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The Godfather – A Film Analysis

At the start of The Godfather: Part II (directed by Francis Ford Coppola), we see a grim exchange between a corrupt politician and the head of a Sicilian Mafia family. The politician, a reputed senator, denies the Mafia Don’s request for a Vegas gambling license, saying: “I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself.” The Mafia Don, Michael Corleone (portrayed by Al Pacino), replies: “We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator.”

When we see our current socio-political climate (“current” meaning the whole of our lifetime) it is fair to conclude that Mario Puzo’s The Godfather speaks volumes about the rampant hypocrisy running deep in our society. What is hypocrisy? The Greek hypokrisis is closely connected to envy and theatrics. A common subject for the theater in ancient times was, no doubt, mythology.

The Godfather saga can be considered a modern myth—a continuation of the drama of the Greek gods—albeit with a post-Calvary dynamic. In ancient Greece, Zeus was considered the king of the gods and, therefore, the most worthy of worship. Hades, the god of the underworld, on the other hand, is mostly avoided out of fear by the masses. Zeus is the popular face of the gods, the representation of the light: the kind of savior for which people yearn. Hades is the representation of the things that, socially, are best left unsaid.

What’s best left unsaid is the mirroring of the two forces and the source of evil. The rule of Zeus is publicized—presentable. The rule of Hades is an open secret—an incrimination of Zeus. Both rule via murder, coercion, and persecution. This order of mythology is channeled in the Godfather saga. Don Vito Corleone (portrayed by Marlon Brando), Michael’s father and mentor, recognizes this and refers to the politicians, clergy, lawyers, doctors, and professors as pezzonovante: “big shots.”

It is worthwhile to observe the developing relationship between Vito Corleone and the pezzonovante. In his novel, Mario Puzo sketches a history of the Corleone family that is very much grounded in reality. Vito Corleone ascends the underworld by running bootlegging operations during the Prohibition era. During that time, he becomes enormously powerful. The politicians and lawyers see a valuable use for him seeing how black market operations can be beneficial to them. Likewise, Don Corleone pockets these respectable public faces for his own endeavors.

The modern-day relationship between Zeus and Hades is a sophisticated version of the ancient myths. Both employ violence to achieve their ends; both do so in a manner of mutual understanding. This is made all the more obvious when we notice how the Mafia structure works. The Don is at the top of the hierarchy followed by the consigliere (counselor), the caporegimes (commanders), and then the “button men,” the foot soldiers. The Don never gives an order directly to the soldier; it always comes down through the hierarchy.

The structure of our modern-day governments is more or less the same. Why are the hierarchies like this? It is precisely due to the fact that both seek to hide the source of the violence under anonymity. Thus, the sacredness of the structures is maintained. Mario Puzo hammers this point home in an interaction between Michael and his future wife Kay (portrayed by Diane Keaton).

Michael: “My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.”
Kay: “Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.”
Michael: “Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?”

Michael’s story is a tragedy for this very reason. He, like his father, has recognized the truth but he is trapped inside it like a bird in a cage. In the beginning of the story, he is, like Kay and most of us, naive about the power structures of society. In defiance of his father, he enlists in the marines and goes off to war. He comes back a war hero and chooses to marry an American girl to further his rebellion.

The scales fall away from his eyes, however, when a mob hit on his father’s life fails. In the hospital, as he races to save his wounded father from another hit, Michael realizes how corrupt the police can be, who are bought off by rival gang lords. This realization, that the life of a pezzonovante means the life of a puppet, leads to Michael killing a police captain and thus cementing his entrance into the underworld.

Things grow much bleaker over the span of two films, as we see Michael’s violent actions coming back to haunt him. With the death of his father, Michael grows more sinister and isolated after witnessing betrayal after betrayal; he trusts no one. The violence which he must employ to keep the wolves away ultimately spills into his family in unspeakable ways.

It is here that Mario Puzo’s Catholic sensibilities are noticeable. When Michael’s wife willingly commits an abortion, it is made certain to us through Kay’s very own words that her abortion is an “abomination” done to stop another child from entering Hades’ underworld of violence and death. Also, Michael’s own brother Fredo betrays him. All of this culminates in Michael having his brother assassinated; it is an event that would haunt him for the remainder of his life.

Puzo does not mythologize Hades. He certainly romanticizes some characters to a degree but never beyond belief. What Puzo does with Michael’s character is humanize him and make him relatable. How on earth can we relate to a cold and calculating Mafia boss? For this, we will come again to the mirroring of the two hierarchies.

The Mafia structure which Puzo writes about is centuries old, built on the traditional system of the old mythologies. In our world, we might be inclined to think that our nation’s leaders are the political equivalent to the Mafia Dons. But when we look closely, we will see that the leaders are mere “button men.” After all, the leaders are elected and brought into office by popular consensus.

Who then are the Mafia Dons in our midst? The answer: whoever that wishes to hide within the anonymity of the crowd and have others carry out their dark fantasies. Think of a “respectable” person who threatens his/her neighbor by calling the police when something unruly occurs. This tiny illustration should be sufficient to convict us. It also tells us why the ancient Mafia system has died out. The Mafia has died out because we—the average citizens—have chosen to be the replacement. It is no coincidence that Mario Puzo chooses to tell the tale of Hades in a manner of realism and from the perspective of a mortal.

The violence that haunts the Corleones is symbolic of the unrest and decline in moral values that grips a society when it decides to play God. When a society decides to take the role of a democratic judge, jury, and executioner, and by proxy eliminates all those who are non-violent yet disorderly and non-conforming, that society short circuits because the Calvary event does not allow for anonymity to last.

In the last scene of the Godfather: Part II, we see Michael Corleone seated all alone in contemplation. He has become the most powerful man in the underworld but there is no joy in his triumph. How can he celebrate when he sees very clearly the bones of his very own brother, among the others whom he has murdered, as the foundation of his empire? We are left with only one thing: the fate that waits for us if we continue down the same path of hypocrisy.

Gaslight – A Film Analysis

The secret to discovering a well-disguised tyranny is to understand the mind of a serial predator.

The 1944 psychological thriller Gaslight, directed by George Cukor, is reminiscent of the Hitchcockian thrillers that were very popular during the war and post-war years, though the move itself is not directed by Hitchcock. It is also perhaps one of the finest microcosmic representations of how fear and manipulation can be used to exert power and control.

The film’s protagonist is the orphaned character of Paula Alquist (portrayed by Ingrid Bergman), and the prologue tells of Paula’s traumatic aftermath just after she had witnessed the body of her aunt Alice Alquist, a famous singer, lying motionless underneath an enormous portrait of herself. Paula is escorted out of London to help her start a new life. In the next scene, we learn that she is training to be a singer in Italy.

It is in Italy where Paula meets a man named Gregory Anton (portrayed by Charles Boyer) and falls in love with him, later marrying him. Little does she know that Gregory who exudes politeness and concern at every turn is, in fact, a heavily disturbed individual. Gregory’s behavior is worth observing because he expresses a particular kind of illustrative control that is highly manipulative and sinister.

When Paula thinks of the places where they’d move to begin their new life together, Gregory suggests London. Paula is immediately struck by this suggestion but she agrees. Upon arriving in London, Paula is transfixed at the many reminders of her murdered aunt. To her, the portraits and the furnishings are like skeletons from a violent past; but Paula also somehow knows that these belongings of her aunt are valuable to her.

Gregory, on the other hand, is too anxious to get rid of these reminders while claiming that he does not want his wife’s new life to be haunted by tragedy. It is here where we will observe the cult leader-like nature of Gregory; examining this nature is key to understanding power and control that exists around us on a much bigger scale.

First, we observe that Gregory intends to separate his wife from all reminders of her past, especially those involving her aunt, and by doing so, Gregory effectively hides the event of Alice Alquist’s murder and also the identity of the murderer. A murderer and persecutor is always aware that the past in its completeness convicts the true wrongdoer.

Knowing the past—complete with its glories and tragedies—is essential to a future devoid of delusion. Hiding the past, the tragic murder, however, creates a state of delusion and a steady spiral into madness.

When Paula happens upon a letter—one that was written by a man named Sergis Bauer to her aunt—Gregory is alarmed; he immediately and violently snatches the letter from his wife’s hands. The control, alienation, and isolation start from this point onwards.

The next thing that Gregory does is to take advantage of his wife’s childlike naivety; he starts playing with Paula’s memories. He intentionally misplaces valuable items and convinces Paula that it is she who is misplacing them. Due to this clever tactic, Paula grows increasingly detached and numb.

Notice how this technique of “gaslighting” (a term made famous by this movie) is ever-present in the world around us. Censorship, canceling out the past because it is “problematic” for us, and inducing guilt in the form of false memories are some of the elements that are required for totalitarian control. They are used all the time in our media-driven world.

Gregory Anton’s technique of guilt-inducing is particularly useful for imposing complete isolation on the chosen subject. The subject is declared sick and therefore must be enclosed for her own good. This point is hammered down in a scene where Paula and Gregory attend a concert. During the performance, Gregory tells Paula that he is unable to find his watch and then “discovers” it, much to Paula’s horror, inside her purse. She breaks down and is escorted out in front of a bewildered audience.

It is important to note here that Gregory’s abuse is not undertaken by him alone. Persecution, to be effective, must be carried out by a multitude of actors, which is why Gregory plants seeds of resentment towards Paula among the maidservants of the house while presenting himself as an agent of Paula’s stern and lofty personality.

In one scene, Paula is keen to warm the fireplace by herself but she is reproached by her husband and is instead encouraged to call for the servant. The servant arrives and, upon hearing Paula’s command to put coal in the fireplace, eyes her mistress with a hint of contempt. Meanwhile, Gregory himself cleverly interacts as a person who wishes to bridge the gap between the servant and the mistress.

Gregory’s approach of sowing resentment and envy serves a twofold purpose. First, it would allow him to accomplish his goal unhindered, which we will come to later. Second, it would cement Paula’s alienation and ensure that she wouldn’t receive empathy in her state of detachment. Indeed, when Paula hears footsteps of a mysterious intruder in the middle of the night, her claims are dismissed even by the most upright of her servants as mere imagination.

Envy, resentment, and discord—these are familiar enough words to describe our political and cultural discourse. But Gregory Anton’s approach is one that will be eerily familiar to those who analyze political history. Just as Gregory sows resentment in his household, so do the rulers and influencers of our time. Just as Gregory’s co-conspirators are unconscious in their persecution, so are the vast majority of people around us who rely on the designated priestly media class to instruct and direct them.

Our own participation in the machinations of violence is often overlooked and, instead, we find ourselves directed by fear and envy towards another—one who is innocent. Upon realizing this scapegoat mechanism, our first instinct is to recognize ourselves as the scapegoat, but this is where we must quickly caution ourselves. Paula’s descent into the inferno of self-doubt is not where she redeems herself; she will do that later.

First, we must note Paula’s own failure to escape the mimetic rivalry that is being set up for her. When commanded by her husband to ring for the servant, she begins in earnest by saying, “We should consider them a little.” But she allows herself to succumb to her husband’s intent; and she succumbs because she thinks her husband is incapable of evil. Paula’s gullibility reminds us of ourselves and our blind faith in the tyrannical powers that pit us against each other.

Once we are aligned on the battlefield—once the lines are drawn—the criminal nature of coercive, predatory power swings into action. In Gregory’s case, the object of theft are Alice Alquist’s royal jewels. In the case of predatory, tyrannical power, the object is always our inherent worth as human beings and as icons of the Creator.

In the climactic scenes of the movie, we see an inspector named Brian Cameron (portrayed by Joseph Cotten) seek out Paula and confront her with reality. She isn’t going crazy, Brian assures her, she is completely sane. He reveals to her that he was an admirer of Paula’s aunt and gives her a glove that was gifted to him by Alice Alquist, a valuable piece of the past that would’ve never found its way into Paula’s hands had Gregory’s cancel culture-esque scheme been perfected.

Brian also helps Paula discover the letter that Gregory had snatched and hidden from her; the letter identifies that Gregory is her aunt’s murderer. After a brief struggle, Gregory is apprehended and tied to a chair. In desperation, Gregory demands to see his wife. She agrees.

Paula sees before her the man who’d almost driven her insane. “Take the knife and cut me free,” Gregory tells her in a last-ditch effort of manipulation. Paula takes the knife in her hand and is visibly tempted to punish her husband just as he’d punished her. The viewer here wonders whether she will cut him free or kill him. But Paula pulls away, deciding to let justice takes its course.

Gaslight is a rare film that does not employ the sacrificing of the villain as the narrative’s problem solver. Too many times we see the hero get his revenge on the villain, often in the exact manner as the previous act of violence. But Paula proves herself to be miles apart from other protagonists. The filmmakers maintain the purity of her character while giving the viewer an important lesson that innocence needs not be tainted for justice to prevail.

The key to stopping tyranny is not to mimic its evildoing but to walk away from its contagious grasp. In doing so, it will be rendered obsolete.

The Purge – A Film Analysis

In ancient societies, people would collectively vent their anger and frustration within a fixed time on the calendar, and they would unleash their violence as a collective on a single victim in the form of sacrifice. These times are what we know today as carnivals; the subject is addressed at length by David Gornoski and Justin Murphy in their discussion together. 

The 2013 movie The Purge brings back ancient carnivals in the form of a dystopian thriller. In the film’s narrative, we are told that the government, in full consent with its citizens, has set aside an annual day for unchecked murder on the streets; anyone and everyone may be targeted. The result of this purging, we are told, is that “the United States has become virtually crime-free and the unemployment rate has dropped to 1%.” 

The introductory text containing the statistics of low crime and low unemployment is a strong rebuttal to empiricists who argue that the world is getting better. Do these champions of the Enlightenment include the numbers of non-violent victims thrown into prison and the violence they suffer there? Do the empiricists count in their statistics the number of fetuses being aborted every year? If they did, a pandora’s box would be opened on their very presuppositions.

To the movie’s premise, one might ask: how can an enlightened and secular society adhere to such a barbaric norm? A casual response would be that the premise is just that of a movie and not to be taken seriously. But what any serious anthropologist must consider is that humanity still adheres to the ancient rule of the carnival; and it does so in the form of sporadic riots and revolutions; only the religiosity has been dressed over with fractured socio-political ideologies.

The Purge is told from the perspective of a white, privileged family that enjoys a life of security and relative prosperity. The father is under the illusion that his high-tech security barricades will protect his family during the 24 hours of carnage. He assures his wife, son, and daughter that they are safe under the “lockdown.” The family is also, quite clearly, under the allure of the purge’s secular mythology: they, like other families, believe that the purge is necessary for cleansing its participants of their violent nature. 

In a strange sense, the movie combines, almost prophetically, the pandemic lockdowns and the violent civil unrest in American society into a single narrative. The proponents of the lockdown believe that their advocacy is for the good of society. According to them, a disease is spreading and killing people outside, so it is only logical to let the disease take its course and protect one’s own life. In short, it is common sense to confine yourself and let others rot outside.

Another unwitting giveaway by the filmmakers is that mass, uncontrolled violence is often initiated and backed by an institutional and authoritative entity.  One does not need to look further than recent history for examples. We can see elite-funded revolutions in Egypt, Serbia, and Syria among others. These examples point to the reality that mass violence is often utilized as a ritual of dethronement and enthronement—the ultimate sacrifice—while using average human beings as the pawns—local sacrifices.

The movie’s purging ritual is abruptly disrupted by the youngest child—the son—in the protagonist’s family. The son is visibly disturbed at seeing the killing outside of his home; he sees a wounded black man on the street crying out for help as he is chased by a masked group of elites. The wounded man is one of society’s marginalized and his depiction of being hunted is the director’s subtle way of portraying the racist undertones of American societal violence. We will, however, come to a different conclusion which is contrary to the “Woke” ideology of the filmmakers.

The child lets the man into his family’s house but the masked elites discover where their prey has taken refuge. As a result of an ultimatum presented by the masked antagonists, a conflict breaks out within the family. The son wants to help the wounded man but the father binds the man and prepares to turn him over to the mob waiting outside. In the chase and struggle, the man is revealed to be a military veteran. The father, upon hearing his wife’s pleas and seeing the dog tags hanging from the man’s neck, is no longer convicted of making the sacrifice for his family. 

The military veteran in American society holds enormous sacralizing power. The veteran, whether he be a high-ranking politician or a homeless drifter, is an unconscious symbol of state religiosity. Neither the Democrat nor Republican side of the political system would ever dare go against this symbol; to do so would be Trump-like in its sacrilege. Unbeknownst to many people, the military veteran, just like the black person, in American society is a secular Christ-figure—one that is fading away as the Calvary event takes an increasingly firmer hold of culture. 

How do we see the victim of the accusatory mob in our society today? Ideologies play an important role in how we perceive the marginalized of our time. To a leftist, that victim may be a non-white person. To the conservative-leaning, the victim may be the serviceman who has sacrificed himself for the nation’s freedom. The truth, however, is that it is somewhat both. 

The black man in The Purge is an unconscious symbol of the individual in history who is constantly oppressed by tyrannical powers. Likewise, his veteran status symbolizes the individual who is utilized as a pawn in the mass sacrificial machine by the authorities. The filmmakers’ depiction of the black man’s failure to instill mercy into the white father is an attempt to paint a racial narrative to the scapegoating mechanism.  

The filmmakers portray the military veteran as a far more successful conviction of the Christ-haunted white patriarch of the family. But the irony here is that, in their attempt at convicting the “privileged” white audience, the filmmakers themselves are convicted of the senselessness of scapegoating. This clinging onto the sacrificial mechanism under a ultra-Christian guise reveals that we need to escape the brokenness of ideological perspectives so that we are able to deconstruct the sacrificial mechanism as a whole. 

The West’s failure to unite against scapegoats unanimously is the very reason the day of purging exists both in the movie and in reality. Current events show us what a desperate and reckless search for scapegoats leads to, namely rioting, looting, and the indiscriminate killing of more innocents. 

Ultimately, it is not the black man who is the victim, and it is not the military veteran; it is, as revealed at Calvary, all mankind who is the victim of Satan. The Purge attempts to wake us up to that realization in a very narrow and fragmented way, which is why it fails to redeem both its naive protagonists and caricatured antagonists. As for our salvation, it will take more than a purge or a riot to cleanse our souls.

THINGS HIDDEN 3 : Joker Film Analysis

Things Hidden host David Gornoski analyzes the movie ‘Joker’ while using its themes about culture, scapegoats, hierarchy, doubles, envy, and the breakdown of myth with the support of the Mimetic theory founded by Rene Girard. Saturnalia and other winter solstice carnival festivals preceding sacrifice, Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Jesus and the Demoniac, and other stories are brought in to illuminate why this film strikes a nerve in our times.