Why Seeing "The Godfather" Is An Offer So Many Millennials Can Refuse

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan to stand up for herself, to "go to the mattresses," and to remember: "It’s not personal. It’s business."

He was quoting his all-time favorite, life-transforming 1972 film, The Godfather. But to his shock and dismay, the references were entirely lost on her. You’ve Got Mail was made in 1998, Ryan was almost 40 years old, and The Godfather was already one of the most famous movies of all time. She really had no excuse.

If the references were lost on a hypothetical character who would be about 53 years old today, then they’d certainly be lost on many millennials.

It's somewhat odd; The Godfather is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made, and yet, not only have many young people not seen it, but they also have no desire to. Why the resistance?

“I have no idea, other than that they’re stupid.” That was journalist Peter Biskind’s explanation. (Biskind is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair; He also wrote a book about the renowned "Godfather" triology.)

Francis Ford Coppola, the film's director, had an answer that was a bit subtler. In an interview with PolicyMic, the Academy Award-winner humbly said, “Gee, I can’t imagine that every film is seen by every person.” He added, “Perhaps some people are repelled by the violence, or some Italian-Americans feel it’s a slur on their heritage. I don’t know.”

Film historian Peter Cowie, who has written extensively about the famous mafia movie, recalled that, "When The Godfather originally appeared, it broke a lot of taboos where violence and morality were concerned," he said. "A minority of the public felt, perhaps with some justification, that the film’s endorsement of the Corleone family was immoral, and the celebration of violence was repellent, especially for the religiously minded.”

To Cowie, that "minority of the public" missed out, and missed the point. “It’s fairly plain that Francis and Mario did not celebrate the criminal exploits of the Corleones, but rather the opposite, showing that fear and loneliness are the wages of such sin,” Cowie said in an interview. “I have rarely met someone who has seen and studied the movie, and who still feels negatively towards the director and writer.”

Today, there is far less shock value to violence in movies, especially with the ascent of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, have “taken such blood-letting to the next step," according to Cowie. The violence in The Godfather, he said, is "pretty par for the course" for movies these days.

So if millennials aren't stupid, aren't shocked or offended by film violence, or aren't Italian-Americans who take offense, why so little desire to see it? PolicyMic hit the streets to get some answers. 

One came from Allison Kinney, 23, who said, "I’m not into super violent movies. It’s not something I would seek out." She’d rather leave the gun and take the cannoli, so to speak.

(Photo © Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

Some people feel like they have the information they need. Kinney said that she already knows the cultural references — like the horse head in the bed — without having to actually to sit through the three-hour ordeal. Daniel Bennett, 33, said that he has "peripheral knowledge" of the movie, the way that many do about "Star Wars," and he was satisfied with that.

Bennett added that watching the movie would be a "big commitment" and that he "could not sit down and watch the whole thing," not only because of the time it would take, but also because of the mental energy and focus the film requires, with its dozens of characters and complex, epic storylines.

He said that mainly, though, his lack of interest in watching the film was plain and simple: He just did not care enough — and he was not surprised that others felt the same. Loretta Spencer, 27, said matter-of-factly, "I’m just not interested."

Back to the film experts, according to Cowie, there are also people who simply resist going along with something so intensely popular. "There is always a fringe of the public who disapprove of films that do so well commercially, and that seems associated with Hollywood studio filmmaking."

Joe Pichirallo, the chairman of the undergraduate film and television department at NYU, said, "I’m always impressed when 19 or 20 year olds are conversant in movies before their time." But he also noted that the film is not generation-specific, because its themes, such as the struggle corruption that comes from power, "transcend time and culture." He added, "The plot and the characters flow from a universal truth," citing the tension and emotion in the father-son relationship of Don and Michael Corleone, as a theme that many can relate to. "It’s about so much more than the gangster world," he said, emphatically.

Pichirallo is extremely passionate about the film. But he does not want his 12-year-old son to see it just yet. When the time comes, he said, "I can’t wait to show it to him."