The Godfather – The Opening Scene – Bonasera asks a favour

Scene analysis – Scene 1

No music. No distraction from the voice.

Camera – Close up on Bonasera – Dim lighting (suggests conversation is secret/ clandestine) – Slowly tracking out, creating tension for the audience – we do not know who he is talking to.

Voice is Italian-American, giving context. Costume suggests period (early 20th century).

First line establishes the importance of the American Dream – “I believe in America” – a place where anyone can achieve happiness

“She found a boyfriend – not an Italian” shows disdain for those outside the closed Italian/American community – suggests they are morally inferior

“She resisted… She kept her honour” – theme of honour established as central to this community

Despite being emotionally distressed, Bonasera attempts to control his emotions. This control indicates he is talking to someone to whom he must show respect.

As the camera moves backwards, Bonasera looks smaller and smaller, suggesting diminishing confidence and power; this is in contrast to the growing figure of the Don who is revealed through the shot, over his shoulder.

When the Don is revealed, we realise this is an interview between two men. The mise-en-scene of the desk, puts a barrier between them.

Bonasera’s monologue concludes with, “For justice, we must go to Don Corleone.” This is a complete contradiction to his opening statement. He clearly no longer believes in American justice, and so must resort to the justice provided by the community.

Bonasera cannot bring himself to say “kill the boys” out loud, so whispers it. This begins a chain of incidents where murder is either made secret of dressed in euphemism.

This shot of the whisper casts both men in shadow – they cannot be clearly seen – and this also sets the template for the film, that most illegal activity is done in shadow. This is important as it forms a contrast with the brightly lit scenes of family/ community legitimacy, and indicates that Italian/American morality has two sides: public and private.

After four minutes (FOUR!) we finally see the full setting – an office in Corleone’s home; we also see that two others are present (Sonny, the Don’s violent son, and Tom, his adopted son who is consigliere).

We are shown a shot of Corleone and see he is playing with a cat – there is a clear metaphor here, of the large and powerful don exercising control over the small, unknowing animal.

The don reprimands Bonasera for his failure to ask for help “with respect”. Again, the notion of “respect” comes from mafia culture, and is based on a separate set of values to those which are American. This highlights that the scene is not just one of one man asking help from another – it shows that by asking for help, Bonasera must turn away from the American values and accept Corleone’s.

Bonasera attempts to persuade the don: “How much shall I pay you?” Corleone is offended by this because he does not seek money – he wants Bonasera’s loyalty as payment. He puts the cat down, stands, and turns his back on Bonasera.

“What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully.”

“Are you my friend?.. (Corleone shrugs) …godfather?” This name indicates that Bonasera is agreeing to Corelone’s terms, and that he is offering his loyalty in exchange for the violence he wants.

This is reinforced by Bonasera finally kissing the don’s hand; a Sicilian gesture of respect which is based on hierarchy, much like a royal family. Bonasera puts himself in a subservient position to Corleone. His rejection of American values is complete.

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