The most fascinating aspect of “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” is the character of Michael Corleone and the transformation that he undergoes to fill his father’s shoes. When we first meet him, Michael seems an almost reluctant family member. That reluctance, however, is part of what leads Michael to accept his position in life. An acceptance that he comes to by his own means and on his terms.
Chronologically on film, the first time Michael would have shown rebellion against his father’s plan for his future is at the end of “The Godfather Part II” when the entire family, except for his parents, is sitting at the dinner table. Michael shocks everyone when he announces that he has enlisted in the marines. Later, when Vito arrives and is surprised off camera by the family, Michael sits and thinks about what he has done. By that moment, he had rejected the gift of a college education and knows that by doing so he has deliberately sidetracked his father’s plans.
When we would have next seen Michael, he is a returning war hero. He has proven that he can be a success on his own, without the crutch of his family. During the wedding party he even seems to distance himself from his family by not sitting with them, instead sitting alone with his girlfriend Kay. In contrast to how his sister Connie met her first husband, Carlo, by family introduction, Michael has found on his own an outsider to love. Whether or not choosing someone with no knowledge of how the family worked was a wise decision in the long run, the fact remains that Michael chose his future wife without the guidance of his family.
The last steps that Michael takes toward accepting his family’s life are forced when he goes to visit his father at the hospital. When he arrives, Michael finds that his father’s guards have been sent home and Vito is wide open to an attempt on his life from another family. Faced with the situation, Michael uses only his wits when the family muscle is not available to save his father. After moving Vito to another room, Michael and a visiting friend of the family stand out in front of the hospital and act as guards, scaring off the rival family’s thugs. Unlike the family friend, Michael acts extremely cool in the situation. In front of the proud eyes of his father, Michael has shown that he can think smartly when faced with a life-threatening situation (Much like he had to do at war).
The pivotal scene in the transformation of Michael comes after he has saved Vito and is meeting with his brothers. Michael volunteers to kill the Police captain and a member of the rival family that seeks to kill Vito. The brothers laugh that a naive, college-educated man like him shouldn’t do the job. But then the scene changes when the brothers seem to realize everything that Michael has accomplished. For Michael, his journey is complete. In that scene in Vito’s office, everyone realizes that he has more than proven himself worthy to enter the family business. By his own doing, Michael has been transformed and has earned everyone’s respect.