Understanding the Values of the Corleone Family from The Godfather Movie

 image source from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt-r-w7Z2Ag

image source from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt-r-w7Z2Ag

Modesty and family are the key points of the Godfather movie. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather had retained its fame in the movie industry and among audiences ever since it was released in 1972. The movie is about an Italian-American criminal family – the Corleones – based in New York City in the late 1940s. The head of the family is Don Vito Corleone. As the father of three sons, he always reminds them that a man must take care of his family. This movie breaks away from the traditional view of the Mafia by showing the soft and family side of the gangsters. Apart from directly expressing the family values through the dialogue, Francis Ford Coppola also uses decorations to demonstrate the qualities of the movie characters. As many of the scenes take place in the Corleone family house or garden, the audience is allowed to explore the decorations of the place this Mafia family lives. Therefore, through analyzing the space that the protagonists live in, the viewer can better understand the message the director conveys through the setting. This paper compares the house of Corleone and the house of Jack Woltz to analyze how the movie utilizes the decoration of the house and the garden to help the audience understand the modesty and the importance of taking care of the family to the Corleone man.

 

The Corleone family lives in a humble space and they are modest and realistic regarding choosing decorations of their garden. One of the most significant features of the garden is its solid stone walls that are built higher than an average person. The gray and black stone distinguish the outside world and the family space. The solidity of the rock and the height of the wall also create the safe feeling, as the walls protect the occupants from the outside. It is worth noting that in the Italian Mafia world, gangsters share one code of conduct, which is never attacking the innocent people. These people include the woman and children in the Mafia family and anyone who does not take part in the organization. Therefore, this distinction between outside and inside space is necessary for the Mafia to show the boundary and the enemies are not supposed to cross this boundary. The concrete wall is also used to prevent the outsiders to know what is happening inside the family. In the wedding scene, some news reporters are standing outside, trying to peek inside the wedding. However, the high walls block the most of the view. By emphasizing the solidity of the wall, the director asserts that the Corleones are actively trying to protect the family, and they are realistic concerning choosing the fences to set the boundary of the house.

 

Although defended by fortress-like walls, the garden of the Corleone family remains its Sicilian roots of the family, which can be traced back by the choice of plants in the garden. The garden is planted with tall trees and vegetables. In the latter part of the movie, Vito Corleone was spending time with his grandson in the garden, teaching him how to water the plants. On the plants, the audience can see some red fruits, indicating that these might be tomato bushes. This plant type is usually found in the farmland. Therefore, having tomato planting in the garden as if they are growing the trees in the agriculture land has shown that the family is deeply rooted in its Sicilian countryside tradition. This arrangement of garden planning sends an essential message of what the Corleone family values - the Sicilian culture. Therefore, even though engaging with criminal activities, Vito Corleone was still trying to keep his family away from the business and to honor the tradition, by creating a farm-like garden that speaks to a peaceful family life.

 

Apart from the house of the Corleone, movie The Godfather also presents the home of Jack Woltz. In the film, Jack Woltz, the owner of the Woltz International, is planning a new film. Johnny Fontane, a godson of the Don Corleone, wants a role in the movie. Even though Fontane would fit perfectly for this role, the character was given to another actor due to the personal conflicts between Woltz and Fontane. To get this role, Fontane asked the Don for help. Therefore, Tom Hagen, the consigliere of the Corleone family, was sent to Woltz to discuss this business. When Tom Hagen visits Jack Woltz at Los Angeles, the audience can see the splendidness of Jack Woltz and the objects he chose to decorate his estate.

 

Using the contrast between the carefully-planned landscape of Jack Woltz's house and the family-like garden in the Corleone's house, the director further emphasized the modest quality of the family and made the quality more visible to the audience. Woltz showed Hagen around his splendid house. In the garden, the viewer can see that Woltz placed various marble sculptures in his Romanesque garden. The carefully-planned garden shows that Woltz values power and order. The choice of the Romanesque style emphasizes the connection that he wants to make between his influence in the society and the power ancient Roman leaders had over their sovereign. The plants are designed and shaped like a relief sculpture and are organized into wavy fashion. The three pools are connected to each other, guiding the eyes of the viewer towards the end of the garden. These features require a considerable amount of time and labor to maintain, showing Woltz's wealth in keeping such a garden. The aesthetic taste of Woltz is also significantly emphasized by the Greek-style wall at the back of the garden. The wall resembles columns of the ancient Greek temple. The choice of decorations is considered as flaunting of Woltz's power and wealth, which are not seen in Corleone's garden. Even though the Corleone family is involved with casino business in Las Vegas and politics in New York, their garden planning does not show the monetary nor the political power, but the traditional Sicilian family style.

 

Similar to the garden planning, the organization of the house and rooms also reflect the personality and the qualities that the owner values. The first point of note is that although the Corleone family is wealthy, the house is only moderately decorated. One example is the study room. The film opens with the study of Don Corleone, as the Don listens to appeals and congratulations by various people. In an Italian-American criminal organization, the study room of the Don is essential as it is the space where they plan and organize their actions. In the center is Don’s desk; and closer to the door, there is another desk for the consigliere of the Corleone family. There are some plants in the study with delicately patterned vases, a painting, a clock and some pictures on the back wall, sated into a shadow. As the audience can see, the study is packed with furniture and objects. The lightening of the room solely relies on the lamps as the shades are always closed – potentially to protect the privacy of the study room, avoiding people from the outside to look through the window. There are only two lamps in the room; thus, there are a lot of shadow casting onto the walls and the floors, creating a dark toner value and a serious feeling of the place. Based on the two scene, the audience can grasp the general sense of the study room – it looks like an office where the Don conducts meetings and does his business, instead of a study room of a house. This shows that the Corleone family runs their organized crime like a business with careful planning and they are not showy of their wealth; instead they chose a simple decoration scheme for the utility reason. Shooting the scenes in the study room is a critical way of starting the film because it provides the audience with some understanding of what business this family deals with and the allocation of labor in the family. Thus, it would be easier for the audience to understand the moral codes and values of the protagonist family. As the study room presents here, the family is modest about choosing the decoration of the house.

 

Comparing to the study room, the other parts of the house of the Corleone are simpler and more family-like. Most of the walls are covered by strip-patterned wallpapers, which were extremely common during the 20th century. The furniture is mostly made of wood and fabric, showing no sign of extreme wealth or power as these elements are commonly found in the home of middle-class Americans. The modesty of the Corleone's house is further evident in contrast to the splendor of Jack Woltz's home, which we saw in the next major scene of the film. The interior of his house is filled with objects that show his wealth and splendid taste, just like how he decorated his garden. The excessive use of yellow silk and gold in his bedroom is an example of how he decorated his house. His half-hemispheric bedhead has a complex organic motif design, and as the light is casting onto the surface, the audience can see the glittering surface and the reflection of the light that shows that even the bedhead was made with delicate design and intricate carving and polishing technique. In one of the deleted scene, it is evident that Woltz used his power and sexually abused a teenage girl. After seeing the showy of Woltz's house and the monster-like conduct towards the young girl, the audience can be more sympathetic towards the Corleone family.  The modest lifestyle shows that the family does not conduct the business solely for money so that they can afford a more splendid living, but more to protect the family; while Woltz uses his power to perform unethical conduct.

 

By using the decorations of both interior and exterior space they live in, the audience can feel more commonality towards the protagonist. By using the contrast between the ornaments of the Corleones' home and the decorations of Jack Waltz's home, the audience further understand the core values of the Corleones – modesty and family, which helps them understand the narrative better. The decorations in the movie are the foundations for the viewers to feel sympathetic towards the protagonists and are the principal venues for the directors to show the qualities of the characters.