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.

Fol­low us on Face­book, Twit­ter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intel­li­gent media with your friends. Or bet­ter yet, sign up for our dai­ly email and get a dai­ly dose of Open Cul­ture in your inbox.

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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.”

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.