The Godfather Part III (1990) did significantly better according to both domestic and worldwide box office data ($66,520,529) in comparison to the previously released The Godfather Part II (1974). While Paramount Pictures did not have to try and sell the film to the fanatic movie-goers, the reviews for the film remain dissonant to this day. The author of the 1990 NY Times article is mesmerized by the film; in fact, she claims it was completed by “fascinating threads of continuity”. Members of other websites like Reddit and Rotten Tomatoes would agree The Godfather Part III is the worst one of it all. I’d summarize my experience like this: Another great film packed with death, guilt, and a little more romance this time; however, it is still not as good as the first two productions. I’ll examine the bigger themes and talk about a few logistical mistakes in this article.
Between the Lines (Part II and III): The Off-Screen Transformation of Michael Corleone
The Godfather Part II begins roughly in 1958-1960, and about 20 years pass until the audience sees the Corleone family again in the third film, which begins in 1980. I’ve seen many reviews that felt the characters remained the same during the part of their lives that were unseen, or off-screen. To me, it is the opposite. Connie showed her cunning side a little more, and Kay seemed to have returned back to her free American roots, just as she was before her marriage to Michael. I already talked a bit about the contrast between the two women here; To add, this contrast was a little more exaggerated within the part III film.
Putting the other characters aside, I had a hard time believing the radical change illustrated for Michael Corleone’s character in The Godfather Part III. Michael was a good man with ideals in the first film; he was not going to be like his father. The sequel showed him killing for the sake of his respectable family name, and he became just like his father. In the third film, curtains were lifted; the once monstrous Michael wanted to go back, and he wanted to be forgiven for his sins.
The first scene (a flashback from The Godfather Part II) in the film opens with Michael’s brother Fredo’s murder, ordered by himself, and it cuts back to the present where Michael receives a religious insignia for his donations to the Catholic church. It also hints back to a time in the first film when Michael attends his nephew’s baptism to be his godfather. In the baptism scene, he takes part in a holy ceremony while stepping on its core values. In contrast, the third film shows the Michael who regrets, and who is convinced he does not have a chance to be forgiven. It is very well written, but perhaps lacks convincing details that could have enhanced Al Pacino’s (as Michael) performance.
How can such an evil person want to be good again? What specifically transformed Michael? It is later revealed that Kay’s leave and deaths of family and friends make Michael feel lonelier (discussed more in the next section). Francis Ford Coppola does not paint a complex picture to convince the audience; it is just assumed that Michael’s losses have the power to transform him. In other words, loss starts to come before his status and business.
Searching for Forgiveness and Assigning Godly Duties
“Would you like to make your confession?”
“Your eminence, I… it’s been so long… I wouldn’t know where to… It’s been 30 years. I’d use up too much of your time.”
“I always have time to save souls.”
“Well… I am beyond redemption.”
Personally, I believe this scene provides a hinge point that affects the rest of the film greatly. To recap the setting, Michael meets the cardinal for business matters about the Vatican Bank in Sicily. He has one of his diabetic attacks which leads the cardinal to say, “the mind suffers, and the body cries out”. He gives Michael a chance to open up after so many years he has spent in his locked-up Corleone castle. Michael confesses his many sins. However, it shows that in a later scene (discussed below) a religious confession does not lift his heart (although it is not the intention to end his suffering in accordance to Catholicism); Michael needs Kay, the woman who lived in his world of unkept promises, to forgive him.
“I want you to forgive me.”
“Like God, huh?”
“I need something a little closer. You could never understand, back in those days. I loved my father. I swore I would never be a man like him, but I loved him, and he was in danger. What could I do? Then, later, you were in danger, our children were in danger. What could I do? You were all I loved and valued in the world, and now I’m losing you — I’ve lost you anyway, […] I had a whole different destiny planned.”
In this last film, we sense a desperate need to get closer to his ex-wife Kay. It is revealed later in the scene (quoted above) that Kay has been the one person who has been pure, safe, and constant in Michael’s life for a very long time. It has been a question in the audience’s mind whether Michael’s true love was his dead wife in Sicily. If so, Kay is Michael’s good side, safe haven, or Holy Mary. As his wife, Kay showed Michael that there was still time for him to be good and she represented the possibility of a better, normal, sinless life for him in the first two films. In The Godfather Part III, Michael reassures the audience that Kay’s forgiveness may be equal to one of God’s, and it may just be enough to set him free of his guilt and suffering. This is illustrated as after his confession he still feels the need to obtain Kay’s validation.
The Curtain Closes, and History Repeats
“Dad, I want this to bring me closer to you”
“I would burn in hell to keep you safe.”
At the beginning of the film, Kay challenges Michael; she asks him to allow their son Tony to begin his singing career and saves Tony from the mafia business. By the end of the film, Michael leaves his business to Vincent (Sonny’s illegitimate child), and the remaining members of the Corleone family sit in the Sicily Opera for Tony’s incredible performance. It is expected that there would be an assassination against Michael; however, it never happens until the family exits the Opera. While we expect Michael to die that night, he loses his second true love—his daughter Mary. This takes him back to his first wife’s death inside a car equipped with a bomb, which was meant to hit Michael. The rules of stage and life do not pass Michael by— the soprano always dies in the opera, and there is always a price for our sins. On the other hand, Vincent (who is then the new ‘Don Corleone’) is in love with Mary. Just like the death of Michael’s first wife, Vincent receives a warning shot when Mary dies. However, it is unclear whether he continues leading the crime business.
So, what happens to Michael? The few minutes at the end of the film does not tell much. He is alone in a place that looks like Sicily or Corleone (the city). He only has dogs around him. He looks at peace, and it seems that he dies a natural death. It is left to our imagination whether he has turned to God in despair, or he went for revenge after his daughter’s death. I sure hope it is the first option. The Godfather Part III surely gives the audience an experience dissimilar to the first two films but does so with great elegance. The audience is given just enough closure to say goodbye to the Corleone Family.
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