David Chase, the producer and genius behind The Sopranos could have chosen to end the series with a battle or suicide or just pure mayhem. But, he is too smart for that. Instead, he left the ending up to the viewer. It was something that a Jean-Luc Godard would have done in the 1960's. Chase clearly didn't want to provide us with a simple outcome. We are left with images of a family in disarray, but nevertheless together. The entire show takes place in the "Twilight Zone" between the realities of America as a violent society and the personal space that is occupied by individuals trying to come to grips with their identities and goals amidst that violence. Tony Soprano's son, A.J. is perhaps the best expression of the confusion among ideas, vision and reality. He cannot decide what to be or who to be. He is neither a gangster nor is he a creative person. He cries when confronted with reality and is indecisive. But, he is also the person that Tony always wanted to be, the soft, intelligent thinker behind the facade of violence and despair.
A clue into this complex universe is through the lyrics that we hear Tony listening to at the end of the show before the screen fades to black:
Working hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on
The movie never ends. This postmodern convergence of terror, fear and hope is all mixed up because we have no clear metaphors to explain the historical period in which we are presently living. So, Chase gives us a mirror and suggests we look into our selves and find out whether our lives are movie-like, whether in the end, we share more with Tony than we would like to admit.
His character was always about control, about the need that some men have to dominate their families, their colleagues and friends. But, his character was also about the loss of control, the loss of self in the midst of plenty and the impact of personal history on identity. No amount of mob power could make Tony forget the oppressive experience of growing up as a child with a mother who tried to dominate him. Even at the penultimate moment in the show when Tony and Carmela visit A.J.'s psychiatrist to discuss his crazy behaviour, Tony turns the conversation onto himself and his family story.
But, it is the visit between Tony and Junior that points out the sheer futility of Tony's path. Junior is now so far gone into dementia that he doesn't even recognize his nephew. This lack of recognition and the evaporation of history, memory and intellect is Tony's future. It is also the future of the mob. No amount of psychoanalysis will ever rescue Tony from his fate.
Chase has distilled the essence of the rather strange space now inhabited by citizens of the west, a space full of potential violence which feels like it is real even if it is often imagined. In this rather existential environment, the relationship between hope and despair is not as much about the future as it is about whether the future will exist at all.
Thus, the screen is black, at least for the moment.