Tag: Capitalism

The Godfather, the Statue of Liberty, and Capitalism by Lena-Marie Lannutti

The Godfather films are an epic saga that is often credited as some of the best films ever made. Within its narrative is a cultural tie between the criminal underworld and the American Dream.  Francis Ford Coppola, the director, has remarked “it’s not a film about organized gangsters, but a family chronicle. A metaphor for capitalism in America”[1]. Besides these ideas of capitalism there are other concepts with gender roles as well.  The use of an icon like the Statute of Liberty in these films represent these two concepts. As cited in the third chapter, Bodnar cites how from the beginning, Americans associated through the Statute of Liberty, concepts like liberty with capitalism. “It is not the pursuit of happiness that allies with life and liberty as inalienable rights, but property that anchors and stabilizes American liberty.”[2]

The Godfather was one of the first films of New Hollywood cinema, and the first film since the early 1930s to feature criminals in main role instead of a secondary character[3]. In Italian-Americans in film, the author states the film, “…became the prototype and most important legitimator of the new wave of Italian-American sex-and-violence odysseys”[4] The film became a huge success and a cultural touchstone because of its complicated narrative and overall quality of production.

On the surface, the film presents typical gender roles “The older generation the traditional earth mothers, provide passive and stoic support for their men. The younger…. Modern nags become Italian-American spoiled brats”[5] Though there is evidence in the film of subversion of gender roles, visually and narratively traditional gender roles are reinforced. The Statute of Liberty in these scenes can be seen as a heightened extension of “earth mother” of the older generation as cited by Cortes. This connection has been linked to the statute itself in the past, “Standing upon the threshold of New York, which is the doorway of the Union, she will seem to offer the freedom of the New World to the thousands that shall flock to us from the Old…”[6] This line shows how people imprinted maternal qualities onto to the Statute because of her gender, and her connection to immigration.

In one scene in The Godfather some underlings of Don Vito assassinate a guy on the outskirts of New York, in the background the Statute of Liberty is in view in a sense “watching” everything happen. The scene alone juxtaposes the ideas of the American Dream the Statue with its representation of freedom, with these gangsters, who commit crimes in pursuit of the American Dream. Visually this scene resembles one of the last scenes in the film where Kay looks through the doorway (at the moment) unaware of her husband’s position as the head of a criminal organization.  Both scenes place women (in one case the Statute of Liberty) as passive observers to corruptions of the American Dream.

This final connects the narrative of The Godfather with the immigrant experience, and executes this by invoking the Statue of Liberty. Once again, the Statute is cast as an observer, this time a witness to the origins of the Godfather himself. The fictional character presents an immigrant narrative that is rooted in American history. “The individualistic liberties with which arriving immigrants invested the Statue of Liberty—as linked to preconceptions or early impressions of America—often emphasized hopes for new prosperity and wealth.”[7] This new prosperity is exactly what the Godfather achieved, the complication is that this was achieved through notorious means. It is this paradox that has made the narrative so engaging almost forty years after the films were released. The power of this legacy is consistently tied with the iconography and the mission of the American Dream, and this is best exemplified in the films’ use of the Statute of Liberty.



Fig 1-2 Scenes from The Godfather[8]






Figure 3 Scene from The Godfather Part II[9]


[1] Browne, Nick Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy Cambridge University Press, 2000 28

[2] Bodnar John The Changing Faces of the Statue of Liberty 2005 62

[3] Browne, Nick Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy Cambridge University Press, 2000 81

[4]  Cortes, Carlos Italian Americans in Film: From Immigrants to Icons Oxford University Press 1987, 117

[5]  Ibid., 117

[6] Bodnar, John The Changing Faces of the Statue of Liberty 2005 98

[7] Ibid., 102

[8] Coppola, Francis Ford The Godfather 1972 Paramount Pictures (images found on Netflix)

[9] Coppola, Francis Ford The Godfather Part II 1974 Paramount Pictures (images found on Netflix)