Script of the Week: The Godfather

Conflict and Theme

The screenplay for The Godfather (1972) was written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, based on a novel by Mario Puzo.

When Coppola was working with Mario Puzo’s novel he broke each section of the story down with these key criteria:

1. Synopsis – to summarise that particular part of the book

2. The Times – the historical context (1940s), to relate every scene to the period

3. Imagery and Tone – images that stand out, tone of the story

4. The Core (after Elia Kazan, from how he broke down A Streetcar Named Desire) – the essence of the scene

5. Pitfalls – the dangers, things to avoid (cliches, being boring, lacking basic humanity)

The Godfather stands out for its strong consistency of theme. Each of these criteria above contributes to the story, but the Core most of all. The core of each episode or scene forms the spine of the story, and if you analyse each scene and sequence they are all linked to the main theme – the father-son conflict. Michael and his father want different things for Michael which creates a conflict between them. The events in the story push and pull Michael between what he wants and what his father wants. The dramatic question or the main tension of the whole story is ‘will Michael follow in his father’s footsteps?’ and there is no scene in the script that is not directly or indirectly linked to that theme. In the Pitfalls, Coppola says that one of the dangers is failing to set up tension between godfather and Michael – that’s conflict. The core is also about conflict. In the video clip below Coppola discusses his criteria, explaining the core of a particular scene:

The core of the scene; Introduce the Don, and gradually reveal the breath of his power, make clear his relationship to Michael.*
Establish the fusion of family and business.
Introduce all the main characters and sub-plots of the film.

*Coppola’s underlining
The part Coppola underlined contains conflict: we are introduced to the godfather and his business which is what Michael will be expected to take over later in the story, as well as the Don’s relationship to Michael – they want different things (conflict) but they have a close, loving and trusting relationship, which also will later add to the conflict because otherwise his father wouldn’t want him to take over the business and Michael wouldn’t be tormented by the dilemma and not honouring his father’s wishes. Here we see how conflict in the relationships between the characters creates drama the audience can engage with, and carries the main theme of the story.

A page from Coppola’s Notebook


Read the screenplay for The Godfather here


Here is Francis Ford Coppola talking about his notebook which he used for analysing the novel



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