The Godfather turns 50 this year, which is a reminder of how influential the trilogy has been, even though it tracks the lives and travails of a mobster family.
Phrases derived from The Godfather such as “an offer you can’t refuse,” “it’s not personal, it’s business” and “time to hit the mattresses” have become everyday expressions. But the movie’s influence runs deeper to life lessons about power, family and even capitalism, according to Iris Milanova. “It has so much substance, and it offers some very important life lessons. That’s certainly an offer you can’t refuse.”
Here are some of the life lessons Milanova identified:
Don’t make promises you cannot keep. Your word is the most important thing that you have to offer.
Don’t involve yourself in other people’s personal lives. “Sonny, don’t get involved,” advised Carmela Corleone.
Family is the most important thing in life. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” says Don Vito Corleone.
Don’t go against your own family. “Fredo, you’re my older brother and I love you. But don’t you ever go against the family again. Ever.” – Michael Corleone.
Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Always keep a watchful eye on your enemies and play life’s game of chess with precision, dedication and tact.
Establish friendships out of respect, business and trust. “Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.” – Don Vito Corleone.
Violence is the last option. “I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.” – Solozzo.
Build a powerful community. “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.” – Don Vito Corleone.
Don’t take things too personal. “it’s not personal, it’s business.” – Michael Corleone.
Francis Ford Coppola, who directed The Godfather movies, wrote a new introduction to Mario Puzo’s novel to mark its 50th anniversary. One of his more interesting observations is that many of the life lessons espoused by Don Vito Corleone were actual expressions Puzo heard from his own mother.
“Mario told me that all of the great dialogue, those quotable lines he put into the mouth of Don Corleone, were actually spoken by Mario’s mother. Yes, ‘an offer he can’t refuse,’ ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer,’ ‘revenge is a dish that tastes best cold,’ and ‘a real man takes care of his family,’ among many others, were sayings he heard from his own mother’s lips. Mario later wrote, ‘Whenever the Godfather opened his mouth, in my own mind I heard the voice of my mother. I heard her wisdom, her ruthlessness, and her unconquerable love for her family and life itself. Don Corleone’s courage and loyalty came from her, his humanity came from her.’”
Coppola revealed it was his sister who suggested the idea that Kay, Michael Corleone’s long suffering wife, would abort their unborn son. “I loved it because it seemed symbolic and the only way a woman married to such a man could halt the satanic dance continuing generation after generation.”
Many films are unforgettable and have intergenerational appeal. The Godfather is that rare cultural phenomenon that became part of our lives for 50 years – and counting. To turn Michael Corleone’s phrase, “It’s not business, it’s personal.”