Religious Imagery In The Godfather

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17th May 2017 Film Studies Reference this

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Describe the religious imagery Coppola uses during the “Baptism” scene at the end of the Godfather. How is this ceremony used to heighten the tension of the scene? What statement (if any) is he making by cross-cutting between the murders and the ceremony?

The “Baptism” scene is one of the most exceptional scenes in the Godfather movie because Coppola-the director- combined visuals, language, music, and editing in a very powerful way. To summarize the scene, Michael, the Godfather’s son, sets up himself as the new Godfather and settles the family issues by ordering him men to murder his enemies. In this scene, Coppola uses montage editing to cut between those two scenes back and forth, as if he is trying to demonstrate a point about Michael. Coppola wanted to present Michael’s complex character as an evil and good man at the same time. Also, Coppola used close ups during the scene to emphasize it more. In the Catholic Church, the priest was using Latin in the baptism; he shifted to English when he asked Michael questions about faith. This shifting between Latin and English was used to underline Michael’s contrast between what he is saying and the murderous actions that he orders.

The scenes in a film can be edited by either continuous action or parallel action. As for editing the baptism scene, a parallel action was used wisely to present Michael’s personality and life. Cutting back and forth between scenes can be helpful to present events that happen at the same time. The parallel action highlighted the dishonesty and the darkness of Michael’s soul and personality. Add to that, it presented the double life that he will live as the head of the family. Coppola used the image of the innocent baby, who is being washed for purity and sinfulness, to contrast it with Michael’s life that is filled with sins and darkness.

A rising action was starting; Michael’s men were preparing for the murders and the priest was preparing the baby. Then the scene reached the peak when the priest asked Michael if he renounces Satan. The scene cut to the first murder of mafia, then cut back to Michael saying ‘I do’. The shifting between Michael’s men preparing for a Mafia war and the religious ceremony getting started highlights the tension, the lies, the darkness, and the contrast of this ceremony. At the time where a baptism should be a religious ceremony to clean the soul from sins, the scene presented the opposite of that. We can see the hate and the shadow that’s around Michael’s life, as if this ceremony was a lie. Coppola was able to clearly present the complexity of Michael’s soul and how each murder stresses out a new meaning. Combining the two events in one scene emphasizes Michael’s title as the Godfather.

We can clearly notice how Coppola used the four elements of filmmaking (Mise en scene, sound, cinematography, and editing) in this one scene to create the perfect atmosphere. Coppola’s choice of using a religious music during the ceremony didn’t change during the murders. However, he manipulated the level of sound by increasing it during the killings and decreasing it during baptizing the baby. As a result, the level of tension, fear and pressure increased, and the audience was able to see the real Michael. Michael’s true personality was being revealed as the family man who deals with crime and murders.

Using different lighting techniques during the ceremony was a clever move by Coppola. He focused the sun light only on the altar where the priest was baptizing the baby. However, he darkened most of the altar and especially the statute of Jesus Christ that was directed toward Michael. Michael being in the light and Jesus in the dark can imply or suggest the differences between them. People may see the use of lighting as a symbolic method to reveal Michael’s duplicity. Especially when he rejected Satan in words, while, his men were murdering his enemies.

To conclude, Coppola tried hard to introduce Michael’s character and personality through the baptism scene. His way of using the simplest techniques to reach the point where people can really analyze the character, was powerful. Not all directors can demonstrate the different feelings that audiences felt throughout the scene. If this one religious scene created this amazing feeling of fear, dishonesty, and faith, what about the entire film? The Baptism ceremony was established to compare between Michael’s life and what he pretend to be. Add to that, the cross-cutting between the murders and the ceremony helped showing the evil side of Michael. Coppola had the choice to separate the murders from the religious ceremony, but he chose to combine them to create this anxiety and nervousness feeling. Combining them was a success because the audience was able to live the scene and to understand each character aside.

Some historians argue that films reflect the political and social mores of society at the time of its creation- is this an accurate statement? Is this subject matter of the movies we have watched driven by society or does society drive the entertainment industry to create films within a specific moral, social, or political context? Discuss.

Coppola, one of the American directors who created powerful films with strong personal appeals, may share some of the cultural, social, and political mores that most American have. For example, after watching the Godfather, we can’t help but say that it expresses some social or cultural mores that directors usually have with their audience. Godfather clearly reflects the American society in many ways: the mafia wars, the killings, and the family relationships. According to Quart and Auster (2002), the movie industry tries hard to perfectly utilize some social values to attract audience, who is most likely accepting those values and living on them. All films can be considered political as the Batman movie (1989) that point out several views about the American reality.

However, we can’t say that all cultural and political views in films can relate to audiences social and political beliefs; it is difficult to relate to them all the time. Most of the American films try not to eliminate the social patterns. Producers usually try to stylize the cultural or social world to let people live in this bubble of thrill or to let them escape the emotional reality. Films are usually built around the audience’s dreams, the individual’s heroism, or the individual’s personality. In fact, this is what most Hollywood’s movies are based on. We can see that from Home of the Brave to Platoon films, where the political events were included to define some character’s fate or feeling. For instance, the producers in Platoon film included the Vietnam War to define and show the soldier’s journey that he goes through. (Quart and Auster, 2002) When the U.S has entered World WarII, the film industry tried to support the war effort by producing some documentaries and short movies about the war. Also, the OWI (the office of War Information) joined the film industry to spread notion among people about supporting the war, and to maintain awareness about it. For example, during the war, Basil Rathbone has played as the brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes who defeated Nazi’s inhumanly acts. The film industry and the OWI were concerned about the rising tension in the society because of the war. Therefore, they wanted to create a national unity between people, and to present the U.S. as a unified country. Hollywood placed an effort during the war by producing movies. For instance, Hollywood realized that women had been left behind because their men joined the army; therefore, Hollywood produced series of films about how these men are scarifying themselves and their families, and how they are contributing their souls for war. This type of drama pleased and helped many people during the war especially women, who were presented as the supportive spouse. Hollywood’s box office hit a new level because of people admiring the drama of these women’s lives and their support for their brave men. (Grainge, Jancovich, and Monteith, 2007) After stating all these facts, I would have to say yes films reflect the political mores of society but not necessary directly; it could touch the audience in many simple ways.

Films can be liberal, conservative, or confused when it comes to political events, and analysts are still trying to figure out the connection between them and the society. However, films are a reflection of the society because most movies now a day present part of our daily lives. Films present partly what a family, a teenager, a soldier, a child, and a woman go through every day. For instance, the movie ‘New York’ talked about how the 9/11 has changed the life of three students who were studying at New York State University. This movie reflected many aspects of society, politics, war and darkness. Add to that, people are able to see the corruption and the dishonesty of the business world by watching the ‘Corporate’ movie. It presented how women used their femininity to get jobs, how people killed others for silly excuses, and how teenagers took drugs and got pregnant. These entire movies clearly reflect the society as a whole, as if they are the mirror of society’s culture and politics. Of course, there are other types of movies like fiction or animation movies that are produced to create a new world for some audience.

To conclude, I believe that movies are driven by society and society is driven by them too. In fact, Movies are produced for people, and because people need them to escape their everyday routine. As a result, people get affected by many stories, actors, and styles presented in the movie. People, especially females, tend to follow the trends and fashion of movie stars, and they try to be them in every way possible. The images of these movie stars affect society as a whole. Let’s take ‘Hanna Montana’ films and series as an example for how teenager girls were copying her style, her clothes, and her life. We can’t deny that society is driven by films, and that movies are driven by society because each one of them is connected with the other. They both complete each other. Society, especially since the last decade, is getting affected by movie stories; everyone wants to re-live them. Films in general are created as tools for people to perfectly reflect their economy, culture, and politics. Films basically present society’s values and beliefs at a certain time and place; each film reflects a certain era and a certain issue. Filmmakers always try to connect with audience through presenting something that may touch their lives or experiences. Finally, Films are now basically part of our lives, routine, and activities.

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