Study Guide

The Godfather Family


MICHAEL: My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
KAY: What was that?
MICHAEL: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.
KAY: ...
MICHAEL: That's a true story.
(cut to Johnny singing, then back to Michael)
MICHAEL: That's my family, Kay. That's not me.

Michael tries to assure Kay that he's not into the kind of violent activity that characterizes his mobster family… but, as it turns out, he actually is. In fact, his calmness and coolness make him even more effectively ruthless.

LUCA BRASI: Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home on the wedding day of your daughter. And may their first child be a masculine child.

Brasi is expressing an Old World preference for sons over daughters. It's quite sexist, obviously. This is a definite part of The Godfather's world: the men of the family exclusively call the shots.

TOM HAGEN: Mr. Corleone is Johnny Fontane's godfather. Now Italians regard that as a very close, a very sacred religious relationship.

This illustrates the importance of family to the Corleones—but their family ties are cemented through loyalty and by repaying favors. Johnny Fontane and Don Corleone use their relationship as an occasion to help each other out in a way that is both familial and businesslike.

CLEMENZA: Don Corleone, you once said the day would come when me and Tessio could form our own families. Until today I would never think of such a thing but now I must ask your permission.

Clemenza asks him for permission since the Corleones seem to be on the decline. It shows that the gangsters' bonds aren't really as unbreakable as unconditional family bonds. They're much more business-oriented and transactional.

FREDO: Mike! You do not come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!
MICHAEL: Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.

Fredo makes the mistake of going against the family. Even if Moe deserves more respect and isn't such a bad dude, family takes priority: it's above right and wrong, and all conventions.

MICHAEL: […] Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry. Now, who approached you first? Barzini or Tattaglia?
CARLO: It was Barzini.
MICHAEL: Good. There's a car outside that will take you to the airport. I'll call your wife and tell her what flight you're on.

Of course, Michael has Carlo killed a moment later. He committed the ultimate sin: he went against the family, betraying his own brother-in-law. There could never be any forgiveness for that.

CONNIE: You killed my husband! You waited until our father died so nobody could stop you and you killed him! You killed him! You blamed him for Sonny, you always did, everybody did. But you never thought about me. You never gave a damn about me. What am I going to do now?

Carlo was actually a vicious wife-beater, abusing Connie constantly, so maybe this is actually a positive development for her. There was never any alternative for Michael, after all. Carlo helped murder Sonny, and there could be no way for him to escape in the end.