Ambiguity versus intention: The Sopranos keeps going
For a show that tried to aggressively stop, The Sopranos refuses to die. As reported in the New York Times, word is leaking out from the producers about the famous final shot of blackness. According to the article, it would seem that David Chase had a particular narrative meaning in mind as to what happened in the finale rather than open-ended ambiguity, and clues are pointing toward the argument I made previously: Tony getting killed is the probable explanation (a position explicated at greater length & depth than probably necessary by Bob Harris). Especially amusing is that Chase initially wanted the 10-second black show to be even longer, closer to 30-seconds (imagine how many cable companies switchboards would have jammed after that!).
What interests me about this continued speculation and attempts for confirmation is not what the “right answer” might be (although I admit that I’d naturally rather be right about my interpretation than wrong), but how the search for authorial intent rubs up against some people’s celebration of the show’s ambiguity. As I understand what many fans of the ending have claimed, the beauty of the final moment is by cutting it off before anything of significance happens, Chase makes everything significant through its open-ended possibilities. But what if that’s not what Chase was trying to do? What if he was trying to clearly convey Tony’s death, albeit with oblique and subtle cues? What if his intent suggests that it’s wrong to imagine “life goes on” as the show’s final message?
I have a mixed mind when it comes to the role of authorial intent. I don’t think the meaning of a text is foreclosed by what creators intend, nor by what they say about their creative goals (which can be different from actual intents) – if meaning can be found in a text through a reasonable interpretation & analysis, then I think that’s a legitimate way to look at it even if it’s not the intended meaning. However, intention (both actual and assumed) matters in framing our interpretations, comprehension, and appreciation – an understanding of a text that matches what the creator intended (or seems to intend) feels much more justified and satisfying than reading against the grain (or at least it does for me). Especially in a piece of art that we respect and admire, we want to feel that direct communion with the creator that “getting it” entails – and this sense of understanding is even more important when facing questions of comprehension (what happened?) over interpretation (what did it mean?).
So what happens to all the people proclaiming Chase’s genius for ambiguity and uncertainly if he says that Tony died? Do they turn on the artist for dispelling his own myth? Do they reject the intent as irrelevant to the ambiguity they embrace? Or does the finale’s value diminish in light of what it was meant to mean? Stay tuned, as the show keeps on going…
Filed under: Narrative, TV Shows | 7 Comments
Tags: finale, Sopranos