In a class I attended in college the instructor, a learned professor of classical literature, provided what was, to me, a novel interpretation of the movie and story The Godfather. He presented the story as a fairy tale. Now, every fairy tale must have its prince charming. In the case of The Godfather the prince charming is Michael Corleone. Michael is a cold-blooded mass murderer, woman abuser and cop killer. He physically beats his second wife who is the mother of his two children, kills his brother, and kills his brother-in-law thus making his sister a widow. Even his first wife, who he loved (proof that he is not completely depraved), dies violently because of her close proximity to him. He is a harbinger of death. So how can such a reprehensible and ugly character be a prince charming? Answer: By cloaking Michael in the trappings of middle class costumes and values. Outwardly, Michael is quiet, soft-spoken, well-mannered, self-controlled, well-dressed, and well-educated. He is, outwardly, a loyal citizen, a decorated war veteran, married, a father, a brother, a property owner, a businessman, and an obedient son. He has all the trappings of respectability. That sets him apart from everyone else in the story who, with one exception, are presented as being no more than a bunch of stupid crass thugs, including his two brothers, Freddie who is dumb and Sonny, who in addition to being dumb is hot-tempered. Compared to them Michael is a paragon of virtue. That makes him seem likeable, someone worthy of empathy. The only exception to the array of unsavory figures that populate this story and interact with Michael is Michael's father, Vito Corleone, the first Godfather, whose real name is Andolini. Vito was born in a part of the world still heavily influenced by feudalistic values in which vendatta and revenge-killings were the norm. If Michael is the prince charming, then Vito is the king. Despite being a premeditated murderer himself, Vito is a "good-guy" gangster. He resists pressure from the other gangs to get into the drug trade. A gang war ensues. Vito is shot, almost killing him. That makes Vito seem a martyr who is willing to sacrifice his life in defense of his beliefs and family. He is a king with courage and scruples. But with the king incapacitated, the survival of the family is placed at risk. Oldest son Freddie, being dumb, and second oldest son Sonny, being dead, are in no position to defend the family, leaving only Michael to take up the cause. Michael, who reveres his father, tries to conduct himself like his father, who is Michael's role model, but the norms and values that shaped his father's character are woefully out of place in the modern urban setting and applied by Michael come off as phony and contrived. As a result Michael becomes a twisted and sordid facsimile of his father. Whereas Vito was loved, admired and respected, Michael is despised, loathed and feared. Yet, he does the job of protecting the family, who are the "good guys" in this story, and by doing so fulfills his role as the prince charming who rescues his family when everything seemed all but lost. Michael is as phony as his family's last name. His pretensions of middle class respectability are a sham. His propensity for violence is driven by a depravity so deeply rooted in his mind and spirit that it gives cause to question whether he is still capable of showing any compassion. Yet he is the modern-day prince charming who is on a mission to protect what is his, even if it no longer exists except in his mind.
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