I think Don Vito Corleone and Carmela Corleone are the cutest couple in the movie series. And that is despite the fact that not much attention is drawn to their relationship, and despite Carmela’s character being in the background much of the time.
The moment I noticed the significance of this relationship was during that intense scene where Kay announces to Michael that her miscarriage was an abortion. Prior to that, he still wants to keep the marriage and wants to make everything up to her, while she is sick of being married to a criminal mob boss and can’t take it anymore. The assassination attempts and the killing prove to be too much, and she wants out. The act of announcing she aborted his son insures, in her mind, that her husband will never forgive her and will have no choice but to give her up. And it works, and kills the marriage.
On the other hand, Michael’s father and mother stay together until death. Now I want to explore the differences between the two marriages, and why one failed and another survived, despite both living a mafia life, with all its dark sides.
Kay Adams and Michael Corleone
Kay is a regular American, while Michael comes from an Italian-American family. When Kay and Michael meet, Michael insists that all that mafia business is his family, but it isn’t him. He really doesn’t want to be a part of their activities. But then, his father is almost assassinated, and since family comes first, he voluntarily kills those guys for revenge. He hides in Sicily for a while, and even gets married to a Sicilian girl, who unfortunately gets blown up in the car bomb meant for him. Later he becomes the next Don. Eventually, when he asks Kay to marry him, he intends to make his business legitimate and crime-free within five years.
When abandoning mafia life turns out to be difficult, Kay grows angry and tired of living with it, and does this abortion speech. On one side, one can see her point, as Michael keeps giving out promises he can’t keep, and trying to conceal the full extent of his business. On the other hand, it’s hard to understand what Kay was thinking when she married him. He was involved in some really shady business. And shady business is not easy to simply get out of. Even if he does his best, his enemies might drag him back in, or kill him, or the cops will do him in.
Some will interpret her behavior as dumping a man because things didn’t go exactly as she expected. And others will interpret it as dumping someone who was lying a lot, and didn’t hold up his promises and therefore wasn’t a man of his word. I see both sides, but I gotta say I didn’t feel much sympathy for Kay.
Carmela and Vito Corleone
Both Carmela and Vito come from the same culture. They marry early. To begin with, they are poor because cops offer no protection from a local bully who takes Italian-Americans’ jobs and wages. To begin with, Vito and friends do small criminality to make ends meet. But when the bully tries to press their money out of them, Vito kills him and hides the evidence. This makes him respected in the neighborhood, and his journey towards becoming a powerful mafia boss is begun. His wife Carmela seems to accept it, and even asks him to use his influence to help some specific people she knows and feels sympathy for. She knows he’s doing criminal stuff, but nevertheless remains on his team. And from what I see, she is always respected by her kids and everyone else. There is no sign that she’s a poor doormat who has no mind of her own. Here Here’s what her Wikipedia page says about her view on her husband’s business (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmela_Corleone ):
“Carmela was disturbed by Vito’s change from a kind, quiet young man to a pragmatic and ruthless criminal. However Carmela seems to forgive Vito for his many crimes, because he remains essentially a good man who is devoted to his family. Devoutly Catholic, Carmela attends Mass every day to pray for her husband’s soul to keep him from “going down there.””
And this page (http://godfather.wikia.com/wiki/Carmela_Corleone ) says he never cheated on her or hit her, and that they had a loving relationship overall. But I’d have to read the novel to be sure.
Being a Team is Important
Carmela and Vito married when Vito was still just a regular working guy. They came through some rough times together. A husband doing certain types of crime becomes more acceptable if you want to survive, want your kids to survive, and you can’t rely on legal law-enforcement to protect you from wannabe-gangsters. And this is why I think Carmela never complained about it, like Kay did. She was “in on it”, and benefitted from it right from the desperate start. If Vito had a problem, it was not merely his problem, it was both of their problem. For Kay on the other hand, all that crime stuff seems to have always been Michael’s problem and his alone. She benefitted from his money for a while, but didn’t live his life, and wasn’t prepared to go all in. She did love him enough to become temporarily stupid enough to marry a mobster, but not enough to stick with him in case he can’t stop being a mobster within five years.
And this is what I conclude helps a relationship. Be a team. You get what you see, so take it or leave it. Don’t give out promises you can’t keep.