The Godfather (1972)

Becoming The Don: Scene Study of Michael and Kay's Final Moment in 'The Godfather'

By: Domonique Cox-Salberg

Kay’s (Diane Keaton) knowing and somber look when the door is being closed in on her while Michael’s (Al Pacino) embraced as the new Godfather by other members of the mob, is the most memorable moment for me. But how she got to feel this way, is where we discover the real excellence of the scene.

“Don’t Ask Me About My Business”

The scene has three phases: Michael and Kay argue, he tells a bald-faced lie to get her off his back, then the truth is revealed. In between, everything from the lighting, performances, and the blocking inform us of what Kay has not seen for herself yet, sadly. That is the sensation and lure that comes with watching dramas; we have the luxury of knowing all the details and then getting to sit back and watch them play out for better or worse. We like knowing it’s not us that has to deal with a break-up or losing a job during the story. Hence, it creates an intensified desire for voyeurism since drama typically depicts realistic or common human scenarios. The sense of knowing more than the character is comforting and enticing. So combining great drama with impeccable direction, is truly a powerful thing to achieve in filmmaking.

Getting back to the scene, what provokes Kay to confront Michael, is the murder of his sister’s husband. The majority of this confrontation is filmed in a medium shot except for Michael moving through the room. With Kay now blurred out of the frame, Coppola transitions into a medium long shot, creating a sense of distance between them. Following this, his eyes become more personable and focused when this shift occurs, further suggesting that Michael has indeed transformed and has no intention of going back to who he once was. Whatever Kay has to say will not change that. Also shot with chiaroscuro lighting, the scene gives a great contrast to the light and dark elements of Michael and Kay’s slowly deteriorating relationship as he moves in and out of the darkness. From the way Michael travels into darker areas of the room, it draws focus into his no longer innocent naïve eyes; now, we can see that Michael is a man more of his father’s caliber. As for the method acting performed by Pacino, he uses his eyes most expressively to convey irritation: being that they produce a sparse and unyielding look towards Kay, since not having anticipated her questioning nor feels Kay has the right to ask about his business.

Additionally, in this scene, we get to see how the family structure has deconstructed; Michael no longer sees Kay as a confidant and shuts her out, which also destroys his last connection to a legitimate and moral future. It is evident when he proceeds to slam his hand on the desk instead of wanting to discuss what he has done because now he has a “new family” to confide in, that being the mobsters who enter after Kay has left. What gives us the effect of this shutting out so profoundly, is the visual of the door being closed on Kay. While the reverse shot lingers on her face, we metaphorically and materially see darkness passing over, indicating there will not be good things to come about this; that being, Michael is now fully taken over by and embraces the Mafia life.

My Note To The Reader:

Dramas like this are why I love the genre! So well-acted and directed. What did you like most about this powerful scene?

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