AMC ran The Godfather Part II earlier today. It made me think of something that dawned on me the last time I saw Part III. You know who's somewhat to blame for this despicable, self-destructive situation that the Corleone family falls into? The womenfolk of the Corleone family, that's who.
Mama Corleone is the worst of the lot. She could have put a stop to this nonsense a long time ago. She could have talked Vito out of this spiralling madness. She did nothing. Did she even say anything over the course of the two movies she was in? Not a word that I can remember. She failed miserably in her role as wife and mother of the family: two sons murdered (one by brother Michael) because of "this Sicilian thing", a daughter who in the end was a murderer and a son who ends life a disgraced, bankrupted shell of a man. What kind of track record for rearing kids is that supposed to be? Don't tell me a wife has no pull even in a traditional family where the paterfamilias rules all: she could have at least protested to Vito before this all spun out of control. Instead she chose to not do anything at all. She didn't say a word to Sonny and Fredo about "Oh please don't get mixed up in this business that's killed so many people I can't stand to lose you too!" Did she even care?! What a wretched example of a wife and mom she was.
Then there's Connie. It's not so much her failure to act as it is her weakness to stand up and walk away that's the problem. She could have gotten married and lived happily ever after from the beginning of the first movie. When Carlo became abusive - and I wonder if Carlo got that way 'cuz he got corrupted by the family - she could have, should have, walked away then. She can't pull away. I don't think she really wants to pull away. That wasn't really that big of a fit she pitched at Michael at the end of Part I either: she's like the battered wife who just got beat up but she keeps coming back "because where else are you going to go?" In the end she turns out to be a killer just as much as Michael. She had her chances to leave this never-ending circle of vengeance but she chose not to take them. That, I think, only served to perpetuate what went wrong with this family.
Kay is trying. Lord knows, she is trying. It's not the family that she's so infatuated with, it's Michael. She believes he can be a good person, even years later when she re-enters his life at the beginning of Part III. She keeps wanting him to change, and when she fails she tries to take her children as far away from this insanity as she can. She should have tried it for herself. Look, there has to come a point when you realize that the person you love just isn't going to change. Who knows, if she had left Michael a long time before (like when she realized he was lying to her at the end of The Godfather) maybe that would have knocked some sense into Michael. A man can do most anything, change anything, when the woman he loves puts it all on the line. She didn't do that. She gave Michael no reason to change. She's guilty... but I still feel sorry for her.
Whatever anyone else says about it, Sofia Coppola was wonderful as Mary in The Godfather Part III. She made Mary come across as this sweet, beautiful girl... someone who should be as far removed from life in a Mafia family as possible. And when she's killed at the end of the movie it genuinely hurts: Michael's silent scream is probably the most perfectly captured moment of anguish on film ever. Nevertheless, I have to fault her, for kinda the same reasons I fault Connie and Kay. She seemed too tolerant of what her father is doing, too eager to see him as nothing but a good man. That, and she got WAY too cozy with her cousin, Vincent... who was hellbent on being the very kind of man that Michael was been trying (and failing) not to become. Didn't she see that? In her own way, Mary perpetuated the Corleones' circle of destruction. But like Kay, I feel sorry for her too.
The only major female in The Godfather trilogy who is really innocent is Apollonia. Did Michael ever share with her what drove him to come to Sicily? Probably not: whether he intended to go back to America or not, I've always felt like he really was trying to make a clean break from all of that at this point in his life. Apollonia was going to be part of that break. Instead she got blown to pieces, as one of the very few people in this entire tragedy who is entirely without blame. Her death is what sends Michael back to the world he had wanted no part of: with Apollonia gone, Michael has nothing left but the life he left behind.
But none of these women should ultimately be held responsible for all the carnage and travesty that comes to this family. Blame the brunt of it on the menfolk. They are the ones who could have chosen to walk away from this, but didn't. Still, had the women stepped in and done their best to put the brakes on things, a whole lot of people would still be alive in this story. But then, it wouldn't really be The Godfather at all, would it? :-)