Most people who love The Godfather 1 and 2 dislike the third because of the director’s daughter in a lead role, saying they don’t like her acting.
I find the closing scene completes the story beautifully.
What do I find so beautiful about this scene?
It wordlessly communicates most of the themes of the series—family, women, men, intimacy, solitude, winning, America, and Sicily—with subtlety and complexity. I can’t put into words what it communicates, which I like in art, for it to say something it a particular medium that you can’t say in any other but that feels true.
Michael tried to do what he considered right, but always calculated, never allowing himself to let go, to become vulnerable, meaning never developing intimacy. He won everything in business while losing what he cared for. He lived to an old age when every man around him except his father died young or violently, but he died alone. Shockingly and painfully alone. The movie doesn’t stick it in your face. Does it say that he kept to himself and therefore died how he wanted? That he lost everything that mattered to him—his relationships with the women he loved?
As part of a work of art, the contrast with his father’s death, surrounded by family, loved by all, with the touch of the orange that showed up in so many pivotal scenes, added a rhythm across three movies. Instead of a family around him, Michael had a dog. His family feared him. Yet he dies at home—Sicily, having returned to where his father left—safe. Everyone dies, so he didn’t lose in his competitive life. Did he get what he wanted? Did he lose everything he cared about? Did he never connect with anyone? Did he connect but destroy those he cared most about? Was he just like his father, in caring about and providing for his family and community? Was he the opposite, in losing sight of what mattered?
However much the movie seems about men doing violent and criminal things, this scene shows their motivations—their hearts—were about women and emotions, even the apparently coldest and hard-hearted.
I see five scenes and choices that defined him: choosing to fight in World War 2, choosing to kill the police captain and the Turk, choosing to kill his brother, asking his mother if he could lose his family, and his death. Maybe also making it clear to his wife that he would keep her with him through his power.
He did what felt perfect and did it perfectly but never examined the values that determined what perfect meant. The movie doesn’t judge, it just recounts what happens. The story is fiction, but it feels more true than many true stories.
We have to figure out for ourselves how to learn from the truth of his experience.
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