The Godfather has many exceptional scenes but none is better than “Baptism and Murder.” The Godfather has died of natural causes and at his funeral it is clear to Michael Corleone, the Godfather’s son, that the Barzini “family” plans to wage war and take power and influence away from the Corleones. The “Baptism and Murder” scene is the scene in which Michael settles family scores and establishes himself as the new Godfather and head of the “families.”
This scene uses montage editing which cuts between Michael Corleone at his nephew’s baptism and his men murdering his rivals. The camera remains stationary using close ups or mid shots for emphasis. Coppola’s use of editing between the holy and unholy shows the complexity of Michael’s character; that he is both evil and good.
The scene begins in a Catholic church where the baptism is being said in Latin. There are several sections where the priest shifts to English as he asks Michael questions of faith. The use of Latin and English highlights Michael’s consciousness of what he is saying in the church juxtaposed with the murderous “hits” his words set in motion. The baby’s crying also underscores the action and murder.
Coppola layers this rich scene with a Bach piece that reaches its climax as the priest asks Michael, in English, if he renounces the Satan. Michael says yes and the scene cuts to murder. It is a powerful use of music, language, visuals, and editing.
Coppola also juxtaposes the image of the innocent baby, washed clean of original sin and the brutality and sinfulness of the world Michael inhabits. Sophia Coppola, the directors daughter, is the baby in the baptism scene.
The scene has a readily identifiable story arch where there is rising action as the hit men prepare for the murders, the priest prepares the baby for baptism, then the climax as Michael renounces Satan and the murders begin and then the falling action as people leave the church and hit men leave the scene of their crimes.
Coppola got this scene pitch perfect. It sends chills down my spine every time I watch it.