While most people know who Michael Corleone is (the third son of the first Godfather, Vito Corleone, who took over the family's illegal crime business when Vito died), there is the constant question of what Michael Corleone is.
Is he a hero for taking over the family business?
An anti-hero for killing to save the one's he loves?
A villain for his cruel tactics and manipulation?
A sinner, yes; a saint, definitely not.
While Michael Corleone may be a plethora of characteristic contradictions, there is no denying that he is a tortured soul who longs for redemption. There is something about Michael that tends to magnetically draw people to him. Many people might be able to relate to him. The odd child that never fit it, the son desperate to leave, sometimes perceived as the runaway or the prodigal.
Michael lives in the shadow of his oldest brother Sonny, whom he can never seem to match in personality. He is close to his second older brother Fredo, but Fredo's fragile nature sometimes seems too shallow for Michael. Then there is Constanza or Connie, the only daughter, the spoiled little sister who gets what she wants and sometimes gets what she may not deserve. At the center of all of this is Michael's loving, but sometimes distant mother, and his extraordinary and beloved father, Vito who is worshiped and feared by everyone who knows him.
The Corleone family is lively and there is no shortage of love and drama to go around. Yet, that is not what Michael wants. He doesn't want his father's family, he wants to make his own. Michael longs for independence, freedom and his own identity; not just to be seen as Don Vito's third son. So when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, Michael enlists for the Marines that very day, causing conflict from his father, Sonny and Tom (Michael's adopted brother).
|Michael Corleone throughout the years|
Michael hoped that with the ending of the war would come the beginning of his independence from his family, but things go very differently. As "The Godfather" progresses you see the once happy, charming young man with hopes and dreams begin to descend into his father's underworld and that descent comes with may prices. When there is an assassination attempt on his father's life, Michael is called back home to help his family.
Eventually, he gets himself embroiled in a Mafia war that has him exiled to Sicily where he meets and marries beautiful young girl, Apollonia. Just when Michael believes he is finally happy and able to live as he sees fit, the family business finds him and destroys all his hopes of family and that is where any chance of Michael's independence ends.
While the reader (or viewer) may pity Michael's lot in having to run the family business, the man manages to justify every mean he uses to control the business. Michael lost his own independence and dreams of success, so the only way he can get them back is by using the family business that he was once running away from and create his own successful life within it. Success means murder, lying, cheating, bribing and manipulating your way into the highest seat of power. If Michael wants power than he will have it. If he wants justice than he will obtain it.
|The Corleone family in happier times -- 1958, Lake Tahoe, Nevada|
All Michael really has at the end of the day is his wife (who leaves him) and his children, Anthony and Mary. During the second film, it was obvious that Michael preferences his son over his daughter. However, in the third film, we get the understanding that Michael's past sins has caused his son to distance himself from his father and leave him. That opens up Michael's relationship with his daughter whom he believes he has neglected in lieu of the family business. Mary hopes now that she will get the love and affection that she has craved her whole life for from her father.
Happiness is never a certainty with Michael Corleone and in the end he has saved the family, but loses the most precious thing in his life. His daughter. The little girl he could have spent a little more time with is ripped from his life and he will never recover from his grief.
The repetitive theme of 'how far do you go for the ones you love?' is consistent throughout Michael's life. While he may be a hero to some, a villain to others, and an anti-hero to a larger majority, Michael Corleone was a man who, in the beginning, was trying to forge his own life. While Michael Corleone was no saint, he was not entirely evil either. An extraordinary greatness is thrust upon him and all he can do is carry his family as best as he can and live life as well as he is able.