In ‘The Godfather’ there is a ubiquitous sense of tension, at any point it feels like things could explode. There are scenes of absolute calmness, but you never quite feel at ease, and there are scenes were Michael explodes yelling in that 1950s raised voice, but you never quite feel intimidated. It’s the opposite you feel most intimidated when Michael is calm and collected and he feels vulnerable when he lights up with anger. This is a thematic parallel to the successes and failures of the family throughout the film depending on the ‘don’ at the time. Sonny is very emotional and quick to anger, and the family fails during his reign, but when Vito is head of the family he remains calm and collected and the family prospers. Michael is a combination of the two personalities of the former heads of the family, and that’s why he succeeds when dealing with the family business and fails when dealing with his family.
Never in another film have I felt the tension and atmosphere like in The Godfather. The schizophrenic nature of the tension and the reality that Michael can bubble over at any point is astoundingly captivating to watch. A perfect example of this is in Part 2 when Michael is first told about his wife’s miscarriage and then in the scene when Kate confronts him and explains to him that she had an abortion. In both these scenes it is a drop of the hat that sets Michael off, possibly justifiably in both cases, but he goes from 0 to 100 quickly. Michael entirely fails as a father and husband in the film, he’s forgotten Vito’s message about true men spending time with their family, and its repeatedly brought up throughout the film. He has absolute victory in business as he escapes sentencing and kills Roth, channelling the calm and collected nature of Vito. However, he has absolute defeat dealing with his actual family. His sister still hates him, his wife and children leave him, and he doesn’t forgive Fredo. Therefore, channelling the idiocy of Sonny.
The Godfather’s unparalleled atmosphere is a key reason for its universality in film legend. The one aspect this film nails and the aspect that will stand the test of time is this atmosphere. No matter when or where this film is consumed in the future, the atmosphere will breakdown any reality a viewer lives in.