Those who’ve watched “The Godfather” and its awesome follow up “The Godfather II” inevitably draw comparisons between the old Vito and the new Michael Corleone. Who was the better Don? Everyone seems to agree that Michael was a more successful Don in terms of money and power. But was he a better one? Let’s look at some differences.
Vito was Personal while Michael was Business
The classic opening scene of The Godfather starts with the undertaker asking the Godfather to mete out justice for his daughter and Don agrees only on the condition that the undertaker accepts him as his friend. He doesn’t ask for payment – in fact he takes offence at the talk of money. He says that one day (and that day may never come,) the Don may ask him for a favor. That’s it. An undertaker. Not a man with power or assets. What service could an undertake render the Don? But Vito doesn’t care. He’s not interested in money.
Similarly on his daughter’s wedding, the Don painstakingly grants personal favors to various people in friendship.
Michael on the other hand has no friends. He couldn’t care less about an undertaker’s daughter and no undertaker would ever come to him asking for help. Instead in the opening scene of part II, there is a ceremony like the first part with Michael taking care of “business.” But his business is about high powered deals with Senators and expanding his business interests in the state. To me, nothing illustrates the difference between the two Dons than the first 20 minutes of each movie.
Vito had friends. Michael only had enemies
In the first part, when Vito was in the hospital after the assassination attempt, the baker’s son dropped by with some flowers. This in itself is amazing. You can be sure that if Michael was in hospital in part II, not a single real friend would have come to see him. Furthermore, on learning that Vito’s life was again in danger, the baker’s son offers to stay and help saying “For your father.” This is a don whom people love and respect. Not one who is obeyed out of fear.
Vito built a family. Michael lost his
Vito’s was a death which everyone desires to have. He lived to a nice old age, and died amongst his tomato plants while chasing his grandson around. His family was with him and he wasn’t bitter despite having lost his eldest son. He had his loving wife, his children, and adopted son.
Michael on the other hand loses his entire family despite seeming to try harder. He regularly asks his wife if she feels her son will be a boy, and shows an obsessive interest in continuing his family line. He could never adopt a son like Vito had merely out of the goodness of his heart. He drives his wife away by lying to her and not giving a shit about how she feels, has his own brother murdered, and the rest of his siblings hate him. He also tried to alienate Tom – the only person who really stood by him all through.
So though Michael’s tenure as Don was marked by a great expansion in business – both geographically and monetarily, he was never a real success. He dies alone and abandoned. We’re reminded of the words “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”