Michael Corleone and the Assault of Consciousness
The Reluctant Don
There are a few indicators in Godfather II that Michael Corleone is at ease with what he has evolved into. At one point he asks his mother something to the effect of -- can a man lose his family by trying to protect them? She responds that it's impossible to lose one's family. But, Michael's mother is from a different time period. For Michael, the question goes unanswered.
In the time period that Michael lives, everything can be lost just by carrying on with the status bequeathed to him by his father. This is part of the evolution of America and the crime syndicates. Honor has disappeared. Boldness and daring have replaced friendships and even brotherhood.
Michael is put off balance by his divorce, his betrayal by his older brother Fredo, his alienation from Connie (his sister). He is forced to invent a new code of conduct -- one that his father could hardly imagine.
When he tells Diane Keaton (his estranged wife) that he's trying to extricate himself from the criminality of his business, he isn't putting on a show for her benefit. He wants to get out, for his sake and the sake of his family, but it isn't so easy.
When exiled in Sicily, he marries a pretty peasant girl, and this is another indicator that Michael is not enchanted with being a gangster. To the contrary, he'd love to have a life like his father, where things were much more black and white.
Michael becomes a kind of monster out of what he feels is necessity (not glee). It's just by circumstance that his older brother (Sonny) is shot to pieces, and his father is also almost assassinated. There is no one else to pick up the reigns. Fredo is too weak. What choice does Michael have? He is tormented by the love and need to protect his immediate family and the actions required to affirm their protection.
If anything, Michael is a modern tragic figure because destiny pulls him in the opposite direction of his desires. Being only human, he goes overboard -- trusting no one completely, and possessing the feeling that all loose ends must be tied up. The longer he remains the don, the more cold-hearted he becomes, partly out of necessity, and partly out of human frailty. This crisis of consciousness isolates him to an unfathomable degree of torment, but he suffers in silence. He is able to endure the suffering partly by psychologically distancing himself from it and also by justifying his deeds as necessary for the sake of his family.
Herein lies the questionable philosophical dilemma. To what extent may a man be excused for his departure from the commandments if his acts are selfless and (in fact) for the perceived benefit of those he loves?