Iconic actor James Gandolfini wasn’t a criminal… but his portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano in the uber-acclaimed HBO series The Sopranos? fuggetaboutit. His untimely passing leaves both devoted fans and aspiring mafiosos even more confused and bewildered than the diner scene in the show’s finale.
The news of Gandolfini’s unexpected departure from Italy to heaven unnerved me to such an extent, that I promptly had to halt all my current activities and ponder about what had drawn me (and millions of others) to week after week loyally follow this bulky balding fellow.
Import/export of habit-forming substances, protection of local businesses (no doubt from himself), running a famiglia-friendly establishment and a supposed environmentally conscious waste management business, were all mundane items on his Daily To-Do list. So why indeed were we allured by this fictional character with such a distorted moral compass?
Tony Soprano was a man of conflicts and contradictions. He wasn’t purely bad but he wasn’t exactly Saint Augustine either. In essence, his nature encompassed many layers of dissonant cognitions which ultimately manifested themselves not only through emotional channels but through physical ones as well.
And James Gandolfini lapsed into these apoplectic panic attacks with unsettling credibility.
One trying to maintain an everyday family routine can become overly surfeited when seasoned by a covert Wise Guy lifestyle, and just because you’re a mob king pin doesn’t mean you’re the king of your own castle. While running a crime family, Tony had to handle all the ordinary pickles of a (sorta) normal family as well.
A wife who had wanted to get on her knees for the local priest, a daughter who had more zip than gabagool, a suicidal son, a sister with a recurring case of the crazies and a mother possessed by infanticidal maternal instincts. You know, the usual stuff.
Tony Soprano didn’t abstain from attending his mental travails with the common treatment of modern Western society. Almost equal to the time he spent lecherously watching unclad ragazzas at the Bada Bing!, he candidly unbared himself on the comfy couch of Dr. Melfi.
That granted us a rare obtrusive glimpse into the presumable inner struggles and dilemmas of a big shot gangster… who just sought placidity rather than Serenity Now. Extremely mesmerizing was Tony’s justification (perhaps mostly to himself) of why he won’t go the hell (season 2 episode 9, “From Where to Eternity”):
We’re soldiers. Soldiers don’t go to hell. It’s war. Soldiers… they kill other soldiers. We’re in a situation where everybody involved knows the stakes and if you gonna accept those stakes, you gotta do certain things. It’s business, for soldiers. We follow codes… orders.
And on other occasions we just enjoyed watching this omnipotent powerful man grapple with his wroth wife in a standard marital therapy session (“Maybe the fact that you stick your dick into anything with a pulse, you ever thought of exploring that as a root cause?”):
Perhaps we like Tony Soprano so much simply because we know that ultimately he’s just a fictitious figure invented by creatively genius screenwriters. Unlike real criminals, all of his wrongdoings and enormities were merely acts taken from a cleverly crafted script. And this is what enabled us to approach the little dark passenger that resides inside each and every one of us, without actually causing any real harm.
Sometimes we really loved to hate him and sometimes we really hated to love him. The fact that Tony Soprano so profoundly touched so many people just attests to the phenomenal merits of James Gandolfini as an actor.
Rest in peace, James Gandolfini.