Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why Darth Vader is a better Dad than Vito Corleone, Kay Adams and Princess Leia as feminists, and Hyman Roth crushing it

(Obviously Spoiler Alerts. Also, this blog is also obviously inspired by the Grantland "Sequeltology")
1. Daddy Issues: Who's the Better Father
If you look at the two characters' behaviors, Vito seems like an obvious choice, especially if you're looking from the vantage point of his favorite son, Michael. A hard working family man, Vito takes the moral high ground in all non-business issues. While he knows Sonny and Fredo will be caught up in what he does, he has high hopes for Michael ("Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone"). Even in business, he acts, relatively speaking, with integrity, first by insisting "we're not murderers" in the opening sequence and then by refusing to make an act of vengeance on Sonny's death and declaring a truce in the war. As far as mafia Dons go, he's a good guy.
In A New Hope, meanwhile, Darth Vader agrees to the termination of his daughter and then tries to blow up his son's space ship (admittedly, his son was trying to bomb his space station which contained all his business colleagues and friends and him before he left it). Far from respecting and even encouraging his son's willingness to remain pure, he actively tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side.
But while Vito lives the part of the loving father, Darth Vader would do much better at the parent socials for the simple reason that his kids turned out much better.
By the end of Part II, both Sonny and Fredo are dead and Michael is a fratricidal crime lord whose wife left him. Because Connie is a victim of a highly traumatic first marriage which included substantial amounts of domestic violence, I am choosing not to critique her for her characters own shortcomings and would like to add that by the end of the movie she becomes a fairly strong character.
As far as kids go, Luke and Leia are pretty great. Leia is your typical idealist overachiever: becomes an Imperial Senator and then leaves it to be a leader in the Rebellion. Luke, meanwhile, is the loyal helper on the farm with big ambitions, great piloting skills, and a pure heart who ends up blowing up the Death Star and helping bring about the fall of the evil Empire.
Actually, when you think about it, Luke  at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back has a lot in common with Michael at the beginning of the original Godfather. Both are well intentioned war heroes who want nothing to do with the family business. The main difference, besides the fact that one is played by Al Pacino and one isn't, is that Luke doesn't actually know what the family business is. By the time he finds out, he's already committed to the Rebellion. While the knowledge is, of course, shocking, Luke clearly isn't about to jump in for some father-son bonding of the universe-ruling nature. Michael, by contrast, grows up loving his father, even if he has no interest in his line of work. One of the things that make the Godfather movies so powerful is how relatively gradual Michael's change of character is. His initial move, killing Sollozzo and McCluskey, was done with the intention of protecting his family ("We can't wait"). Every step of the way (in the first movie), you can understand why he made his decision, and even in the beginning of the Part II, I, for one, still clung to the notion that Michael was, somehow, a good guy (As far as murders go, I didn't find Carlo's that objectionable). Because Luke grew up thinking his father was a dead good guy, he developed allegiances that were too strong to disappear when he found the truth of his father (even if he is conflicted). Michael did love Kay and his country, but his first loyalty was to his family. (Luke may have told Obi Wan Kenobi that he had obligations at home to his aunt and uncle, but he was also pretty desperate to get out of there.)
So I guess if you're going to be a Don or a Darth or some other dark-lord dad, it's probably better if you don't spend too much quality time with your kids when they're growing up. Even if you are a really great guy who believes that "A man that doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
2. Strong Female Characters and Great Sequels
From what I hear, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, is the rare feminist dream movie character. Total Film ranked her as the best female character ever, and Empire Online ranked her as the ninth greatest movie character ever.
[I'm not sure I see eye-to-eye on these rankings, however. The list also ranked Gollum at 13, ahead of all other Lord of the Rings characters (with Gandalf next at #28), which seems a bit high. I love Lord of the Rings but find Gollum to be somewhat overrated as a character. Once you establish that he's two-faced, it's really not that exciting. The most interesting thing about Gollum, in my opinion, is how he affects the Sam and Frodo relationship, meaning we should be giving credit to Elijah Wood and Sean Astin instead of Andy Serkis.]
But I haven't seen Aliens, so it was hard to be too upset when it lost to Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade.
The final, between The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back, featured some pretty great female characters as well. Princess Leia, who clocks in at #5 on the previously mentioned female character rankings and #89 on Empire Online's list, is obviously the headliner, but Kay Adams is a pretty great female character as well (it obviously helps that she's played by Diane Keaton). Kay, Connie, and Tom Hagen are the only characters who question Michael's decisions, and Kay is the only one who leaves him in protest. Her secret abortion, meanwhile, is one of the most famous scenes of Part II and one of the highlights of Al Pacino's amazing performance in the movie. (It does upset me a little that both Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro took Oscars for their work as Vito, but Pacino never took one for playing Michael, since for me Pacino's performance really made the movie.) Throughout the original and Part II (I have decided not to see Part III), Kay is consistently an independent thinker with a strong moral conscience. When she does disagree with him, it's not with drunken rambling like Frank Pentangeli, and it's not by making dumb deals that invoke Michael's murderous side like Fredo. Notice how both of those guys ended up dead. While her society does not offer her many options (Tom Hagen won't let her go to the grocery store at one point), Kay does what she can to counteract a business of which she doesn't approve.
3. This is the business we've chosen.
In a very biased column, Bill Simmons argued that "for all his wisdom, Yoda never came up with a line as great as, If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anyone.'"
That might be the best one-liner, but this is the best speech:
There was this kid I grew up with; he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada... made a fortune, your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI's on the way to the West Coast. That kid's name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn't angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen; I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business! 

No comments:

Post a Comment