COMEDIAN GRACE JARVIS: I finally watched The Godfather and women are not people in it

Grace Jarvis
The Nightly
4 Min Read
GRACE JARVIS: My birthday fell on the night my local cinema was showing The Godfather . . . I bought a ticket because I felt a good present to myself was to never again have to hear some guy say: ‘You’ve never seen it?’.
GRACE JARVIS: My birthday fell on the night my local cinema was showing The Godfather . . . I bought a ticket because I felt a good present to myself was to never again have to hear some guy say: ‘You’ve never seen it?’. Credit: Dave Ryan

Some films are referenced so consistently that despite never having seen them, I feel confident I could recite the summary just through cultural osmosis (and watching Community).

I’ve never seen Titanic, but if you held a gun to my head, I could probably piece it together backwards like one of those Wasgij puzzles.

This year, my birthday fell on the night my local cinema was showing The Godfather — which is, well, the godfather of that genre of film.

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Grace Jarvis is a stand-up comedian and writer.
Grace Jarvis is a stand-up comedian and writer. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

I bought a ticket because I felt that a good birthday present to myself was to never again have to hear some guy say: “You’ve never seen The Godfather before?”.

Spoken with the kind of alarmed tone and expression that I would reserve for someone telling me they’d bought rose quartz to heal an axe wound.

It’s also, maybe, the only way to see “the greatest movie ever made” without getting distracted during what is, famously, a three-hour film.

Unsurprisingly, The Godfather is really good.

Every dude who has ever waxed lyrical to me about its cultural merits was absolutely right.

It’s beautifully shot, the acting is phenomenal and I finally now fully understand a bunch of TV sitcom jokes.

The script is compelling, and as I already knew from the unavoidable way it has been parodied in everything from Zootopia to Barbie to The Office, it is peerlessly iconic.

Ultimately, upon watching what I’ve always been told is a really good movie, I realised that it’s a really good movie.

I also realised why it is the quintessential movie for ‘film bros’ to insist their girlfriends watch under duress.

It’s because women are not people in it.

The few female roles are not characters with substance but props in the male characters’ lives.

They are possessions or plot devices established only to give the audience insight into the development of men around them.

Halfway through, Al Pacino’s Sicilian wife gets blown up by a car bomb meant for him, and the entire cinema gasps.

We didn’t gasp because we were affected by her death, but because a car bomb was startling, and we knew what it meant for the story.

Even Diane Keaton, while superbly costumed, is a plot progression tool that the movie picks up and puts down as often and as roughly as the old-timey telephone handsets everybody keeps receiving death threats through.

The daughter (Talia Shire) from Brando’s much-parodied line about wedding etiquette is used exclusively as a pawn in a series of mob-based hijinks.

She is mostly wailing.

It’s incredibly good, Oscar-worthy wailing, but the movie still makes us feel like she’s only really human through the lens of how the men around her feel.

When her brother batters her husband for hitting her, it doesn’t feel like a sibling whose affection is so strong he can’t control his actions.

It feels like a man whose job is threats and violence clocking in for the day.

Also, when he finishes what does sound quite a lot like the foley from a Wile E Coyote fight, he says, “If you touch my sister again, I’ll kill you”, and there is a collective “ha!” from the female audience.

For a family very comfortable with threats, murder and racehorse beheadings, the Corleones are surprisingly naive on the whole, “If he hits you once, he will hit you again,” school of domestic violence preparedness.

It’s interesting to consider the condescending way this movie has been levelled against women, as though our lack of interest equated to a lack of intellectualism or cultural curiosity.

On the one hand, I agree with every guy who bailed me up at a house party to lecture me on the merits of a film longer than your standard root canal.

It is good.

On the other hand, I resent the way that men are allowed to wield stories that centre them as weapons against women’s intelligence.

Years ago, I had an argument with a male friend about a female-centred movie he disliked where he defiantly stated, “All art should be for all people.”

Insane.

That is a statement from a man who is confronting, for the first time, the discomfort that comes from squeezing yourself into the body and mind of a human circumstance completely foreign to you, like Vincent D’Onofrio giving the performance of a lifetime as a human skinsuit for that cockroach alien in Men In Black.

That is the attitude that can accuse you of not being culturally literate enough to “get” The Godfather.

Men who fear illegitimacy, but cloak it with cultural superiority.

My suggestion for women whose stories have always been “illegitimate” is to muster up the same kind of sneering criticism in reverse.

If you haven’t seen Thelma & Louise or Dirty Dancing, maybe you just don’t “get” cinema.

Grace Jarvis is a stand-up comedian and writer. Her work has been published by The Age, Junkee, SBS The Feed, Comedy Republic and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. She can be found online at @gracejarvisohno

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