During the past 24 hours I have watched two movies that were good, but not great. Both suffered–though not to a great extent–from cheesy dialogue and improbable plot lines. Yet I was thoroughly engrossed in both, and now I can’t stop thinking about them. The movies were The Godfather: Part 3 (generally agreed to be the least good–it would be false to say the “worst”–of the three) and Thor: The Dark World. The reason I’ve invested so much thought and feeling into these movies has little or nothing to do with dark elves, astrophysicists, or bloodbaths in New York or Sicily. It has to do with family drama.
Maybe it’s because my own immediate family has experienced mercifully smooth sailing over the years (I mean, we scream at each other sometimes, but that’s not enough to make a movie premise), but whatever the reason, I love stories about families trying to navigate the treacherous waters of heartbreak, betrayal, and that kind of stuff. I’m especially a sucker for brother stories (see my poem on that topic; my latest Weasley fanfic also picks up on this theme), but any combination of sibling, parent-child, or husband-wife relationship will do it for me.
The Godfather trilogy is, of course, all about a F/family. Though I consider all three movies to be well worth the significant time commitment, Part 2 is the one that absolutely blows my mind. A lot happens in the three hours and 20 minutes we’re with the Corleones, but it all really comes down to sibling relationships, as the four children of Don Vito try to figure out what to do with his staggering legacy of blood and money. We have a brother who blunders into an offense, a brother who can’t forgive that offense, a sister who is blindly loyal to her family, and a dead oldest brother whose presence is still there. We have a fratricide–committed by proxy but no less real. For me, the best scene in that movie is a flashback where all four siblings, young adults, are sitting around a table, celebrating a birthday (I think it’s their father’s). We see Sonny, Fredo, Connie, and Michael having a very normal interaction that is bittersweet and fascinating only because we know who they will all turn out to be. It is a brilliant scene.
In Part 3, though Michael’s problems with his own children and estranged wife take precedence, I was happy to see that the sibling relationships still get their due emphasis, even if only two of the siblings are still alive. Connie is still there telling Michael the lies he wants to hear; Sonny is there in the person of his equally hotheaded son, and Fredo haunts Michael like Banquo’s ghost.* I could have dispensed with all the Vatican stuff and even the rival mafiosi. I could have just watched Michael sitting in a room surrounding by his closest family members with his conscience eating him alive.
Similarly, in Thor: The Dark World, I wouldn’t have cared if nobody ever visited Earth or any other realm (although I did feel like I was really cool when my limited knowledge of German helped me figure out quickly what “Svartalfheim” meant). I would have been content to just watch the family drama play out in Asgard. There’s certainly plenty of it. Thor deliberately and calculatingly defies Odin’s orders, unlike in the last movie when he only did so on an angry whim. And Frigga defies Odin’s orders too! (Are you friggin’ kidding me? Sorry, I couldn’t help it.) And what is up with Loki? Does he really love his mom, or is that part of his elaborate B.S.? And then there’s the brother rivalry. There are about five bizarre but wonderful minutes in which this movie becomes a fantastical version of a road trip comedy. There is actually a conversation in which Loki criticizes Thor’s driving (flying) and Thor tells him to shut up. This is spot-on sibling stuff. I think my sister and I had the exact same conversation last time we were in a car together.
I’ve never read the Elder Edda, but from my limited understanding of Norse mythology, I don’t think the familial relationships were emphasized much at all in the original legends. (Odin, to paraphrase a line from The Dark World, was far more All-Father than any specific person’s father. And Loki was never actually adopted by the Odin family; he was merely a barely-tolerated mischief-causing member of Odin’s entourage.) It may be blasphemous to say so, but I think Marvel Comics improved on the original by playing up and/or creating the deep connections between the characters. It certainly made The Avengers much more interesting: Did you notice how Thor never really becomes just one of the guys? The others keep their distance from him. Surely this is not only because he’s semi-divine (like Superman, but without the human guise) but also, and probably more so, because he’s the villain’s brother.
I should stop. Suffice it to say that I’m in serious geek-out mode right now about both of these fictional families, and I can’t wait to hash it all out with the next person I run into who’s seen either or both of the movies. If you want to be that person, get the conversation started in the comments!
*Look, I know this is a spoiler, but I don’t think anybody has a right to complain about spoilers when the movie has been out for decades.