Was Michael Corleone happy?

I’m watching the Godfather trilogy on AMC, and in the first film, it kind of struck me that Michael was having fun when he trapped Carlo into confessing that he helped set up Sonny. That got me thinking: did Michael enjoy being the Godfather?

I brought this up at the lunch table, and the two responses I got were:

  1. He was happy when he was a civilian, so he must have been unhappy as the godfather.
  2. He was unhappy when he was a civilian, so he must have been happy as the godfather.

I give a lot of credit to Pacino for making such a nuanced performance. Personally, I’m leaning towards theory 2.

On the other hand, AMC just showed GF 2 today. In this movie, he was obviously distressed by the betrayals of Fredo and Kay. This gives credence to theory 1 as Michael must be aware of how his involvement in the mafia is hurting his family.

What’s your opinion?

If anybody read the book that could give more insight, that would be great too.

Another theory: There’s a certain amount of self-satisfaction and/or pride involved when a man takes care of his family. But, you can’t say this emotion is “happiness.”

I refuse to see the third movie, but certainly by the end of the second he is not happy. He hasn’t taken care of his family, in fact his marriage is dead, his son isn’t allowed to speak to his mother and he has his own brother murdered. My favorite scene in either movie is the flashback where he announces that he joined the USMC and only Fredo is happy for him.

Like anyone doing a job that he’s very good at while having the intelligence to see his entire field of work as immoral and destructive generally, he spends much of his life justifying to himself what he does. Sounds like a definition of “profound unhappiness” to me.

In the book he is taking real pleasure in being a good Don, but that is not necessarily “happiness”. As we only see him through other people’s eyes by the end, and don’t get his own mindset, you kind of have to guess, but he’s become everything he didn’t want to be at the beginning of the novel.

That’s like asking “Is Ebenezer Scrooge happy?”

The casual observer may THINK the answer is an obvious “No,” but both Scrooge and Michael Corleone are VERY good at their jobs, and both probably take a great deal of enjoyment in outhinking/outwitting rivals. “Business” is a game of sorts to them, and both get a thrill from coming out on top. Pulling off a big deal at your rival’s expense provides a rush, a momentary feeling of “Damn, I’m good.” Michael Corleone relishes those moments, and he seems to LIKE being a guy that everyone fears. And I think Ebenezer Scrooge actually ENJOYS telling his nephew that Christmas-loving idots should be boiled in their own pudding.

But, of course, both Scrooge and Corleone paid a heavy price for their success in business, and ended up alone. You can’t “have it all.” Both men gave up any chance at a happy marriage or family life, to make it in business. And both have some deep regrets.

Not happy, no. Satisfied sometimes, but not happy. The thing about Michael is that he’s never motivated by material or sensual desires. He isn’t trying to make himself “happy.” He’s driven by an almost obsessive sense of “duty” to the family, which becomes more and more distorted as time goes on. His ideas of loyalty become twisted enough that he kills his brother for “going against the family” and that makes sense to him (not to mention his deplorable treatment of his own wife and children). It’s all about these weird notions of personal integrity to him. He thinks in terms of “honor,” “loyalty,” “family,” etc, even though he completely loses sight of what those things really mean. He’s trying to be Vito, he he idolizes and sees as an ideal, but he ends up as Vito’s moral opposite because he never has Vito’s heart.

Everything you really need to know is in the death scenes of Vito and Michael. Vito dies happy, laughing and playing in his garden with his grandchildren, with a houseful of people who love him. Michael dies in the same garden completely alone, with no one who loves him. No he isn’t happy. He tries to be “good,” but never figures out how to do it. He never understands what made Vito a figure of adoration. He’s cold. Vito was warm. Vito was happy, Michael is miserable.

Completely miserable, but stoic about having to take over the family business, like many men.

I agree with Diogenes. Michael saw that his father lived by a code and achieved happiness. So he tried to live by the same code but failed to duplicate his father’s happiness.

Michael wasn’t so much happy or unhappy as he was confused. What went wrong? Was it his failing because he didn’t follow the code as well as his father had? Was he a lesser man than his father and unable to follow his example? Had he misunderstood how the code worked? Or had the world changed in such a way that the code didn’t work anymore?

Good analysis.
Michael has become a cold, unfeeling monster. He didn’t have to have poor Fredo whacked-the man was broken and no threat to him anymore. He could have reconciled with Kay-but didn’t.
He alienated his sister Connie (by having her husband whacked).
As Tom Hagen told him “you’ve won”-there was no need to kill his remaining enemies (once Barzini and Solluzo had been dealt with).
Maybe he liked the power?
Personally, I cannot think of anything worse than beinga Mafia don-you have to always be on guard against ambitious underlings, and you cannot trust anybody.
So you have a lot of money? You can’t live ostenatatiously, or you will attract the law-or ambitious rivals.
Many Mob bosses died in bed-most didn’t.

Michael has moments of deep satisfaction in a job well done. But he is miserable as a result of it. That is the point of I and II by the end of II, and it could hardly be a more forcefully driven home point. III expands on this where he considers redemption and fails.