Eight years after it aired, the final scene of the final episode of The Sopranos still has people guessing: What happened when the screen suddenly went black? Did Tony Soprano get whacked? Or did he live to see another quasi-ordinary day? Could he really die as Journey sings, “Don’t Stop Believing?”
In a new interview appearing on The Directors Guild of America web site, David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, revisits the making of the final scene. Chase doesn’t directly answer the questions about Tony’s fate. But he does give us some insight into the deeper philosophical questions raised in the scene (watch it above) and how much they’re bound up in the lyrics of Journey’s soundtrack. There’s some deeper meaning in the small town girl and the city boy taking “the midnight train goin’ anywhere”:
I love the timing of the lyric when Carmela enters: ‘Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ Then it talks about Tony: ‘Just a city boy,’ and we had to dim down the music so you didn’t hear the line, ‘born and raised in South Detroit.’ The music cuts out a little bit there, and they’re speaking over it. ‘He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ And that to me was [everything]. I felt that those two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. That is their life. It means that these people are looking for something inevitable. Something they couldn’t find. I mean, they didn’t become missionaries in Africa or go to college together or do anything like that. They took the midnight train going anywhere. And the midnight train, you know, is the dark train.
And there’s meaning packed in the idea of “Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard.”
Cutting to Meadow parking was my way of building up the tension and building up the suspense, but more than that I wanted to demonstrate the lyrics of the song, which is streetlights, people walking up and down the boulevard, because that’s what the song is saying. ‘Strangers waiting.’ I wanted you to remember that is out there. That there are streetlights and people out there and strangers moving up and down. It’s the stream of life, but not only that, it’s the stream of life at night. There’s that picture called History Is Made at Night [from 1937]. I love that title. And that kind of echoes in my head all the time.
But if you’re looking for the philosophical essence of the scene, then look no further than the mantra, “Don’t stop believin.'” That’s what it’s all about:
I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.
Thanks to Ted Mills for flagging this. Follow him at @TedMills.