It’s been seven years since the greatest show of all time (in my opinion), The Sopranos, aired its finale that shocked, delighted, and angered fans. Since the famous cut to black scene, there’s been non-stop speculation about the fate of Tony Soprano. Did the blackout mean that he was killed? If so, who was responsible for his death?
Entire theses have been written about the ending, with fans taking every visual, every line of dialogue, every passing moment, as a potential code with which to decipher what really happened in that final scene. People have hung on David Chase’s every word at panel discussions praying that something he says will tip them off about what really happened to Tony Soprano.
Well, film critic, writer and friend of David Chase, Martha P. Nochimson, just penned an article for Vox about what Chase himself told her about the finale, titled “Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?” What was Chase’s answer?
He shook his head “no.” And he said simply, “No he isn’t.” That was all.
To simply boil the article down to those couple of words definitely sells the whole piece short. The crux of Nochimson’s piece is more about David Chase as an artist and what he hopes to get across with his art than it is about what happened to Tony Soprano. Ultimately, what the article implies is that whether David Chase says Tony is dead or not, that isn’t really the point of the finale. Nochimson elaborates –
I’m not guessing. When I asked Chase about the cut to black, he said that it is about Poe’s poem “Dream Within a Dream.” “What more can I say?” he asks when I prod him to speak more, and I admire his silence. I am his audience too and he wants me to reach for his meaning. And here’s what I conclude. Though you wouldn’t know it from watching Hollywood movies, endings are by nature mysterious. There is the instability of loss in an ending as well as the satisfying sense of completion. American television before Chase, with the exception of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, one of Chase’s avowed key inspirations for the art of The Sopranos, built a craft that dispenses with the destabilizing aspects of an ending. The true art of closure will not tolerate such a boring decision. Moreover, the art of closure forbids merely telling the audience in words that there is loss, since words can create the illusion of safety and control. Chase’s art seeks a silent level of knowing more profound than words. He believes we already know if we open up to that deeper part of us.
I don’t think that what Chase says about the finale is any more valid than what I say about the finale. He wrote it as intentionally ambiguous, so that we could all come to our own conclusion. He wanted to inspire thought and discussion and longing, not create another big-time gangster shoot ’em up that would look cool and leave us feeling satiated, but at the same time wrap everything up in such a way that would allow us to push this masterpiece out of our minds.
The fact that seven years later we are still talking about this topic shows what a genius Chase truly is. Not to take anything away from the Breaking Bad finale, I loved it, but I haven’t really thought twice about it since it ended. The Sopranos, on the other hand, still has me analyzing and re-watching episodes years after the fact.
Hollywood has definitely conditioned us to demand finality and conclusiveness, but in doing so, it deprives us of what it’s like to wonder.
Might we not do well to take up Chase’s challenge? To look and listen intently, letting ourselves experience our own sensations at the images of life slipping and sliding this way and that on the screen, instead of relying on marketers and formulas to regiment and organize us? It’s not whether a character dies on screen that is at stake, but whether we die to our own capacity for wonder.
Who cares whether Tony Soprano died? Our outrage over not finding out was our mind demanding conclusiveness. We want to be told what happened, we don’t want to have to think about it. But as Nochimson urges, is being forced to think for ourselves really such a bad thing? I don’t think so.