of the two genres evokes a very old genre in the background: the medieval chanson de geste. Indeed, this genre would often tell the story of kings and princes, going at war against other lineages: The Godfather seems like a modern transposition of this, which Coppola confirmed in an interview about the movie by saying he intended to tell the story of a king whose 3 sons inherited his various character attributes and weaknesses.
With the theme of the happy and unhappy love stories – Connie/Carlo, Michael/Apollonia, Michael/Kay – the movie also stands as a sentimental drama, one pole, the domestic violence between Connie and Carlo, getting strongly opposed to another pole, the romance Michael/Kay, then Michael/Apollonia.
The use of those genres allowed the authors to build different types of scenes on various registers:
- Scenes of action, full of suspense and of a tension whose risk is death.
- Directly linked to them, the scenes of discussion, of preparation of the action. They take place in a rather dark and tense atmosphere.
- Love or couple scenes
- either in harmony and tenderness
- initial scenes Michael/Kay in harmony at Connie‘s marriage,
- then shopping for Christmas
- scenes Michael/Apollonia, during their meeting,
- then during their marriage,
- then happy together
- or in violence and conflict
- scenes Carlo/Connie at fight
- final scenes Kay/Michael when he lies to her.
- either in harmony and tenderness
Most of the action is treated on a very serious register/tone: very few humor or comedy, just a bit of charm… The only emotionally positive moments are the sequence of Connie‘s marriage, festive and happy (but balanced with the dark and solemn scenes in which Vito receives his „clients“), and the romance between Michael and Apollonia. Everywhere else, one oscillates between gravity, solemnity, tension, uncertainty, diffuse threats, violence, crisis, sadness, mourning… In brief, a wide range of negative atmospheres – and yet very pleasant to follow! – that impregnate the main characters, who carry these deep and dark feelings: the serious and quiet charisma of Vito, the impassibility of Michael, who rarely smiles.
Let‘s remember it: over thousands of movies produced by humanity, this one stays one of the most appreciated ever. This shows that good fiction isn‘t necessarily based on good feelings, rather the contrary. Our analysis of Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, also a worldwide success, will also reveal much perversion, multiple forms of violence, but in a rather funny and joyful atmosphere, contrarily to The Godfather.
Did you enjoy it? Want to know more? Then read the full script analysis of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and improve your scriptwriting skills