It is prophetic that the first line in the film The Godfather (1972) is: “I believe in America.” The undertaker Amerigo Bonasera speaks it. There is a past relationship between the two men; Corleone’s wife is godmother to Bonasera’s daughter. Bonasera has come to Don Corleone in search of justice, because the American justice system has failed him. And while most standard analyses of The Godfather focus on the film as a metaphor for business, at the heart of the film is there is a tale of social anxiety over the search for one’s identity.
One review in particular states: “The Godfather is an insightful sociological study of violence, power, corruption and crime in America, with the ‘honorable’ crime ‘family’ serving as a metaphor for the way business is conducted in capitalistic society, profit-making corporations and governmental circles”. However, returning to Bonasera’s opening scene, it is clear that he has attempted to become “American,” even raising his daughter as an American, not an Italian. As younger men, he and Corleone came out of the same immigrant neighborhood, working hard to integrate into the mainstream of American society. . The exchange between the two men is very telling:
Corleone: I understand. You found paradise in America, you had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. And you didn’t need a friend like me. But uh, now you come to me and you say – ‘Don Corleone, give me justice.’ But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you, uh, ask me to do murder for money.
Bonasera: I ask you for justice.
Bonasera is both afraid of Don Corleone’s business and afraid of what he represents: a continuation of the Sicilian society they both left behind. Bonasera’s conflict comes about because he has attempted to belong to America, but has found out that he is discriminated against because he is an immigrant.
But the main identity crisis of the film belongs to Michael Corleone. As a second-generation American, he faces two dilemmas: identity as an American, and identity with his own family. Alone among the wedding guests, Michael is in uniform. World War II has just ended and he was the only one of “the family” to volunteer for service. Like Bonasera’s daughter he has been thoroughly Americanized. The wedding is between Connie and Carlo Rizzi, both Italian and Catholic. Michael brings his girlfriend to the reception: the WASP Kay Adams. In both the choice of military service and girlfriend, Michael has rejected the Sicilian identity the rest of his family embraces. “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”