Cannolis, Crime, and the Cost of the American Dream

  • Alison Hirsch Princeton University


An hour into Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) is a scene that captures one of the film’s central themes: the cost of American assimilation. The two minute and sixteen seconds revolve around a car ride in which Clemenza and Rocco carry out Paulie’s murder. As a narrative unit, the scene’s three-part trajectory traces the car’s trip from departure to destination – from Clemenza’s driveway to Pauli’s massacre. With Sicilian natives and an automobile, a symbol inextricably linked with American ideals, the drive alludes to an immigrant’s journey from homeland to promised land. Building upon this connection, the scene’s perspective, setting, composition, structure, sound, and cinematography impart a series of insightful but disturbing realities regarding the American dream – a dream destined to become a nightmare.