The Godfather – Baptism Scene

The scene begins with a long focal length establishing shot showing  a crowd of people in a church surrounding a baptism. Extra-diegetic organ music overlays the scene.

Michael and his sister (holding her baby) walk up to the priest as he begins to speak. A close-up of Michael is shown followed by a close-up of the baby. These shots are short to condense time.

The next shot is not in the church–it is in a separate location, perhaps a motel room; it shows an assassin loading his AK47. This parallel montage is used throughout the scene to show that while the baptism is taking place, Michael’s men are assassinating the leaders of the “five families.”

Shots of five assassins (and their victims) in four separate locations are spliced with shots of the baptism.

The priest performing the baptism speaks in Latin whilst in the church, and his words are overlayed when the shot switches to the murders. His diegetic words become extra-diegetic via editing.

Another edit I would like to mention occurs for a split second at 4:10 and then again from 4:15-:16. The camera shows a man lock another man inside a revolving door. The man outside the revolving door holds a gun and begins shooting at the trapped man. As this happens, white bullet-hole cracks appear on the glass of the revolving door. At 4:10 and 4:15 the camera switches from the point of view of the shooter to the point of view of the victim; the shots alternate between being outside the revolving door and being inside the revolving door. This really caught my eye because when the camera switches to the view from inside the revolving door, it almost creates the effect that the viewer is being shot at, which is very disturbing.

Interestingly, no slow-mo or anything similar is used to expand the time of the gunshots. They happen rapidly and naturally. I think this lack of editing removes the viewer from the action; the viewer feels little to no emotional connection to the people being shot, which I think makes the shooting that much more disturbing because many human lives are taken away in such a short amount of time, and they are not even given much screen time. To be given such little screen time makes the shootings seem mundane or ordinary, which is quite disturbing indeed.

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3 thoughts on “The Godfather – Baptism Scene

  1. The way these shots are cut is pretty awesome. The baptism part is made to seem drawn out and therefore somewhat suspenseful because you can hear the priest the whole time and it is constantly going back to the church. The other events that are happening in the meantime are somewhat ambiguous but it definitely keeps the viewer on their toes and somewhat concerned for the safety of the baby considering its innocence and all the intense violence and potential for harm going on all around it. The contrasts of death and the beginning of life are both tragic and inspiring but also makes the viewer worried for the baby’s life. The short and simple cuts of the men being killed make those scenes much more intense and shocking because of their length. These shots are also pretty obviously being cut while the baptism is still going on in the background so the viewer is almost able to be in two places at one time.

  2. I agree that since the assassinations are done in real time, the viewer is basically removed from the action, but I would also like to not that in every assassination, the camera angle is a little bit different. In the assassination in the massage parlor, only the victim is shown as oppose to when the family is assassinated in bed, the director makes use of a long shot and shows the assassins and the victims. I do not really understand why the camera angle is different in every setting, maybe just because of the setting itself, but it definitely gives every murder scene its own unique and semi-dramatic feel. The reference to the revolving door assassination is also very disturbing because everything is shot in such a real time feel that every murder is almost unexpected and that scene especially would cause the viewer to jump out of his seat.

  3. I agree when you say that the lack of editing contributes to the disturbed and traumatic feel that this scene gives off. The killings are done in real time; they are not done in slow motion or sped up. This makes the killings feel real, and since the characters in this scene are basically unfamiliar to us, the audience, we feel freaked out by the sudden and systematic killing of the heads of the “five families”.

    I also agree when you talk about how the diagetic words of the priest become extra-diagetic when the scene switches to the murder, and his words become a voiceover. This technique is used to show that the events are taking place at the same time, and it also shows great irony in the fact that five people are assassinated just as a baby is baptized.

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