The ending of The Godfather Part II is one of the best movie endings of all time. Today, we’re going to break down everything that makes The Godfather Part II ending great – from plot and characters to music and production design. By the end, you’ll know how Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo, and all the other artists involved in the film crafted an unforgettable moment in cinema history.
Watch: The Rise and Fall of Michael Corleone
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Godfather Part 2 Explained
Godfather 2 Plot Explained
Francis Ford Coppola’s epic tells the parallel story of Vito Corelone (Robert De Niro) and his son Michael (Al Pacino). The film alternates between the modern timeline of 1958/1959 – where Michael is the boss of the Corleone crime family — and the timeline of the past — where Vito is an up-and-comer in a New York neighborhood.
Important characters to know for The Godfather Part II ending:
Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.
— Michael Corleone
Former college dropout who joined the armed forces after Pearl Harbor; honorably discharged at the behest of his father Vito. Michael was a ruthless crime boss who desperately wanted to make his business legitimate.
Michael was never supposed to be involved in the family business, but in The Godfather, he was drawn into the underworld — and eventually inherited the title of Don (after the death of his older brother Sonny).
I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.
— Vito Corleone
An Italian immigrant who found social and financial success in America. Vito worked to procure a better life for himself and eventually became boss of the Corleone crime family.
In The Godfather, Vito struggles to find an heir apparent after the death of his eldest son, Santino (Sonny).
Santino Corleone (Sonny)
I Want Somebody Good - And I Mean Very Good - To Plant That Gun.
— Santino Corleone
Sonny, known for his energy and impulsivity, was Vito’s underboss. Sonny was killed during the war of the five families.
Frederico Corleone (Fredo)
Every time I put my line in the water I said a Hail Mary, and every time I said a Hail Mary I caught a fish.
— Fredo Corleone
Fredo was the middle son of Vito Corleone, junior to Sonny, senior to Michael. Fredo was passed over for the role of boss because of his ineptitude, which led to a longstanding grudge with Michael.
Fredo betrayed Michael by revealing his location to an enemy at the beginning of The Godfather Part II. The scene where Michael reveals “he knows” Fredo betrayed him remains one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. Check it out below.
By giving Fredo the “kiss of death,” Michael all but seals Fredo’s fate as a marked man; which is especially tragic considering Fredo was once Michael’s biggest supporter.
The Godfather 2 Ending Explained
The Godfather, Part II ending script
There are a lot of differences between The Godfather Part II ending in the script and the movie ending. We imported The Godfather Part II script into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to take a look at some of those differences, as well as some key story beats.
Click the script image below to read the ending in its entirety.
Differences between The Godfather Part II script and movie:
- Michael meets with Vito to discuss enlisting in the armed forces.
- Michael tells Vito, “I won’t be a man like you.”
- Michael walks with his son Anthony around the estate discussing “things we cannot hear.”
If you’ve seen The Godfather Part II before, then you know Vito doesn’t appear in the flashback. That’s because Marlon Brando refused to show up to set on the day of shooting because of a contract dispute with Paramount.
Losing Brando was a production nightmare – in fact, some filmmakers might have just scrapped the scene. But Coppola trudged on and somehow made a scene that worked better than anybody could have imagined.
The Godfather 2 Ending Explained
The Godfather 2 Ending Explained
The Godfather Part II ending begins with a flashback to Christmas dinner, presumably after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The flashback is significant for a few reasons; it recontextualizes Michael’s relationship with Fredo, it comments on the theme of duty to family vs. duty to country, and it communicates Michael’s loneliness and despair.
Let’s break down how The Godfather Part II ending accomplishes those three things.
- The Godfather Part II ending recontextualizes Michael’s relationship with Fredo. When Michael announces he’s going to enlist in the armed forces, he’s met with ire and confrontation.
Only one person defends him: Fredo. This interaction demonstrates just how important Fredo was to Michael, which tragically juxtaposes his murder in the prior scene.
1. The Godfather Part II ending comments on the theme of duty to family vs. duty to country. The theme of duty to family vs. duty to country pervades every part of The Godfather trilogy.
Should a man be loyal to his family? His fellow citizens? His heritage?Is it possible for a man to be loyal to all three?
By enlisting in the armed forces, Michael chooses his country over his family – and wages war on his heritage (Italy).
2. The Godfather Part II ending communicates Michael’s loneliness and despair. The wide shot of Michael shows him all alone at the dinner table.
It’s with this shot that we realize the depth of Michael’s despair. He’s been alone for a long time, longer than most realize. By framing the shot in this way, Coppola emphasizes Michael’s solitude.
Remember how I mentioned the scene worked better than anybody could have imagined? That’s because Vito’s absence supports Michael’s loneliness. It may not have been intentional – but it ended up working perfectly.
The following shots push the negative emotive further by bringing us closer to Michael’s somberness.
First through the flashback transition dissolve:
Where Michael reflects back on a happy memory of his father.
Then with a push-in shot:
Where we’re drawn into Michael’s vacant eyes... Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola’s swelling soundtrack intoxicates the frame… and the monsoon of his guilt washes to black.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the final shot of The Godfather Part II remains one of the most sobering shots in all of film history.
The Godfather Restaurant Scene
We’ve examined the end of Godfather 2. Want more Godfather content? Check out our next article in which we explain the principles of film editing by looking at The Godfather restaurant scene. With the help of the great artists and tacticians who worked on Coppola's masterpiece, we’ll show you how simple framing and cuts can turn an ordinary scene into an extraordinary scene.