Michael Corleone – The Tragic Hero

Michael Corleone is a fictional character who plays the protagonist in Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather. Portrayed by Al Pacino in 3 Godfather movies, Al Pacino was nominated for Academy awards twice for his performance as Michael Corleone. Anyone who has seen any of the 3 Godfather movies would know the high intensity character of Michael Corleone the youngest son of the original Don Vito Corleone the role that was embodied by the legend Brando.

Let’s Travel Through Michael’s Character

Michael The War Hero
Michael was not into family’s mafia business and he had no intentions of joining the family business from the very beginning.
Michael took part in the battles of Guadalcanal and Peleliu when he was sent to the Pacific for fighting. Michael was awarded a Navy Cross for his bravery and hence was a WW2 hero for the United States.

Character Outline
The character of Michael is smart, determined, ruthless, and cold-blooded. What is interesting is the journey and the turn that Michael’s life took to make him what he ended up to be. As he can take the right decisions at the right time, has clear thinking, and commands respect, he is an excellent Godfather. Though Michael never intended to be involved in the Mafia, he takes over the family and is the best candidate among Vito’s children.

Michael is a refreshing protagonist or anti-hero, an opposite character that can be guessed by most of the audience. From a war hero in the military to the crime boss of the family, he plays all the roles in a versatile manner. He killed people for his country and killed people for his family. He appears to be a monster without any sympathy as he organizes slayings. Where gangsters are generally used to be seen in black dresses, Michael pops up in a green military uniform with his girlfriend when he first time appears on the screen.

When Michael sets any plans forward, he cannot take ‘no’ as an answer from opposite sides. He remains confident with his ideas and makes others believe them. He was placed in his father’s place at a very tender age and lacked criminal experiences. But his trouble-shooting power and think-on-his-feet ability make him stand out from others.

Michael Corleone- A villain or a Tragic Hero?
Michael Corleone was ranked 11th among the greatest villains of all time by the American Film Institute. As he was born and raised in a crime family, he succeeded his father after his death and was the new Don. He has portrayed as an anti-hero in the film and his character is identical to the anti-hero characteristics proposed by Wilson et Al. The characteristics listed by Wilson are empathy, flexibility, self-awareness, humility, and the ability to acknowledge uncertainties. Some of the critics also consider him a tragic hero.

Michael was torn apart between his two lives, one as a loving husband, father, son, and other the dreadful gangster mafia head who was as ruthless as one can be to the extent that he did not even forgave his own brother Fredo and got him killed in the second Godfather movie.

Why a Tragic Hero?

Michael never wanted to get involved in the mafia business, he was upright and string enough to break away from his family identity to become a war hero. What is tragic about the character’s journey is that the events with his family forced him to get involved in mafia and become a cold blooded mobster. Another arc to look at the story of Michael Corleone is that he was always had that capacity to become a mafia boss his life just took him to his true self, as the saying goes ‘A man has to be what he is, can’t break the mold’.

First Turn or The Last for Michael
The most major turn was when Michael’s father was shot at in an assassination attempt, this is when the life of Michael Corleone takes a drastic turn and he gets into the bloodshed to save and avenge for his father. This can be looked as the last turn as well because Michael was never able to get out of the mafia after that.

Lost Love
Michael had to leave the country after killing his father’s conspirators leaving behind his family and his love Kay. He could not even say goodbye to Kay as takes on the journey that would change his entire world. Later in the story when Michael is hiding in Sicily he finds his new love in Appolinia a local girl whom he marries. But his local bodyguard sets up an explosion in the car for Michael that ends up killing Appolinia instead. Michael gets back to America and marries Kay and has 2 children but even the marriage doesn’t lasts and they end up separating in the second part of the movie.

Lost Brothers
Michael lost his eldest brother Sonny Corleone in the mafia war in the 1st Godfather and he was betrayed by his other brother Fredo in the second part of the Godfather, now here is an interesting arc to Michael when Fredo betrays him he is hurt and devastated but doesn’t forgives his blood brother for the slip. Michael waits for their mother to pass away and then get Fredo killed. This act haunts him till the end of his life as it was shown in the last part of the Godfather. But he was helpless in front of his own cold blooded ruthlessness that he just couldn’t forgive Fredo for his mistake.

Longing For and Ultimately Losing His Kids
Michael was a loving father and he lost each one of his kids by the end of the last part of the story. Michael’s unborn child was aborted by Kay without informing him as she did not wanted to bring another life into the crime world of Corleone family, his living son separated from him with age and broke away to pursue music, his most beloved daughter was killed towards the end of the movie by assassins who came to kill Michael in the end of 3rd part. Michael is seen crying helplessly when his daughter was killed.

Ironically the family that he wanted to save was shattered and broken and Michael dies alone with no one around with him in the twilight of his life.

Was there any Real Person Like Michael Corolene?
Vito Genovese and Joseph Bonnano inspired the character of Michael Corolene. Joseph became the boss of his own family at a very tender age and relocated his businesses to Arizona in the 1960s. Genovese went to Sicily in the 1930s due to charges of murder, and he commanded the deaths of the rival bosses in the 1950s.

The movie was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and he along with Mario Puzo delivered what remains one of the most legendary movie with iconic characters.

In the end we would like to put this blog out as our small tribute to one of the most iconic on screen characters in the history of world cinema.


Michael Corleone The Tragic Hero

Michael Corleone The Tragic Hero

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