The Godfather trilogy – The transition of Michael Corleone

The Godfather trilogy is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made in all of cinema. The films are so legendary that calling them “Godfather” instead of The Godfather feels like an unforgivable crime. Directed masterfully by Francis Ford Coppola, the trilogy has some of the best acting performances, soundtrack, cinematography, and even camerawork and costumes. The reason The Godfather trilogy stands out from other crime movies is that it’s actually about the beautiful tragedy of Michael Corleone. Played astoundingly by Al Pacino, the trilogy chronicles his life story from a promising war hero to a legendary yet lonely man.

The Godfather

Michael Corleone from The Godfather
Michael Corleone from The Godfather

Family is an integral part of Michael’s story, even though at the start, Michael was more of an outsider in his own Mafia family. He always told his girlfriend, Kay, that that’s his family and not him. He was continually assuring her that he would never be one of them. However, all of that changed on the tragic day of Vito Corleone’s shooting…

Although Michael despised their business, he still loved and cared for his family. As soon as Michael receives the news, he rushes home. From there, Michael visits his father in the hospital, where he realizes that another hit is about to take place. Michael quickly comes up with a plan of protecting his father, that too effortlessly. Soon after, Michael assassinates Sollozo, the man responsible for Vito’s shooting, and McCluskey. What mattered was that Michael was now a member of his family’s company, regardless of his motives.

After the killing, Michael leaves America for Sicily to hide, leaving behind his girlfriend and the life he could have had. In Sicily, Michael marries Apollonia, still believing that he can lead a peaceful life away from his family’s business. However, life had other plans, as Sonny is soon killed. In a failed assassination attempt on Michael, Apollonia is killed as well. Michael understands the only way he’ll ever be safe now is by becoming more powerful than his enemies. He returns to America and takes over his family business. He reunites with Kay and proposes to her, but not out of love but rather for possession of her. After his father’s death years later, Michael gives the order to kill all of his enemies. As the film ends, we witness Kay seeing Michael become the evil he used to despise.

The Godfather Part II

Michael in The Godfather Part II
Michael in The Godfather Part II

The Godfather Part II serves both as a prequel and sequel to the original film. We see the story of Vito Corleone from an immigrant orphan to a highly respected don. Along with that, we see Michael changing from the evil man he was to the Devil incarnate himself. Both the plotlines juxtapose each other beautifully across this 200+ min epic.

The film’s story begins with an assassination attempt on Michael Corleone, followed by Michael’s investigation to find out the mole in his organization. But what Michael doesn’t know is that the mole is someone much closer to him. Michael soon leaves for Cuba, where he concludes that his own brother, Fredo, is the mole. Meanwhile, Kay is slowly realizing the suffering that her marriage with Michael will bring her kids. She, therefore, gets an abortion so Michael cannot make any more people suffer.

We also see Vito Corleone’s backstory in The Godfather Part II. He immigrates from his hometown of Corleone to New York after losing his whole family to gang violence. In New York, Vito grew up to become a petty thief so he could support his family. The don of his neighborhood tries to extort Vito, to which Vito kills him. He then takes his place and becomes a highly respectable and powerful man.

In his quest for power, Michael lost what was most important to him – his family. After Kay tells Michael that she had an abortion, Michael pushes her away from the family, and despite showing forgiveness to Fredo in front of everyone, Michael soon gives the order to kill his own brother. In beautiful contrast, Vito created his empire for his family, while Michael lost his family for the sake of his empire.

The Godfather Part III

Michael in The Godfather Part III
Michael in his old age

Generally considered the weak link of the trilogy, The Godfather Part III is the masterful conclusion to Michael Corleone’s story. Michael is now an old man, ready to hand over his crime empire to Sonny’s illegitimate son, Vincent. With all the years of working towards his dream, Michael has now become a man full of regrets and is now looking for redemption.

After becoming a shareholder of Immobiliare, Michael is closer than ever to turning his business into a legitimate one. After he pays off every partner of his in his crime empire, he is attacked by Joey Zaza, Vincent’s boss. Although he survives the attack, Michael gets a diabetic stroke right after. Faced with his own mortality, Michael realizes he doesn’t have long to seek forgiveness for his sins.

When Michael visits Sicily for his son’s opera, where he reflects on the death of his first wife. He sees how his mistakes led to the breaking of his second marriage and ask Kay for forgiveness. He even confesses to a priest about his ordering of the murder of Fredo and shows regret for doing so. During this time, Michael’s daughter, Mary, starts dating her own cousin, Vincent. Michael disapproves of the relationship and promises to name Vincent his heir if he leaves his daughter.

Afterward, Michael finds out about the death of his close friend Don Tommasino and that an assassin is out to kill him. On his friend’s deathbed, Michael pleads to god to redeem him and that he is ready to pay any cost for it. On the day of the opera, Vincent’s men are able to stall the assassin from killing Michael, but he eventually shoots Michael and accidentally kills Mary. This is the ultimate price that Michael pays for his sins and his redemption.


Michael Corleone has, without a doubt, the greatest character arc ever. His character is a testament to the idea that power is, in the grand scheme of things, meaningless. He eventually became the polar opposite of what his father, Vito Corleone, was and stood for. Where Vito started with nothing and died happily while playing with his grandson, Michael started with everything and died alone, without anyone to honor the life he lived.

Aryaman Kumar

I'm a nerd and I write nerdy stuff

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