Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The Godfather, Played by Frankenstein
I must admit I am just about the biggest Gothic novel fan ever. I took a class on it in my undergrad and loved it. My instructor told me two things that will stick with me:
1) "No, this not just dirty professor David Luke talking; other people have written papers about this too."
2) "After taking a class on the Gothic novel, you will never look at any kind of literature, novel or film the same way again."
While I'm not sure sure about the first one, the second is definitely true. It's incredible how much "Gothicism" (I may have just invented a new word) is present within seemingly innocent works. For example, I no longer can watch romantic comedies with that soft, happy feeling unless I try really hard to block the image of Dracula, or worse, necrophilia, from my brain. And Romeo and Juliet? GROSS! I don't even want to think about the perversion that Shakespeare must have embodied to come up with that.
The whole point of Gothicism is an overarching theme of obsession with the erotic horror is present within all forms of romance and other stories. The erotic horror roughly means that we as humans are indirectly attracted to mortality to the point of sexual intimacy. Everything we live and breathe for is an attempt at bringing us further away from death. Their best example: why women are so idealistically youthful, and babies are adoreable--youth and babies are about as far away from death as possible, which is what makes them so attractive. So there is this whole idea of seduction to mortality and death.
The basic set up of a Gothic story is a "light" heavenly character, that attempts to bring the Byronic hero (or for women, the "femme fatale") out of his sinful, nearly "monstrous" earthly ways. The "dark" earthly character is symbolic of the fall of man in Genesis and is surrounded by moral ambiguity and always ends up dragging the heavenly character to earth with him, killing them, or symbolically killing them by basically destroying their life. I guess the best way I can describe a Gothic "lens" is by telling you to imagine Romeo as Dracula. Run through the whole play with Dracula (the attractive, seductive Dracula) attracted to Juliet and that is the Gothic ideal in a nutshell. And, I would argue there is some truth to this set up for the most part.
Another part of the erotic horror is this issue of necrophilia; I'll try not to go too deep into this one. So we have this indirect attraction to death. And characters, usually the "dark" characters, are somehow desiring necrophilia. Now, the key here is that it doesn't have to be graphic fantasy of body-on-corpse action, it's more just like an allusion to the act. So going back to Romeo and Juliet, it could be argued that the only time that the two can actually be together is in death, hence a desire (although they may not have been aware of it) to be romantically involved with their dead partner. This would be considered a Gothic take on necrophilia and the erotic horror. Have I grossed you out enough yet?
So, with the gangster genre of movies, I think it's pretty easy to see how Gothic themes are laced within the plot. See what you can piece together from these clips. Pay special attention to the song in the second one and see if you can decide which characters are which.
So it's pretty obvious we have Vito and Michael as the earthly characters, and Kay as the heavenly character. Michael is an interesting character because at the beginning he could be viewed as a heavenly character. However, that changes when his father is shot. I don't think it could be said that he is dragged down by the earthly characters because his family doesn't want him part of the business at first and his father expresses great disappointment when he finds out that Michael has joined. It is better and easier to keep these ideas in your head while you watch the movie, rather than me attempt to explain this in a blog, I promise.
Okay, so we have Apollonia, who is described as being "more dangerous than guns" (you guessed it: the femme fatale). Also, her death is something that Michael never truly overcomes. In each movie he is brought back to her and thinks about her (you guessed it again: necrophilia). Vito and Michael's "profession" is nothing but moral ambiguity. This could be a 10 page paper if I got into details. Now think about other gangster themes: Goodfellas, The Sopranos, almost any Robert DiNero movie really. They all have the same morally ambiguous justification for their life. They all have that woman who attempts to save them but is eventually brought down to earth and is basically destroyed.