David Chase Reveals the Philosophical Meaning of The Soprano’s Final Scene

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.

Read Chase’s complete account of the famous final scene here.

Thanks to Ted Mills for flagging this. Follow him at @TedMills.

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Comments (4)
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  • benoit says:

    Interesting article but it’s still as vague as the Soprano’s ending.
    The huge interest in Sopranos was the realness of the characters & plot with pure brawn & intelligent juxtaposition layered into the series. Ending was a bit of fluff & almost zen like.
    The “don’t stop believing” philosophical ending is a little inconsistent with the whole series. The series become much bigger than Tony Sopranos life. It had other great characters & interesting scenarios outside Tony’s. When the ending compressed & narrowed to Tony Soprano & family, it becomes underwhelming.

  • bibblybobbly says:

    Not true: Tony WAS killed. The maid’s husband ordered the hit because Tony didn’t pay him enough to rig up the boiler overflow system.

  • Tom says:

    Tony was killed. But all the members of the family were killed or rendered completely ineffective by going into hiding and thus might as well have been killed. Even Pauly Walnuts final scene featured Pauly in front of the deli while a cat reposed on the sidewalk looking at him. Remember Pauly associated cats with death. I always assumed that Pauly didn’t die on screen because there will always be thugs like him in any society. But organizations like the Tony’s will eventually be destroyed by infighting, concerted government action or the inability to change with the times, note the attempt to shake down the coffee shop franchise. The best death was Phil Leotardo. Phil hated America but was crushed to death by a FORD the icon of American industrial hegemony.

  • Carolanne says:

    The Soprano family is dead. No mobster’s going to leave the heirs to a mob alive. The screen goes black because when you die, “the lights go out.”

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