Endings Part 2 supplement — The Baptism Scene

 
 Al Pacino as Michael Corleone.  Image via  theguardian.com .

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone.  Image via theguardian.com.

 

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather leaves by way of the front door, or something that looks very much like it.  The film opens with Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) holding court in his office, where he is greeted as “Don Corleone.”  It ends almost three hours later with Vito’s youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) holding court in his office, a sign that the transition of power is complete.

The credibility of this moment is set up by something of a storytelling wide shot, the masterfully edited baptism scene.

Here we see a number of murders committed simultaneously around the city as Michael stands as godfather to his sister’s child.  Scenes of the fatal gunshots are intercut with Michael’s renunciations of evil at the baptismal font.   

Consider the importance of this scene’s panorama:

The editing shows Michael’s killers traveling to multiple locations, a demonstration of the geographic reach of his power.

That his enemies can be killed while he stands in a suit and tie demonstrates the insular nature of his status. 

The contrast of his calm demeanor in the church (including his lies to the priest) with the violence of the murders committed in his name marks his character’s evolution.  Earlier in the film, we saw a jittery Michael assassinate one of his father’s rivals and a corrupt policeman.  This panoramic demonstration of his power reveals to the audience how far Michael has come.  Once he begged to serve.  Now he presides.

The film has been building toward huge explosion.  Only after this can the film end in his office, where he is greeted as “Don Corleone."


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