04 May 2009

God Granted Him the Serenity...

According to Merriam-Webster Online, anxiety is: "painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill b: fearful concern or interest." The living embodiment of an antonym would be the young Vito Corleone as portrayed by Robert DeNiro in Godfather Part II.

You'd be hard pressed to find a film character less concerned about events outside of his control or more sure of his own ability to handle what may. Here is someone who truly practices the Serenity Prayer that is so integral a part of 12 step programs:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

When he loses his job at the grocery store because the Don wants his nephew to work there, Vito is non plussed. He won't hear of any apologies from his now former employer and won't even accept free groceries as partial restitution. Later, when he himself is the local Don, he gladly accepts free produce. Charity no, tribute yes.

He's supplanted the Don by simply and quite coolly killing the man. After firing the fatal shots, Vito disassembles the pistol and gets rid if it and all other evidence. In the parlance of young people today: no worries. There's no hint of trepidation because Vito is acting of his own accord and he's totally self possessed.

This is a man in total control. When one of his babies is sick he watches, clearly concerned, but not engaging in any histrionics. It is out of his hands and Vito knows it. Killing the Don was another matter, that was within his power.

In Godfather Part II scenes of the young Vito are interspersed with scenes of his youngest son Michael, some 40 years later. Unlike older brothers Santino and Fredo, Michael is neither emotional nor weak. He takes after Dad. Yes, his temper can explode, but he's always in control and never, as Sonny fatefully does, acts on it. I dedicated a post to Michael's frigid persona last summer after viewing the film. Upon watching the movie again yesterday I was struck by the similarities between Michael and his father.

Neither are killers with a blood lust. Both will pull the trigger if the situation calls for it. Both value family above all else (though Michael will take the ultimate step with even the closest relative, if betrayed) and both are utterly implacable. Watch his reaction when refused a favor by a slumlord. No anger, certainly no pleading. Vito merely suggests the man ask about him. Of course, the poor sap finds out that Vito is no one to mess with and willingly complies with Vito's request.

The scenes of the young Vito are some if not the best in all of cinema. Director Francis Ford Coppola so faithfully recreated Ellis Island, tenements and New York City streets that viewers feel they must be watching actual footage. These are meticulous established scenes, exquisitely photographed and perfect in each detail. At the center of it is DeNiro's Vito. He's an indelible film character for the manner in which he stays within scenes and never emotes beyond them, he is of the setting.

DeNiro had the sense to relax and let the scenery do the acting. His brilliance was to let Coppola star in the scenes while he inhabited them.

We watch a young man seemingly riding the waves of his times, satisfied with accepting his lot. Job lost? Fine. Asked to hold some guns? Why not. Help steal a rug? Sure. But this is a man biding his time, ready to seize opportunities, waiting for his chance. It comes. He seizes it.

The young Vito is true to the principles of the serenity prayer. One can see the unwavering commitment to take care of those matters he can. Vito is purposeful. One can see the acceptance of those event in the hands of God. Vito does not tilt at windmills. Vito is smart --and this is the key -- he can see when to move and when to let things happen.

What a power! Whether used for good or evil. For self or community. Those who possess the strengths inherent in understanding the serenity prayer are to be reckoned with and admired. No, Vito would not be aware of such a prayer, but he sure lived it.

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