Theme: "The hand that pulls the strings"
In 1972, a movie was released based on Mario Puzo' s novel, The Godfather. Almost thirty years have passed, and Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece maintains its position as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed films of all time. The Godfather, combined with its two sequels, form a trilogy depicting the life of the Corleone family. The Corleone's are not just any family; they are a family deeply enmeshed in the "underworld" of organized crime. Ostensibly then, The Godfather is about a Mafia Don and the passing on of the "family business" to one of his sons. Perhaps this explains the great fascination with this film. It explores a world of hidden power, known to exist, but rarely experienced. In truth, the reality that this film exposes is even greater than that of organized crime. It reveals the hidden power of the true "underworld"1 where the godfather is the antithesis of God the Father.
The title scene of the movie reproduces the logo and the title as they appear on the cover of the novel. The logo is an arm reaching downward with its hand clasping a wooden crosspiece to which strings are attached. This powerful symbol contains the theme of both the novel and the movie. In the novel, Don Vito Corleone proclaims to the other Dons, "We are all men who have refused to be fools, who have refused to be puppets dancing on a string pulled by the men on high."2 In the film he makes a similar statement as he counsels Michael for the last time. In other words he is saying, "I have fought to be the one who pulls the strings, to ascend the mountain of power, to be my own god." It is a very old theme.
In the Old Testament Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 14:4) a taunt is taken up against the King of Babylon. In Verse 12 it shifts from the King to the hidden power that pulls his strings.
"How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nation!
But you said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High."
The King and His Family
The Godfather resembles the story of a feudal King who has three sons. He rules a realm held together by the loyalty of his vassals and the power of his army. At the lowest levels of this kingdom are the common men like Amerigo Bonasera and Nazorine, the baker, who live forever indebted to and in the fear of the Great Don. It is a brutal system of hierarchy.
The Godfather is also a film about family. It begins at a wedding and ends at a baptism. In between are scenes of weddings, funerals, pregnancies, illnesses, family dinners, and family feuds. This is the great paradox of the Godfather; on the one hand it shows the common life of a family; and on the other, it shows the bizarre life of "the family". This is a family related by blood - the shedding of blood. It is the antitheses of God, the Great King, and His family (I Timothy 1:7; Galatians 3:26).
The Selection of An Heir
Michael, whose name means "Who is like the Lord?" is the son chosen to be heir to the godfather. In the early scenes, he is depicted as not wanting to be part of the "family business". This may not be as altruistic as it appears. In reality it shows strength of will that is matched only by the Don himself. Michael will not be anyone's puppet, including his father's. His destiny3, however, is not to be avoided, so it is no coincidence that he is "birthed" into the family business at Christmas time. An unsuccessful attempt on his father's life sets in motion events that bring Michael to the place where he pledges to his father, "I'm with you now." He makes his bones4 by assassinating the men who set his father up. Hidden away in Sicily, he waits until the time he can return and receive his father's kingdom.
This is the antithesis of God the Father's Son and Heir, Jesus Christ.
"Who, although He existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but, emptied Himself, taking the form of bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross."
Philippians 2: 6-8
Christmas commemorates Christ's incarnation. Immediately after His birth, assassination attempts were made on His life. He was hidden away in Egypt and Nazareth until the time He should appear to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
The Return of The Heir
Michael's return from Sicily is assured when his father makes peace with the other five families of New York. On the outside, it appears that the Don is not only weakened physically, but that his entire organization is crumbling. He retires and gives control of the family business to Michael. Upon returning to New York, Michael's two-fold task is to establish his father's dominion and have children of his own, thus ensuring the continuation of the family. In order to accomplish the first task, he uses new and unorthodox means, which only he and his father know about. He, therefore, alienates many of the family's closest associates, including one of the Caproregimes, Tessio, who ultimately betrays Michael.
Jesus Christ manifested Himself to Israel after His hidden years by proclaiming the open availability of God's Kingdom to all people (Matthew 4: 23-25). He went about this in new and unorthodox ways that angered the religious establishment and made even those closest to Him question if He really knew what He was doing. Only His Father knew the way that the Kingdom of God would be established (the Cross). It was no surprise to the Father or to the Son that one of Jesus' intimate circle would betray Him.
The Crowning of The Son
At his father's funeral, Michael Corleone agrees to meet with Don Barzini at a meeting set up by Tessio. The meeting will take place after the baptism of his sister's son; for Michael has decided to become the baby's godfather. The baptism scenes that follow are some of the most memorable in cinematic history. In the Roman Catholic ceremony, Kay and Michael stand holding Connie and Carlo's baby, Michael. As the priest prepares the baby for baptism he asks Michael Corleone these questions:
Priest: "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?"
Michael: "I do."
Priest: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord?"
Michael: "I do."
Priest: "Do you believe in the Holy Ghost and the Holy Catholic Church?"
Michael: "I do."
These scenes are interspersed with scenes of Michael's men preparing to murder the heads of the New York crime families. As the music reaches a climax , the priest turns and asks:
Priest: "Michael Francis Rizzi (the baby) do you renounce Satan?"
Michael Corleone (the godfather): "I do renounce him."
Priest: "And all his works?"
Michael: "I do renounce them."
Priest: "And all his pomps?"
Michael: "I do renounce."
Priest: "Michael Francis Rizzi, will you be baptized?"
Michael: "I will."
Priest: "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit go in peace, and may the Lord be with you."
Interspersed through these scenes are the brutal slayings of all Michael's enemies.
What is really happening in these baptism scenes? This is far more than just powerful film editing. This is a depiction of the baby's baptism and Michael's coronation. Michael now becomes the Godfather by water (the baptism) and the blood (the executions). It is a direct counterfeit of I John 5:5-6, where Jesus came by water (His baptism) and by the blood (His own execution). Now in the spirit of his father, the devil, (John 8:44), Michael orders the assassination of his brother-in-law, the baby's father, and boldly lies to his wife, Kay.
The last scene of the movie is chilling. Michael is in his father's study right where the movie began. His father's men now come to pledge their allegiance to the new Don Corleone. Michael has become "the hand that pulls the strings".
The Crowning of The True Son
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, hung on the wooden cross shedding His own blood. The Cross broke the power of Satan's hand and brought deliverance from his strings (Hebrews 2: 9,14,15).
Scripture: I John 2: 18
I John 5: 1-12
Ephesians 6: 10-13
1. Underworld - Webster's Dictionary: 1) The earth; 2) The place of departed souls; Hades; 3) the lower, debased or criminal portion of humanity.
2. The Godfather, Mario Puzo, Signet Books, Page290
3. In the sequel, Godfather II, there are flash backs to Vito Corleone's early years in America. In the scene following his murder of Faucci, he returns to his family and picks up the baby, Michael. It is an early indication that Michael will be the chosen son.
4. Expression from the book on how one becomes an initiated member of the family.