Kay: I thought you weren’t going to become a man like your father. That’s what you told me.
Michael: My father’s no different from any other powerful man. Any man who’s responsible for other people. Like a senator or president.
Kay: You know how naïve you sound? Senators and presidents don’t have men killed.
Michael: Oh. Who’s being naïve, Kay?
When Michael returns to America after his year of exile in Sicily in The Godfather, he decides to track down his old girlfriend, Kay, and propose to her. Years have passed since the beginning of the movie, when the couple dated, and this excerpt of dialogue comes from a discussion in which Michael tries to fill Kay in on all that has happened to him in the interim. Michael has changed significantly since Kay last saw him. Whereas at the beginning the film Michael dressed in an army uniform, now he wears the bowler hat and pin-striped suit of a mafioso. Whereas earlier he been unable to say “I love you,” now he is able to tell Kay those words she longs to hear. The most important change, however, is that Michael has begun “working with [his] father,” meaning he has become a member of the Corleone Mafia family.
This excerpt of dialogue is important for a number of reasons. First, it shows Michael unambiguously defending his father and the Mafia life for the first time, signaling that the transformation of Michael from “civilian” to mafioso, a process that began with McCluskey’s punch to his face, is complete. Second, it introduces a criticism of broader American culture. By comparing a Mafia don to the president of the United States, Michael may be manipulating language and meaning, but there is no question that Coppola also wants the viewer to seriously contemplate the comparison. The Godfather was released in the midst of the Vietnam War, and Michael’s cynicism about politicians was common during that time. In The Godfather, we learn that Vito hopes Michael would someday become a senator or president, reinforcing the irony of this statement. Third, this dialogue shows that the tension that exists between Kay and Michael goes well beyond Michael’s difficulty in expressing love. From the start of their marriage, husband and wife are engaged in a clash of values, and ultimately this, rather than Michael’s inability to show warmth, will drive them apart.