"Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli": Food's Connection to Violence in The Godfather
by Christina Polge
The Godfather, a 1974 film based on the book of the same name, is a love letter to familial bonds. It follows the Corleones, an Italian-American family involved in organized crime, focusing on the corruption of Michael Corleone as he tries to protect his family in the face of violence. His father, Vito Corleone, is the head of the family until he is brutally attacked, and Michael is forced to take on more responsibilities to provide protection. He commits his first murder in a restaurant surrounded by food on Don Corleone’s behalf. In The Godfather, food is a representation of family, whether it be fruit, desserts, sauce or veal. It symbolizes survival, love and loyalty. Because of the characters’ violent actions to preserve the family, food becomes intertwined with violence throughout the film.
Oranges in The Godfather foreshadow violent moments despite their bright and typically hopeful connotation, illustrating that the Corleone family’s only hope is to continue perpetuating the violent cycle for their own survival. Oranges’ symbolic connection to violence is most evident when Don Corleone is shot in the street as he shops for groceries (The Godfather 45:00-46:00). Corleone is taking care of his family in a traditional way during that moment by going to find food. Right before he is attacked, he asks specifically for oranges, a nourishing and bright fruit. They are the same color set right next to the fire at the market, representing that there is little distance between communal hope and destructive violence for the Corleone family. Then, when he is shot, the oranges spill out of his bag and into the street, showing that he is losing his ability to provide for others. Even though Corleone survives this incident, his role in the family is permanently changed. His sons take over being heads of the family, while he begins spending more quality time with his grandchildren. His death is one of the more peaceful moments of the film despite its tragic nature (The Godfather 2:30:25-2:32:58). He has a heart attack while playing with Anthony, Michael’s son, in his garden, surrounded by food that is grown, not hunted. Before he dies, he puts an orange peel in his mouth and smiles at his grandson, in a way that is meant to playfully scare him. Since his death breaks him out of the cycle of violence, Corleone’s last interaction with oranges is one of hopeful finality. Despite their initial relationship with violence’s ties to the family, oranges evolve to represent a hope and escape from it.
The presence of dessert throughout The Godfather represents the family’s purity during brutal violence. Cannoli is a powerful symbol in The Godfather. Peter Clemenza, one of Don Corleone’s oldest friends and most trusted caporegimes, instructs Rocco Lampone to clean up the scene after they murder someone on the road by saying “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli” (The Godfather 57:50-58:11). He is encouraging Lampone to abandon the violence and leave it contained while bringing the tradition of the family with him, the sentiment that inspired the violence in the first place. Cannoli itself is typically a representation of fertility and creation (Petroni). Its presence in this crucial moment shows that this type of violence creates life. The cannoli are hidden in a white box and covertly taken out of the car, showing that the sanctity of family is shielded from destruction because of preemptive violent action. The dessert originated in Sicily, where the Corleones are from, so it is a respectful symbol of the family’s roots (Petroni). This moment is Lampone’s official induction into the Corleone family because of his loyalty to tradition, honor and reinforcement of purity by committing violent acts. The box of cannoli remains distinct from bloodshed because it symbolizes the sacred institution of family that the Corleones are always fighting to uphold, oftentimes literally.
Communal eating throughout The Godfather is a way of presenting the connection between members of the family strengthened by the destruction they cause for each other, showing that food and violence are both protective. Clemenza teaches Michael how to make his sauce at the same time he and other senior members of the family are teaching Michael how to be violent on behalf of the family as well. Clemenza tells Michael, “Come over here, kid, learn something” (The Godfather 59:09). By addressing him as “kid”, Clemenza is already introducing this familial, nurturing aspect above all else. Clemenza continues, “You get it to a boil, you shove in all your sauces and your meatballs. Add a little bit of wine. And a little bit of sugar. That’s my trick” (The Godfather 59:30-59:40). His descriptions of the actions to prepare the sauce are violent. However, he ends the recipe with wine and sugar. Wine has religious and ritualistic connotations, while sugar is sweet, white pure. This recipe shows the duality of violence and community inherent in the Corleone family’s life. Once Clemenza has given Michael the recipe, Sonny comes over and dips a piece of bread in the sauce to try it. The sauce is red like blood, so When Sonny breaks the bread before dipping it, he connects the moment to Communion (The Godfather 1:00:02). This action foreshadows his death, and the religious tie shows that the institution of family is sacred to the Corleones through the intersection of food and violence.
Violence at the table is presented as incredibly brutal in The Godfather, showing that brutality is a violation of the feast and therefore an even bloodier action than violence in any other context. When Michael Corleone takes Sergeant McClusky and Virgil Sollozzo out to eat at Louis’ Italian Restaurant before ultimately killing both, he reaches his point of no return after trying to avoid corruption from his family (The Godfather 1:24:20-1:30:14). Sergeant McClusky breaks the feast literally in his death because he falls directly forward into the table and ruins the setting. Also, Michael shoots him directly in the throat which would ruin his ability to eat regardless of whether he survived. That level of violence is a direct betrayal of the feast, translating to Michael betraying himself as well. He continues the twisted cycle because he is violent to protect his own family and provide for them by ensuring that Sollozo and McClusky are punished for their actions. However, he is encouraging their families to reciprocate against him again as well. The restaurant they are at is significant as well because Louis’ Italian Restaurant serves an Americanized version of Italian food, much like how the Corleones have become more violent for their survival in the United States. Their family has been morphed into something inauthentic to succeed, almost like the dishes the restaurant is serving for profit. But those who benefit from this cyclical violence endorse it, such as Sollozo. After McClusky asks whether the Italian food is good, he replies, “Try the veal, it’s the best in the city” (The Godfather 1:24:32). The process of making veal is an inhumane, violent one even though the meat is traditionally Italian. The meat comes from calves who are only a few months old, initially innocent creatures who are murdered and corrupted in their death, then eaten (The Humane League). Michael’s journey parallels the cattle in this moment because he is losing his innocence through violence and murder. In protecting his family by destroying the feast, he is abandoning himself.
In The Godfather, food lives and breathes just like the characters do. Its duality in supporting violence and protecting the family from it reflects the central conflict of the film. Food is sacred and essential, much like how the Corleone family relies on violence to survive. The two are then intrinsically tied. However, violence directed towards food and the feast is clearly a deep disrespect towards the family. Corleone daughter Connie has an abusive relationship with her husband Carlo, the man she marries at the beginning of the movie. She attempts to cook for him the same way that her family cooks for her, but he refuses to respect the ritual of it and tells her he is not hungry (The Godfather 1:54:19-1:56:05). Even though he expects her to provide for him, he does not reciprocate and is consistently unfaithful, betraying their marriage and family. When she begins destroying the table setting by breaking plates, the deep betrayal of the feast represents their connection breaking as well. Overall, the messy, interconnected relationship between food and violence in the film signifies that violence is necessary for the family’s survival, just like food.
The Godfather. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Paramount Pictures, 1972.
Petroni, Agostino. “The Erotic Origins of Italy’s Most Famous Sweet.” BBC Travel, BBC, 25 Feb. 2022, www.bbc.com/travel/article/20210113-the-erotic-origins-of-italys-most-famous-sweet.
The Humane League, League. “VEAL: WHAT ANIMAL DOES IT COME FROM AND WHY IS IT CRUEL?” The Humane League, 5 Oct. 2021, thehumaneleague.org/article/veal-animal.