Michael, Kay, and their young son Anthony arrive at the Corleone Mall. Before Michael gets out of the car, Kay tells him that Connie and Carlo want him to be their son's godfather, but are afraid to ask. Michael promises to think it over. Dissolve to the back garden, where Don Corleone explains to Michael how to identify the signals of a pending assassination. Vito asks his son if he is happy, and Michael says yes, smiling when Vito asks him about Anthony. However, something is clearly bothering the old man. He moves to sit closer to Michael, and the camera frames the two men in a tight two-shot. Don Corleone fixes his gaze offscreen and confesses that he never intended for Michael to enter the family business. He thought he would go into politics, instead. Michael scoffs at the idea. The Don kisses his son and reminds him that whomever sets up a meeting with Barzini is the traitor.
Dissolve to little Anthony playing an energetic game of hide-and-seek with his grandfather in the garden, among the tomato plants. Suddenly, Don Corleone starts coughing violently and grasps at the long stalks, trying to regain balance. Faltering, he falls to the ground, but Anthony still thinks they are playing. Cut to a long shot where Anthony runs away, and the Don's body lies in the garden, motionless. Church bells signal a dissolve to a funeral procession arriving in the Queens Village Catholic Cemetery. Mourners line up to pay their respects to Vito Corleone, including the Dons of all the New York families. Tessio leans into a close-up of Michael's steely face, asking him for a word. Privately, Tessio informs Michael that Barzini wants to arrange a meeting. Michael agrees and sits back down next to Tom Hagen, who says he always thought Clemenza, not Tessio, would be the traitor. Michael, however, is going to wait to take action until after the baptism of Connie's child - he has decided to accept the role of Godfather.
Cut to the interior of a Church, where newborn Michael Rizzo is being baptized. Kay holds the baby and Michael stands next to her as the Priest speaks in Latin. The blessing continues over a montage of Michael's first actions as the new Don of the Corleone family. We see Neri, Clemenza, Lampone, and Willie Cicci carry out their orders, intercut with the Baptism. Clemenza shoots down Victor Stracci in his apartment. Moe Greene is shot through the eye while on a massage table. Cicci shoots Cuneo after trapping him in a revolving door. Lampone and another gunman massacre Tattaglia and his mistress in bed. Finally, Neri shoots down Barzini on the steps of the New York County Supreme Court Building. Meanwhile, Michael is in church, renouncing Satan.
After the baptism, Connie carries the baby down the stairs of the church, surrounded by the family. The infant cries as Lampone arrives and whispers something in Michael's ear. Michael turns to Carlo and forbids him from going to Vegas with his family because they have some business to take care of in New York first. Meanwhile, Tom Hagen is with Tessio, who has gotten the signal that Barzini is ready to meet with Michael in Brooklyn. Outside, Cicci tells Hagen and Tessio that Michael will come in his own car, and Tom says he will not come to meet Barzini either. Several other men close in around them and suddenly, Tessio knows what's about to happen. He asks Tom to let him "off the hook," but Tom refuses. So Tessio accepts his fate and obediently gets into the car.
Michael emerges from the shadows into the living room and accuses Carlo of betraying Sonny. Carlo starts to panic, and Michael sits next to him and lists all the men he has already had killed that day in his effort to tie up all the family business. Carlo breaks down, but Michael consoles him, saying that he does not want his sister to become a widow. Instead, Carlo is out of the family business and must move to Vegas, permanently. Carlo, relieved, finally admits that he sold Sonny out to Barzini. Michael stands and sends Carlo out of the house, where there is a car waiting to take him to the airport. The Button Men put Carlo's luggage in the trunk, but when Carlo gets into the car, he realizes that Clemenza is sitting in the seat behind him. While Michael, Neri, and Tom Hagen look on, Clemenza strangles Carlo. As he struggles, Carlo's foot crashes through the windshield, but he is unable to break free. After Carlo is dead, Michael, unaffected, walks back into the house.
Dissolve to a moving truck being loaded in the driveway of the Corleone estate. A black car pulls up and a hysterical Connie jumps out, despite her mother's attempts to restrain her. She runs into the house, where movers are packing up boxes. Kay is startled by Connie's state, and follows her into Michael's office where she accuses her brother of killing Carlo. Connie knows that Michael blamed Carlo for Sonny's death but wonders how he could be so selfish. Michael does not flinch, and the camera holds on him while his wife and sister are out-of-focus in the foreground. Michael tries to hug Connie but she keeps screaming, so he asks Neri to take her upstairs.
Kay and Michael are left alone in the office. Kay stares her husband down and asks him if Connie's allegations are true. He commands her not to ask about his business and slams his hand down on his desk violently. However, he catches himself, looks Kay in the eye, and lies, saying that Connie's claims are false. Kay hugs him, relieved. She leaves the office to get herself a drink. In a wide shot from Kay's perspective, we see Michael standing in front of his desk. Clemenza, Neri, Rocco Lampone, and a few other men enter the frame and greet Michael respectfully, kissing his hand and calling him Don Corleone. Neri closes the office door and the film ends on Kay's face, as she finally realizes what her husband has truly become.
At Connie's wedding, Michael, dressed in his military uniform, promises Kay that he is not like his family. Al Pacino said of Michael, "He has to start out ambivalent, almost unsure of himself and his place. He's caught between his old world family and the postwar American dream". A few years later, Michael and Kay, now married, are driven into the Corleone Mall. Michael abandons Kay and young Anthony because he has business to attend to. He may be on a mission to make the Corleones legitimate, but he has broken his promise to Kay by becoming part of the family business in the first place. Meanwhile, Kay has also changed over the course of the film. At Connie's wedding, she is shocked when Michael tells her the story of his father and Johnny Fontane's manager. After her marriage, she is less naive, and reveals that she is close to Connie. This means that like Connie, Kay has learned to accept the presence of the Family Business in her life, as long as it does not show up at the dinner table, so to speak.
Robert Towne, the Academy Award winning screenwriter (for Roman Polanski's 1974 film Chinatown), actually wrote the scene that takes place between Michael and Don Corleone in the garden. Francis Ford Coppola was in production and did not have time, so he told Towne that he felt that the film was missing a scene where "father and son expressed their feelings for each other" (Jones 204). However, it was important to keep both men in character - therefore, Towne framed the scene around the plot point about Barzini. Besides that important piece of exposition, this scene functions on many levels. Towne said, "I felt that this scene had to be about the transfer of power from older to younger generation, the difficulty of giving up that power, and the guilt of giving it to someone he never thought would have to have so much power in the underworld" (Jones 205).
Once the torch of power has been passed, there is a marked change in both Michael and Don Corleone. The next scene in the garden between Don Corleone and his toddler grandson, Anthony, is sweet and innocent. In Coppola's notebook, he wrote,"There is a sort of bittersweet irony here; the Don has evolved into a lovable old grandpa in his baggy gray trousers, a faded blue shirt, battered dirty-brown fedora decorated with a gray silk hatband. He is much heavier now. This scene is evocative of Sicily -- a sense of the Don's roots; a primeval feeling, almost on the verge of a fantasy. The light is almost surreal" (Jones 210). Marlon Brando actually came up with the trick of putting the orange peel in his mouth and pretending to be a monster. While the Don's fangs are fake, Michael's have become frighteningly real.
In the famous "baptism" scene, Michael literally becomes a Godfather and simultaneously carries out a brutal murder spree that asserts his power to the rest of the New York Families and Moe Greene's people. Peter Cowie describes the layers of this carefully engineered sequence eloquently:
The Priest, catechizing Michael... demands, "Do you renounce Satan?" So the slaughter begins. The editing takes up a heavy, inexorable rhythm, like the tolling of bells. The massacre both chimes with, and defiles, the lofty operations and minute rhythms of a lofty ceremonial. All [Michael's] foes... are eliminated with clinical precision. Michael's adriotly engineered plot is the equivalent of blasphemy (Cowie 72).
Michael takes on his virgin mission to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey because he wants to protect his father's life. He is nervous, and Coppola shows the audience the visceral nature of violence without any background score - we are forced to listen to McCluskey gurgling as he takes his last breaths, labored by the gunshot wound in his neck. After that initial act, Michael never murders anyone himself. All of the subsequent deaths he causes - Tessio, Carlo, the heads of the 5 Families, Moe Greene - are carried out by his henchmen. While Tessio's death is somewhat justified because he was setting up Michael's assassination, the rest of the killings are assertions of power, and it is possible that even Michael cannot yet face his own ruthlessness.
Michael does not have the decency to be honest with Carlo before he is killed. Instead, he lures Carlo into the car under the guise of taking him to the airport. Coppola films Carlo's death with detachment - just showing his squirming foot breaking through the windshield as he is strangled. The massacre at the end of the film is entirely scored. Coppola distances the audience from the violence in the same way that Michael has distanced himself. The overall effect, then, allows the audience to experience Michael's loss of humanity. As Al Pacino said to Seventeen Magazine when the film came out, "The Godfather is about more than the Mafia; it's about conflicts in American culture. It's about a powerful man who builds a dynasty through crime-- but he wants his son to be a senator, a governor; it's about the very nature of power. What it does to you. Who survives. I think it's a tragedy" (Jones 208).