Mario Puzo, ‘The Godfather’ and the shadow of Machiavelli

If we say that this is an article whose reading they will not be able to reject, readers will understand that the joke refers to the trilogy of The Godfatherby Francis Ford Coppola. His adaptation of the homonymous novel by Mario Puzo it is much more than a story of gangsters, with extortion and murders typical of organized crime. Coppola and Puzo, who served as screenwriter for the entire saga, offer us a deep reflection on the nature of power. Although it is never named Machiavelli, critics quickly grasped the kinship between the Renaissance thinker and the Corleone family.

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Gonzalo Sánchez, EFE

In the universe of Puzo and Coppola, the godfather, as the head of a mafia group, is the equivalent of the Renaissance prince. It has the same supreme authority as the apex of a rigidly hierarchical organization. If Machiavelli said that all means are valid to defend the StateAs ruthless as they were, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando on screen) and later his son Michael (Al Pacino) protect their “family” regardless of how much violence they need. The “family”, for them, deserves absolute loyalty, above that which is paid, for example, to the homeland. Therefore, all means to ensure its power are justified. Machiavelli did not think otherwise when he wrote that, in case of urgent need, the prince should not “dwell on considerations of the pious or the cruel.”

The “gift” and the “caesar”

The similarity between the Mafia and the State is made explicit on several occasions. In the first part of The Godfather, Michael tries to convince his fiancee, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) that his father, Don Vito, is no different from any other powerful man, such as a senator or a president. Like them, he also has many people in his charge. Kay asks him not to be naive: senators and presidents don’t kill anyone. He then replies in devastating terms: “Who is being naive now?”

In The Godfather II, Frank Pentageli, a former ally of Michael, whom he ends up betraying, compares the Corleones to the Roman Empire. Is right. The “gift” comes to be a modern version of Caesar, a kind of Caligula who plays at being the owner of life and death. To underline this similarity to ancient Rome, Coppola has Pentangeli commit suicide by slitting his veins in a bathtub, a very common procedure in the Latin capital.

Mario Puzo with his Oscar for best screenplay for 'The Godfather Part II'

Mario Puzo with his Oscar for best screenplay for ‘The Godfather Part II’

Bettmann Archive/Getty

The latest installment in the trilogy insists that politics and crime are the same thing. Michael dreams of being a respectable businessman and washing his family’s name. However, right away verify that corruption reigns in the highest circles of power more unleashed. He will then have to face such ruthless characters as Licio Lucchesi, inspired by the Italian politician Giulio Andreotti. Lucchesi thinks politics is “knowing when to pull the trigger.”

Too much for Michael Corleone?

This atmosphere of stark struggles is reminiscent, in many ways, of the conspiracies of Renaissance Italy. After a not very successful meeting, the head of the Corleones, outraged at the baseness of his enemies, excessive even for a gangster With your resume, you will summarize the problem with a historical reference: “Resurgence! the Borgias! ”. The essence of power is for him exactly the same in both the 16th and 20th centuries.

In the Coppola saga, the “gift” rules without any sense of morality. There are many famous quotes on how to stay at the top, all of them worthy of being featured in Prince. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” No doubt Machiavelli would have subscribed to this advice.

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in 'The Godfather III'

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather III’

Third parties

In The Godfather III, Michael Corleone appears already old, but with a more agile mind than ever. Its maxims synthesize a long experience of inclement struggles for hegemony, in which cunning and strength are indispensable conditions for survival. On one occasion when his nephew Vincent (Andy García) talks about more in front of a stranger, he, always with a cool head, reminds him that others should never know what one really thinks. At another point in the film, the old godfather invites us not to let passion interfere with our objectivity: “Never hate your enemies: it does not allow you to judge them.”

Power has its advantages, but also a price. Al Pacino’s character rises to the top, but sees his daughter Mary (Sofía Coppola) die and dies alone, after leading a life in which he has betrayed himself. If as a young man he didn’t want to be like his father, then he far exceeds his exploits in the underworld. Tired of battling, he cedes authority to Vincent, a young man who craves leadership. He needs her, he says, to defend the “family.” Once again, the reason of state justifies everything. Machiavelli would have made a gesture of approval.

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