My 5 favorite villains: Volume 1

I decided to share another aspect of my near limitless knowledge with you: the psychoses of famous (or near famous) villains.

The villain is always the most interesting character for me. The reason being that anyone who’s not actually a sociopath understands why Superman does what he does. Because it’s the right thing to do, and your own altruism would cause you to save people (if not threat of guilt from not saving them at the very least, since Superman is near invincible, if he didn’t save people he’d be a jerk).

But why do the bad guys do the things they do? Well, let’s explore this idea as I waste away the remaining internship time for the week (it’s not my fault they haven’t given me an assignment). This will be the first of (obviously) five entries about my favorite villains.

No. 5. Michael Corleone from The Godfather

I know, you’re probably thinking, why would I put the main character from one of the greatest (if not the greatest) films of all time at number 5? Well, first off, Michael’s not really portrayed as a villain in the classical sense, but also because he doesn’t really do a whole lot in terms of villainous activity as compared to the rest.

However, the character is still quite fascinating. He avoided the “family business” for years, until finally becoming the most notorious member of the family. This is quite interesting in that he almost avoided the business like an alcoholic avoids alcohol. Michael knew, deep down, that he could very easily become as bad as his father, if not worse.

I think that the environment that he grew up in (strong family loyalty, when the family deals in illegal activities) mixed with the good old-fashioned Italian temper was a recipe for disaster. And so Michael joined the family business,  to avenge the attempted murder of his father (“just this once” as it were, much like the line in the classic film about alcoholism The Lost Weekend where the bartender remarks that “one is too many, a hundred’s not enough”).

Of course, it appeared that he’d be left with a happy ending. He moves back to the homeland, Sicily, and weds a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, the sins of his past caught up with him. Michael’s right hand man turned on him and detonated his car, with his wife inside. Once he took that small step into darkness, it would forever follow him wherever he went. Once he killed the men responsible for his father’s death, it was too late for him and always would be. Accepting his fate, Michael returns home to order the execution of the crime leaders threatening the Corleone empire.

First off, the scene where Michael is being anointed the godfather of his nephew at the same time that he’s becoming THE Godfather (when the aforementioned executions are taking place) is probably one of my favorite scenes in film history. However, there’s an even more important scene earlier in the film, which I never paid much attention to until recently.

It comes when Michael is having his final conversation with his father, Vito (the former Godfather, played by the incredible Marlon Brando). Vito explains that he always wanted a different life for Michael. He wanted him to be a politician, someone who could “pull the real strings in society.” And herein lies the true tragedy of Michael Corleone: he can never seem to do exactly what others expect of him. He felt like an outsider in his own family so he joined the business, only to discover his father wanted him out of it. He ends up alienating his own wife, and his children are taken from him as well.

The end of The Godfather Part II really illustrates this perfectly. Upon having his own brother killed (he was a snitch and a weasel, but still, it was his brother!), Michael ponders his life. At this point we’re treated to a flashback that takes place a few years beforehand. During this scene, Michael (about to leave for WWII) and the rest of the family are planning a surprise party for their father.

Around the table are several people who met tragic ends in either of the first two films. It was back at a time before the tragedy, and yet in the scene Michael is largely ignored and ultimately left alone. This seems to be his fate: whether he’s the good son or the ruthless crime boss, he is inevitably alone. The film then returns to Michael in the present day, alone, thinking about what he’s become. And that’s where the second film leaves us. It was a low key ending, but powerful.

The third film isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, but it’s certainly nowhere near the quality of the first two. The ultimate point of it, however, is the perfect ending to the series, which illustrates my overall point. In the end, Michael reflects on the happier times of his life (through a series of images from the films that show him dancing with the three women he loved: his wife from Sicily who was killed, his wife in America who left him, and his daughter who was killed by a bullet meant for him).

It is at this time, that Michael dies quietly in his courtyard, a piece of fruit falling from his hand (they say it’s an orange, but I prefer to think it’s an apple as through the series Michael “flew a little too close to the sun” as it were, a.k.a. “ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”).

One can either view the scene as incredibly sad, or perhaps even redemptive depending on how you interpret other aspects of the film. I say it’s a bit of both, but the fact remains that Michael Corleone is one of the most fascinating villains in film history. Because at the end of the day, he’s just a man in search of peace and acceptance, who got a little lost along the way. If you find that incredibly depressing (and it’s probably a good sign that you’re human) then Francis Ford Coppola really did his job. Still, I’d recommend watching some Seinfeld reruns to balance out your mood.

Well that’s number 5, stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for the rest (number 1 may surprise you!).