You can learn about a character by watching his actions. But you can also learn of a character by seeing how other characters interact with him. A perfect example of this is the opening scene of the movie The Godfather. It is Vito Corleone’s daughter’s wedding day. Vito is asked a favor by five different people. They way they go about it tells us something about how they see the Godfather.
Amerigo came to America seeking his fortune, and he found it serving as an undertaker. He lived in Vito’s neighborhood, but was afraid to seek out his friendship. When Amerigo’s daughter was beaten and disfigured, Amerigo thought the courts would give him justice. When the judge suspended the sentence, he decided to see the Godfather.
Vito chides Amerigo for being afraid of his friendship and seeking justice in the courts first. Moreover, he scolds him for his plea for the Godfather to have these two men murdered, a service for which Amerigo would pay the Godfather. Vito refuses because it is not justice since her daughter still lives, and he does not do murder for hire services in the first place.
Vito’s greatest offense is that Amerigo did not ask with respect and friendship. When he does, Vito says he will take care of it, but not for money. The Godfather may ask him for a favor in return someday. This favor is asked when Vito’s eldest son is ambushed at a tollstop on a Long Beach Causeway, and he needs the corpse to look its best for the funeral.
Luca was bigger and tougher than anyone, but mostly, he was not afraid to die. He threw his newborn son in a furnace because he did not want his bloodline to continue. The same night he took and overdose of pills and turned himself in to the police, hoping to die in prison.
He didn’t die, but the pills gave him brain damage mostly affecting his speech. The Godfather had him released and made him his own weapon. Luca was devoted to Vito, even avoiding being seen with him in public to spare the Godfather’s reputation.
So Luca was truly surprised when he was invited to the wedding. He waited to tell Vito briefly of his gratitude, wished his daughter’s first child be a masculine child, and gave the most generous tribute offered that day for her bridal purse.
Nazorine grew up Vito’s neighborhood and ran a patisserie. He knew how generous the Godfather was and honored him all his life with friendship and respect. Nazorine was also grateful that the Godfather intervened once in a welched deposit owed him by a furniture company. Nazorine took a Sicilian prisoner of war named Enzo Aguello to work in the bakery. Enzo and Nazorine’s daughter fall in love, but when the war ended, the government wanted to expatriate Enzo back to Sicily.
Nazorine shows great respect when asking Vito to help keep Enzo in the country. Vito is glad to help. As Nazorine leaves, he brags about the size of the wedding cake he made for Vito’s daughter.
Johnny was a singer, and he was also Vito’s godson. Vito once helped Johnny get out of a service contract to a bandleader who wished to keep him from going out on his own. Johnny ended up divorcing his wife and neglecting his kids, which angered Vito, and their relationship was strained.
Johnny’s voice grew week so he turned to acting. There was a part he wanted that could make him a big star, but the producer refused him the part for petty reasons. Johnny asks for Vito’s help, which he promises, but only after smacking Johnny around and yelling at him to act like a man, which he truly deserved.
Even though a Sicilian cannot refuse a request made to him on his daughter’s wedding day, there is one thing asked of Vito he refuses, with complete understanding why. This offer comes from Vito’s oldest friend, Genco. After coming to America, Genco’s family takes him in, even offering him work in the family grocery.
Eventually, Vito goes into business for himself, but names it after his friend, Genco Pura, which imported olive oil. Genco served as Vito’s right hand man until the day of the wedding. Genco had cancer and was about to die. He asked Vito to scare off the Grim Reaper, which Vito says he cannot do. Genco dies with his best friend beside him in the hospital.
So what do we learn form this? From Amerigo we learn that those who know about the Godfather but didn’t really know him were afraid of him. From Luca, we learn that Vito is generous to those who are loyal to him. From Nazorine we learn that he knows how to be a friend to those who show respect. From Johnny we learn that Vito will always forgive those who come back to him, but you might have to suffer some tough love first. And from Genco we learn that Vito is only human. His abilities had human limitations but his care had human universality. Vito’s personae is enhanced by these relationships. As writers, we can write about character’s actions, but also interactions, and this will add depth to our stories.