upper room daily devotions

Monday, June 11, 2007

sopranos: nothing's neat with art

Last night's finale of "The Sopranos" will disappoint many, confuse more, and delight the few. I began as one of the "more" and have been transformed into one of the "few." Refusing to buy in to mob fans' cries for blood, sentimentalists' pleas for a happy ending, and our national desire to have things wrapped in neat bows and tucked neatly away, David Chase, the show's creator who both wrote and directed the finale, cut to black in the midst of a scene filled with the mundane and dripping with tension. Wonderful!

Chase is known for saying that art should pose questions and defy expectations. He did both last night. Despite the gore, the violence, the naked women, the gratuitous sex, the language, and the morally pernicious behavior of its anti-hero, the Sopranos had me hooked. My loyalty only slightly waned in the over-long hiatus periods and haggles over contracts. What drew me and kept me hooked? This was art...undeniably. Its hyperbolic imagery laid to bare the American soul, albeit in exaggerated style. The show revealed the ironic relationship that many have between unethical public behavior and devotion to one's nuclear family, the disparities between what we feel (at least say we feel) and our unscrupulous acts, and our resistance to change despite our hearts longing for deep transformation. Thank God everyone isn't a sociopath like Tony Soprano, but we are quite often like Carmella, willing to deny the reality that is right before us because life's payoff is too seductive. It's Chase's genius that he could create characters so unlike us and yet so like us.

The show's art was evident in the last scene. As the tension mounted, we expected any one of several characters to kill Tony. The alternating tight shots and wide scenes kept us on the edge of our seat. Meadow's terrible parking drove my blood pressure up. And, just after a suspicious character heads to the bathroom and presumably Meadow's entrance into the diner jingles the bell, the scene cuts to black. I couldn't believe my eyes..."Where's the remote?!?" I was left, as was everyone, asking...Did the Soprano family have a mundane dinner discussing mundane things? Did we experience as Tony did his head being blown off from behind by bathroom guy? Did we just get a taste of how Tony feels every time he goes out in public, anxiety ridden and on edge? We aren't given answers. We are invited into the experience...and that's art, despite the naysayers all over the Internet crying foul who wanted this tied up in a bow. No bows with David Chase.

But why am I writing about this on my religion blog? Could anything have been less soulful than "The Sopranos"? I think the internal journeys of each character and the arc of the show as a whole contain great soul. I also think that this show has shown us the hypocrisy that exists in our culture. Just watch AJ's "concern" for the world as his dad dumps asbestos into wetlands, Meadow's concern for Italian-Americans because her dad's been hauled off by the FBI, Carmella's "moral high ground" while benefiting from Tony's lifestyle. And in the midst of it all, there are real and intimate struggles for wholeness by people who just can't see their way out of the life in which they live. "The Sopranos" was a great show, but more than that it was great art, inviting us into the lives of the North New Jersey mob, the home of Tony and Carmella Soprano, and into the moral quagmire of the soul.

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