Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola wanted to tell the story of a family in flux. Immigrants living the American dream after the war. But also criminals. To do this, they had to adapt Puzo's best selling book and build a world that most Americans were unfamiliar with and had little to no idea how it worked.
Today we're going to take a look at the script for The Godfather and talk about how its worldbuilding helped create what some people think is the greatest film ever made.
The Godfather's Worldbuilding
It's hard to imagine, but when this movie came out, Americans were not well-tuned to stories about the mafia. Sure, they had gangster movies, but none were so sprawling and relatable as The Godfather. To sell Americans on the idea of a crime family. work had to be done right away.
That meant starting on the relatable aspects of the story and pulling in the wild stuff little by little.
The movie begins on a fabulous speech that shows the world of the immigrant at the time and slowly introduces us to the Don.
But the real genius of the script is that after this scene we go somewhere everyone understands: a wedding.
When we get into the wedding it's unlike any wedding we've seen, probably. It's huge. famous people are there, and there are armed guards out front.
Still, any viewer can relate to seeing the weird uncles, fawning aunts, and what it's like to have to describe your family to someone new.
Michael works as our narrator as he speaks to Kay. And helps build the crime family from the things we know.
The perils of living in this world
The deeper you get into the screenplay the more you know the danger of being a part of this family. Especially as the war between the dons begins. We understand the reach of this family and their influence because the next set is Hollywood.
The Corleones are famous enough to sit across from movie people, and we quickly learn dangerous enough to get their way.
We also get to see the role of The Godfather. He has to take care of his kids, but also the people for who he vouched when they were baptized.
This gradual inkling of their money, power, and violence gives us just enough to keep us on the hook.
We are basically Kay's point of view. LEarn, as she does, that this world extends past the one we see.
Michael tries to stay out of it, but blood has been shed. His father is shot. Brother murdered, and his other brother is incompetent.
Michael isn't standing up to a corrupt cop here, he's standing up to a corrupt police captain. This is the big time. The players are huge names in New York.
By introducing us through family scenes, we're on the Corleone's side when the shit hits the fan.
As the violence mounts, we, like Kay, get to escape. But in Michael's point of view.
At this moment we fully understand the pull of the Corleone name. They can touch California AND Italy. They have global sway. The name is feared.
The most intense scene in The Godfather
Let's backtrack a second to really look at the script.
The most intense scene in the film is when Michael goes to the restaurant to assassinate the corrupt cop and rival family leader. It's a standoff. Look at how tension is built not only in the dialogue, but the action writing on the page.
This is where the world of the movie turns. The rest of the story is about violence, action, and reactions.
And we are along for the ride now because we're a part of this crime family and their world.
The final scene in The Godfather
The last scene in The Godfather makes us reconcile the world we've seen built.
Again, we're back with Kay as an audience. Michael has made the full transition and she's just realizing it.
And so are we.
As an audience, we're finally seeing the consequences of Michael's actions. We've been rooting for him, and now we're seeing him confronted with evil. He was a war hero and the black sheep, now he's a murderer and thief set in his ways.
As the door closes on us we understand this is no happy ending.
Because we've come to grips with the world of the story, we know that the only path forward lies in death and violence. That's the world.
And Kay knows it, too.
The door is closing on her, on peace, and on feeling safe.
Yeah, maybe the greatest film of all time.
What's next? Learn screenplay lessons from The Sopranos!
Life is overwhelming, even for mobsters. So, what screenwriting lessons can you take away from "The Sopranos"?
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