***Spoilers for The Godfather trilogy, although if you haven’t seen it yet you should stop reading anyway and go watch it***
It’s probably due to the fact that movie theaters across the nation are shut down that the Francis Ford Coppola’s new release of The Godfather: Part III did not receive much attention. Despite being released on a momentous occasion — the 30th anniversary of the original film — and receiving much higher accolades then the original release, the mafia epic that once gripped the minds of the American public seems to have remained dormant in the public consciousness. Nevertheless, the re-edit was not released without recognition, and even The New York Times felt that, perhaps out of respect of the Hollywood classic, the edit disserved some consideration.
Specifically, an article, penned by NYT culture reporter Dave Itzkoff, opens thusly:
In the final scene of “The Godfather Part III,” Michael Corleone, the aged protagonist of this epic crime drama, is left in solitude to contemplate his sins, gripped with guilt over actions that have devastated his family and the knowledge that he cannot change what he has done.
In case a retiring monarch throwing a kingdom, a daughter dying in her fathers arms, or the title The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone weren’t enough of a tip off, Coppola himself was the first to draw a connection between the two works. But even before the third film, the ghost of Shakespeare in general, and King Lear specifically, haunted the immortal cinematic masterpieces that make up The Godfather Tribology. Through the winding yet gripping tail, Coppola presents the audience with the original Don Corleone, forced to step down before his time, and with three sons in a crisis of succession. Eventually, the outsider — who tried to give up the family trade for a standard American life — is revealed as the most natural heir. The similarities between the second Don Corleone and Cordelia extend far beyond the similarity of their names.
Coppola was not the only famous filmmaker to incorporate ideas from Shakespeare into his work. The kingly position of The Bard in the western literary cannon is symptomatic of not only his genius, but also of the universal truth of the stories he spun. Romeo and Juliet not only tell the story of two households both alike in dignity but also that of two competing factions on the streets of New York. Anybody who’s dealt with politicians, bosses, teachers, parents, or others in positions of power has met their fair share of King Lears, Lady Macbeths, and King Oberons. Shakespeare’s plays are immortal because they are perfect encapsulations of immortal stories. So it’s no wonder that the pillars of the American Cinematic Pantheon are built out of marble carved from King Lear.