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This Chick’s Flicks: THE GODFATHER and “The Thunderbolt”

Dear Readers,

I imagine it will surprise many of you–especially those who return week after week to read my latest, and often totally sappy, chick-flick-related thoughts–to know that The Godfather is one of my all-time favorite movies (and, for that matter, so is The Godfather: Part II…but not Part III). In fact, The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, is also one of my all-time favorite books.

I know this seems somewhat incongruous with my devout love of chick flicks (and general distaste for movie violence), but love is unpredictable and I just can’t help loving the Corleone Family too.

So, as I am wont to do, I began to wonder:

Do The Godfather and chick flicks have anything in common (other than my love)?

After mere minutes of thought, the answer hit me as if thrown by Zeus himself: it’s “the thunderbolt”–that moment in a movie where a guy sees a girl for the first time, and it’s as if the rest of life pauses or moves in slo-mo while he stares at her and silently vows that he’ll capture her heart if it’s the last thing he does.

If you are reading this, you have definitely seen “the thunderbolt” at least once, even if you didn’t quite know what to call it or make of it. There are variations, of course, but the general gist remains the same.

In The Godfather, the third son of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), gets hit by “the thunderbolt” while hiding in Sicily. As Puzo describes it in the novel, Michael felt:

[A]n overwhelming desire for possession, … an unreadable printing of the girl’s face
on his brain and he knew she would haunt his memory every day of his life if he
did not possess her. His life had become simplified, focused on one point,
everything else was unworthy of even a moment’s attention. (p.332)

Francis Ford Coppola‘s interpretation (The Godfather, Scene 12 – “The Thunderbolt”) differs somewhat from Puzo’s version, by adding a female perspective–that of Michael’s soon-to-be first wife, Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli).

[springboard type=”youtube” id=”W0iXfa2unYY” player=”scin001″ width=”560″ height=”315″ ]

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s look at some targets the thunderbolt has hit since The Godfather.

When pondering this question, my first thought was: Does all this sound like Jacob’s (Taylor Lautner) explanation of “imprinting” in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse to anyone else?

Imprinting on someone is like… Like when you see her… Everything changes.
All of a sudden, its not gravity holding you to the planet. It’s her…
Nothing else matters. You would do anything… be anything for her.

I know, I know…it certainly looks different when Jacob actually imprints on Renesmee in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. This is probably because Jacob is half-wolf/half-man and it’s totally not out of place to do a video montage of the future in a fantasy movie, whereas it would be quite inappropriate in The Godfather. Despite the visual differences, I think the underlying feelings are very much the same.

As I gave it some more thought, I realized that the thunderbolt has played an important role in a wide variety of chick flicks from the 80s through the present. Unlike in The Godfather and Breaking Dawn – Part 1, where the thunderbolt hits its mark quite late in the film, it most commonly hits chick flick characters within the movie’s first five-to-fifteen minutes. This allows the thunderbolt to shape the movie’s plot as a whole, or the plot line of one particular character, right from the get-go. For example…

Four minutes into St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), Kirby’s (Emilio Estevez) college crush on Dale Biberman (Andie MacDowell) is reignited by the thunderbolt when he randomly runs into her while at the emergency room. For the remaining 106 minutes of the movie, Kirby strives–and stops at nothing–to win Dale’s heart.

Eight minutes into The Wood (1999), young Mike (Sean Nelson) is hit with the thunderbolt when he sees Alicia (Malinda Williams) walking into their homeroom on his first day of school in Inglewood..and the soft jazz playing in the background tells us that Mike will never be the same.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) hits the girl with the thunderbolt instead, freezing Toula (Nia Vardalos) as Ian’s (John Corbett) “own private Greek statue.”

And in The Five-Year Engagement (2012), one of the most recent examples, the thunderbolt hits Tom (Jason Segel) as he happens to catch sight of Violet (Emily Blunt) across the room at a New Year’s Eve make-up-your-own-superhero party, setting in motion the relationship that drives the remainder of the story.

In conclusion, like Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine) in My Big Fat Greek Wedding having just proved that an English word comes from Greek, I say to you: “So, there you go.”

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Have a favorite “thunderbolt” movie moment? Share it with me in the comments below!

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Want more chick flicks?

First, check out previous This Chick’s Flicks pieces.

Then, stay tuned to Screen Invasion for This Chick’s Flicks posts on chick flicks of now and then.

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Follow Sarah Katz on Twitter (@sarahdkatz) for daily chick flick recommendations (or tweet her for more suggestions), and stay tuned to Screen Invasion via Twitter (@ScreenInvasion) and Facebook.

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The Godfather poster image: © 1972 – Paramount Pictures. || This Chick’s Flicks logo: © 2012 Kristal Bailey. || The Godfather video clip: © 1972 – Paramount Pictures. || The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 image: © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved. || My Big Fat Greek Wedding image: © 2002 – IFC Films.

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The Author

Sarah Katz

Sarah Katz

Born-and-bred New Yorker. Lifelong film & TV lover—from chick flicks, rom-coms, rom-droms, rom-drams, and tweentertainment, to Shakespeare, period pieces, James Bond, fairy tales, and mafia movies.