The Godfather at 50!
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, based on the novel by Mario Puzo, has cemented itself into our culture through its thrilling and complex study of a Mafia crime family. It is rare to have a work created which is so infinitely quotable: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Godfather, here are five of its most memorable quotes.
“I believe in America.”
In Coppola’s director’s commentary, he remarks that he initially began the script with the wedding celebrations for Connie Corleone. Taking the advice of a friend, he instead decided to start the film in a more creative place. Coppola still starts the film during this wedding but within a secret meeting between the Godfather and a visitor taking place inside.
We begin facing an undertaker who has come to the Godfather, Vito Coleone, for help. His monologue begins with this key quote. He believes in America, yet the courts have failed him by not punishing his daughter’s attackers – he has come to the Godfather to claim his vengeance through illegal means. A belief in a free America is shrouded, muddied by the failures of its legal system as well as the macabre symbolism of the undertaker himself. As an opening quote, it becomes increasingly questioned as the film develops, as violence reigns supreme.
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Spoken by the Godfather, and then echoed later by his son, Michael, this quote is used as an important euphemism throughout. It presents the idea of a choice and then implies a lack of any real option. It is quickly made explicit that this ‘offer’ is often one of violence. To refuse it would mean death. When Michael also begins using this phrase, we know that he is prepared to undertake the methods of his father which he previously denounced.
“It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
The package containing fish wrapped in Brasi’s bulletproof vest is such a striking image, one which is only reinforced by this quote. In the underworld of organized crime, symbols take on powerful meanings – a drastic message can be sent through an image or idea. The ‘sleeping with the fishes’ idea has become so iconic, that it is almost cliché currently. However, it was The Godfather that originated the phrase, and so it cannot be anything other than genius.
“Look how they massacred my boy.”
Vito Coleone’s son is dead. Sonny has been riddled with bullets in an ambush orchestrated by the rival families. Upon showing his son’s body to the undertaker, Vito utters this unforgettable line, barely holding his emotions in check. This is one of the key moments which utterly humanizes the character, a brief glimpse into his interior emotional life. Simultaneously within an emotionally intense scene, as well as now becoming a popular internet meme, this quotation retains its power.
“Don’t ask me about my business.”
In the final scene of the movie, Michael is confronted by his wife, Kay, who demands to know if he murdered his sister’s husband. He responds with this chilling quote, reinforcing that he now views the violence committed by the family as ‘business’. The belief in an America which values entrepreneurship is corrupted by violence as the two become intermingled.
While Michael does eventually decide to answer Kay’s question, he simply lies, leaving her staring into his office, a shimmer of doubt passing over her face. As the other members of the family greet him, shake his hand, call him Don Corleone, we realize that his transformation into the Godfather is complete. He has become his father, and the American Dream is dead.Watch The Godfather