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Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Sopranos Finale Interpreted - My Minute With David Chase

Attended First and Last: An Evening With David Chase. It was a screening of the pilot and finale of The Sopranos then a Q&A with the creator, David Chase.  Knowing that I may never get the chance to speak directly with him again, I made sure I was selected to ask him a question.  He responded with a very insightful answer that reassured my interpretation of the infamous ending.  A great night for a huge fan.

Most people ask David Chase, "Is Tony dead?"  (including the event curator.)  That may be why he never clearly answers the question.  He has stated in the past that alive/dead is not the point.  But, he also has said that all you need to know is on the screen.  Those two comments, in my eyes, are, in a way, contradictory.  Chase is coyly saying that the series is much more than just did he live or did he die, but there IS an answer.

I can understand his frustration.  As an artist I am often frustrated when people do not recognize the thought and effort I put into my work.  My feeling is he is too, especially that the an entire decade of his career has become focused on about ten seconds of black on screen.

As a way to get him to open up more about the final scene, my plan was to discuss the ending by approaching it from a art/film perspective.  Which is why, out of EVERY response he has given about the end of the show that I have read (and I have read a ton) the answer he gave me was the most insightful.  I believe he finally gave fans of the show the answer they have wanted, but he was able to do so in the context of the thought process behind editing the final scene, not a yes or no answer.

As I said, I almost did not ask my question - then I thought, I have a hundred questions for him.  I would love to breakdown the final scene shot by shot, but I only have one chance and I knew the question.  My question was about the use of three individual shots of the family eating onion rings in a fashion very similar to taking communion (watch it again, it is VERY obvious.)  My interpretation, it was symbolic of the Last Rites (the sacrament performed before death.)  He said something along the lines of "that's it."  I said back, "that's all I need to know."  He quickly responded, "I didn't say he's dead."  Then the magic - he continued speaking to me, expanding on his answer.  The funny thing was he brought more into it than I had been able to ask about.  To me, it felt like he was finally getting a question that respected his work and he wanted to take the opportunity to reveal more.

Here is a write-up discussing the response to my question.

Chase seemed to confirm one of the key points of those who believe that the ending does depict Tony getting whacked, namely, a pattern identified in which a bell rings, signaling the diner’s door is being opened; then the camera shows Tony looking up; and then the camera assumes Tony’s point-of-view. The fade-to-black comes right when we would have assumed Tony’s point-of-view. The bell, Chase explained, is an allusion to a scene between Tony and Bobby Baccala on a lake, in which a bell also rings. (He didn’t mention that this is the same scene in which Bobby says, “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens,” a line Tony remembers in the penultimate episode and which is basically Exhibit A for those who believe that Tony gets killed.) “I had read that very often in Zen ceremonies they ring a bell like that, and what it’s supposed to do is bring you to the present, to keep bringing you to the now—the right now,” Chase said. And he went on to explain the camera-shooting structure: “It would come somewhere, see the person he was going to talk to, cut back to him, and then cut to him walking into his own point of view.”

Another article, in the New York Observer, mentions my onion ring question: A quiet question from the back cut in. “In your mind, do you know if Tony lives or dies?” (not me) “Maybe he choked on an onion ring,” Mr. Chase said. Which brings us to the most novel observation of the evening: the onion ring sequence. Each member of the Soprano family places one on their tongue in succession. “The last rites?” one gentleman wondered aloud. Mr. Chase froze. “Good,” he said.

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