Closing chapter: Terugblik op dramatisch 2020

Zeg me dat het niet zo is.
Zeg me dat het niet zo is.
Zeg me dat het niet waar is…

In de kerstvakantie neem ik altijd twee weken vrij om op te laden. Ik herbekijk dan altijd een van mijn favoriete filmseries, zoals The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit of de originele Star Wars trilogie. Dit jaar ben ik bezig met een herkijk van The Sopranos, mijn favoriete serie ooit. Ik heb hem bijna tien jaar niet gezien en het is zelfs nog beter dan ik me herinner. Het is zo goed geschreven en gespeeld. Waanzinnig goed. Ik ben bezig met een e-book over de show. Dat verschijnt waarschijnlijk volgend jaar; er liggen al veel teksten klaar. Ik geniet ook van het nieuwe album van Paul McCartney, ‘McCartney III’. En over Paul gesproken: In 2021 komt Peter Jackson, een van mijn lievelingsfilmmakers en hardcore Beatles-fan, met de documentaire Get Back. Ik heb vijf minuten materiaal gezien op Disney Plus en het ziet er waanzinnig uit. Intiemere beelden van The Beatles heb ik zelden gezien. En dus, als er één film is waar ik naar uitkijk volgend jaar is deze het wel. En als ik er nog eentje mag noemen is dat The Many Saints of Newark, een prequel van The Sopranos, gerealiseerd door Sopranos-bedenker en schrijver David Chase. Met in een van de hoofdrollen Michael Gandolfini, zoon van de legendarische James Gandolfini die overleed in 2013, maar onsterfelijk werd door zijn vertolking van Tony Soprano. Nu stapt zijn zoon in zijn voetsporen. 2021 wordt een heel goed filmjaar.

Qua films was 2020, net als in vele andere opzichten, juist een waardeloos jaar. Ik heb een filmpje in mijn hoofd, waarin het liedje ‘It was a very good year’ van Frank Sinatra speelt en we beelden zien van verlaten straten, mondkapjes, begrafenissen, dramatische toestanden op de IC’s en sombere toespraken van politici. Ik heb zelf niet te klagen overigens. Toen in maart de eerste lockdown werd aangekondigd vond ik het stiekem wel spannend. Een ongekende gebeurtenis. Een hele lichte versie van een zombie apocalypse, zoals in Dawn of the Dead. Het had wel wat: verplicht thuis met toch alle luxes van het moderne leven: speciaalbier, wijn, een koelkast vol met eten, een enorme collectie films en boeken en via het internet verbonden met de hele wereld. Maar ik begrijp natuurlijk dat corona heel veel mensen in de ellende heeft gestort met verliesgebeurtenissen, financiële problemen en gevoelens van eenzaamheid.

Van mijn persoonlijke vrienden is de eigenaar van het bedrijf waar ik sinds 2008 voor werk getroffen. Hij kon niet verdragen dat zijn levenswerk ten gronde ging en stapte op 1 juli uit het leven. Net voordat hij zijn aandelen zou overdragen aan een overnemende partij. Voor de rest van ons (werknemers) was de overname een redding, een veilige haven. Maar voor Alex voelde dit helemaal anders. Wat er precies in zijn hoofd heeft afgespeeld zullen we nooit weten, maar de aanhoudende paniek veroorzaakt door corona heeft vrijwel zeker een doorslaggevende rol gespeelt in zijn dramatische actie. Onze directeur Melle wist het rampjaar onlangs goed onder woorden te brengen. “Stel dat iemand in december vorig jaar gezegd had; ‘er komt in 2020 een dodelijk virus waardoor er niemand meer naar onze events en trainingen komt en dan maakt Alex er een einde aan’, dan hadden we gezegd: wat een slecht filmscenario.” De werkelijkheid is soms uiterst vreemd en onvoorspelbaar. Als een Zwarte Zwaan.


Voorwoord Quote, editie oktober, 2020

Maar los van deze misère waar ik nog dagelijks aan denk, ben ik er tot nu toe goed doorheen gekomen. Ik kijk documentaires over wat de mensen uit Syrië is overkomen en kan deze lockdown makkelijk relativeren. Ik zit in een fijne bubbel. Wat betreft 2021 ben ik voorzichtig positief. Het kan nog wel een tijdje gaan duren, maar ik hoop dat we in de zomer het sociale verkeer weer redelijk op de rit hebben. Mijn professionele leven ziet er ondanks corona goed uit: een groter bedrijf, meer mogelijkheden, nieuwe collega’s. En ik heb een fantastisch team met Charles, Willem, Jan, Yilmaz, Henk en Tomer. De mensen waar ik problemen mee had zijn allemaal weg. 2021 wordt op werkgebied ongetwijfeld een heel goed jaar. Persoonlijk gaat het ook goed. Rosa ontwikkelt zich als een heel sociaal en vrolijk meisje. En Loesje blijft worstelen met chronisch pijnsyndroom en (andere) psychologische issues, maar ervaart veel succes op werkgebied als begeleidster van jongeren en om een of andere reden vindt ze het ook met mij ook nog steeds leuk en dat is geheel wederzijds.

De reden dat ik dramatisch boven deze blog heb geschreven is dus eigenlijk puur de dood van Alex en omdat ik meeleef met alle mensen die getroffen zijn door corona. Maar zelf vind ik het leven mooi en interessant en een overwegend positieve exercitie. We zijn zelfs nog getrakteerd op een nederlaag van Trump en een implosie van Forum voor Democratie. De silver linings zijn dus niet moeilijk te vinden voor mij. Een laatste positief gebeurtenis om het jaar mee af te sluiten is het verschijnen van ‘The Grand Biocentric Design’, het derde deel in de serie over biocentrisme van Robert Lanza, het boek dat mijn leven in 2017 heeft veranderd. Hierin wordt nog meer bewijsmateriaal gepresenteerd dat aantoont dat leven en de kosmos één zijn en dat de dood niet echt kan bestaan in een dergelijk bewustzijns-systeem.

Deze blog heet fragmenten omdat alle aspecten van mijn leven erin voorbij komen: films, mijn filosofie, boeken die ik gelezen heb, mijn persoonlijke leven… Samen vormen die wat ik beschouw als ‘ik’. Maar uiteindelijk bestaat er geen ik en maakt deze illusionaire verschijning onderdeel uit van een veel grotere entiteit. En ik ben er helemaal oké mee om een oneindig klein element te zijn van iets veel groters. Ik zou zelfs niks anders willen. Een gevolg is dat je er nooit uit kan stappen. En dus is de actie van Alex niets meer geweest dan een reset. Een hoofdstuk in het boek heet ‘Quantum Suicide and the Impossibility of Being Dead’. Let wel, dit is een boek over natuurkunde en geen filosofie.

Voor de familie van de overledene blijft zo’n gebeurtenis overigens wel heel naar, want vanuit hun perspectief is die persoon permanent vertrokken. Vanuit het perspectief van de overledene kan er echter geen sprake zijn van ‘weg zijn’. Het gaat allemaal door en door en door en door. Ook corona is maar een heel klein streepje op een oneindig lang toneelstuk. Laat die volgende lock down dus maar komen. ‘Ik’ houd het nog wel even uit.

Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

Director: Daniel Minahan
Writer: David Milch
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker

Modern days are coming to Deadwood! A telephone for every business, keeping up with the times. But is it less savage than 13 years earlier (in 2006 the show was cancelled after three seasons)? Not a chance. Like the fairly satisfying El Camino is now doing for Breaking Bad, this TV-movie gives us (more) closure on one of the great HBO-shows of the early 2000s. It is sure good to be back in this South Dakota town in the 1880s. I didn’t know how much I missed those inhabitants! Especially Al Swearengen, the greatest TV-character since Tony Soprano, formidably played by Ian McShane. Good old Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) is back as well. The two opposites clash with the murderous and power hungry senator George Hearst who is looking to purchase land around Deadwood. This leads to a satisfying finale to a monumental show. With dialogues composed of old English prose with hundreds of fucks and cocksuckers in between. This is the West how we’ve never seen it, but wished we had. It doesn’t go out with a bang, but with one of Swearengen’s finest fucking poetic lines yet. Time to watch the series if you haven’t seen it, and re-watch it if you have. It’s glorious.

Book: Peter Jackson & the Making of Middle-Earth

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been the biggest movie event of my generation. By far. Strange to think that it almost didn’t happen. An initial 200 million dollar budget for the director of splatter horror Bad Taste (one of my favorites), was too much of a risk for any Hollywood studio to take. Then Bob Shaye, CEO of New Line Cinema, took a giant leap of faith….

Ian Nathan’s Anything You Can Imagine describes Peter Jackson’s heroic quest that started more than 20 years ago. After he had completed Heavenly Creatures – a critical success that showed he could handle an emotional story – and ghost movie The Frighteners – that lead to the foundation of special effects houses Weta Digital and Weta Workshop in New Zealand – the now hot director selected Rings as one of his new projects to pursue (the others were new versions of two ape classics: King Kong and Planet of the Apes).

Development of The Lord of the Rings started off at Miramax, together with the notorious Weinstein brothers who approached the project with numerous Tony Soprano tactics. Especially Harvey. Problems arose when the Weinsteins couldn’t raise more than 75 million dollars for the initial plan of a two movie adaptation which wasn’t nearly enough. After Jackson understandably refused to make it into one large movie, the Hollywood mogul and Kiwi director had a fall out. Then Jackson’s US manager Ken Kamiss negotiated with Harvey Weinstein and they got four weeks to strike a deal with another studio. This became the now legendary deal with New Line Cinema, who gambled the studio’s future on the project. It was New Line’s Bob Shaye who suggested they make it into three rather than two movies. The Weinsteins got a great bargain out of it: big time profits and their names on the movies’ credits.

So began the longest and most exhaustive production in the history of motion pictures. No studio had ever attempted to shoot a whole trilogy in one go, for good reasons. “Had we known in advance how much we would have to do, we would have never done it”, said Jackson. But a strong passion and drive by the entire cast and crew to bring Tolkien’s world to the big screen in the best possible way they could, eventually lead to a glorious result. Nobody expected it to become that good.

I remember being completely blown away at every screening back in 2001, 2002 and 2003. These movies are absolutely perfect. The first time I saw the fellowship march on Howard Shore’s brilliant score. The wondrous Gollum crawling into frame in the beginning of The Two Towers. The Rohirrim’s epic assault at the Pelennor Fields… And so many other magic moments forever branded in the collective cinematic consciousness. Jackson gave me and my generation a cinematic experience that could match, or even exceed, the excitement of the original Star Wars trilogy.

In The Two Towers, when Gandalf returns from death, he explains to his baffled friends: “I have been sent back until my task is done.” These words are not directly from Tolkien, but from screenwriters Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens. They emphasized fate as one of the core themes of the story: “Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” However pragmatic these New-Zealanders may be, fate was their compass in making those movies. Many chance encounters paved the way, major obstacles arose during production, but they overcame them all. It took the toughness of the bravest of hobbits to drive this one home. Even the conservative Academy didn’t fail to notice what they accomplished, and The Return of the King was awarded 11 major Oscars (except those for acting, the outstanding ensemble cast made it tough to single out any one actor).

Years later, fate lead to Jackson directing The Hobbit and so he had the ‘once in a lifetime experience’ twice (but there won’t be a third time, he has said). Jackson and his loyal team never expected to make better movies than Rings. They made The Hobbit to satisfy the fans. And they did for most part. To them, Jackson is a hero. A maverick filmmaker with an unique vision and the drive and mental toughness to accomplish things previously undreamed of. Jackson and his fellowship of collaborators reminded Hollywood on how to make really major cinema. They also put New-Zealand firmly on the map as country where movies and special effects are dreamt up.

Because special effects are Jackson’s big thing. He discovered the magic of filmmaking when he was nine years old and saw the original King Kong on television. Since that moment, he worked non-stop on creating special effects in his garage and eventually he completed a whole movie (Bad Taste) which became a cult hit. However successful his career got since, he never stopped aiming to satisfy that nine year old boy. In making The Lord of the Rings, he focused on making movies that he would enjoy himself. Even though he is a brilliant, technical craftsman and storyteller, his youthful energy is what really catapults his films from merely good to terrific.

With The Lord of the Rings, he wrote movie history. Anything you can imagine perfectly captures this history of how an outsider succeeded wildly in Hollywood. Much like the heroes of his story, he did it by staying true to himself. He may not have had to face the horrific challenges Frodo had, but at times it certainly came close. Sometimes you need an unlikely hero to change the course of history. And very much like his protagonist Frodo Baggins, Peter Jackson certainly fits that bill.

The Sopranos Ending Explained: Tony is not Definitively Dead, but his Future Looks Bleak

10 June 2007, 10 years ago today, the legendary finale of the legendary HBO-show ‘The Sopranos’ was aired. It became perhaps the most discussed moment in television-history…

I remember the day after when everybody was confused as hell about it (or just pissed off). Creator David Chase said he hadn’t intended to be coy, he just wanted to entertain his audience. That may be so, but what was the audience to make of the ambiguous ending in which protagonist Tony Soprano – after having his arch enemy Phil Leotardo killed – visits an American diner with his family to have onion rings? A suspicious looking man sits at the bar and goes to the bathroom later. And Tony tells his wife Carmella that one of his crew members, Carlo, will testify against him. That’s basically it. Then the screen suddenly goes black while on the jukebox, the song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey is still playing. At ‘don’t stop’, it stops.

For those who need a reminder, it’s right here:

One theory that quickly appeared was that the suspicious man shot Tony when exiting the bathroom and that the moment this happened, the camera switched to Tony’s point of view, indicating his death with the black screen. Others claimed that the ‘hints’ for Tony’s suggested death didn’t mean anything, and that the show ‘just ended’.

These two opinions lead to furious debate on the International Movie Database that went on for nearly ten years, until IMDb shut down the message board early 2017.

In this article I will explain what really happened, what David Chase meant (and didn’t mean), and how we are to interpret certain clues. But in advance: both of the theories stated above are wrong. Chase has said so himself. Obviously there were clues for Tony’s death – it’s ridiculous and insulting to Chase to state the show simply ended. But he didn’t intend for the viewer to interpret these clues as Tony’s definitive death either… Here’s why…

‘There are only two endings for a high profile guy like me, dead or in the can, big percent of the time.’
– Tony Soprano in ‘For All Debts Public and Private’ (SE4, EP1)

In retrospect, this quote already told us how the show would end. Except it wasn’t one or the other. Rather, Tony Soprano got both. The New Jersey mob boss ended up like physicist Schrödinger’s cat, both dead and alive at the same time.

Why did he get both endings? Well, there are certainly clues that a hitman is after Tony in the final scene. I won’t go into great detail about this, but the most important clues are several instances of foreshadowing during the final season, most notably his brother-in-law Bobby Bacala telling Tony: ‘you probably don’t even hear it when it happens’ and New York mobster Gerry Torciano being murdered in a restaurant and Silvio not realizing it till blood splattered in his face. The way the final scene is shot – moving in and out Tony’s point of view – could mean a bullet entered his brain the moment the screen goes black.

But murder is certainly not the only option, as there is also the threat of indictment. as one of Tony’s associates, Carlo, has flipped and is about to spill his guts to the FBI. That means that besides the option of Tony getting whacked, he could be indicted. I refer once again to the quote above.

Dead or in the can… Wasn’t it Carmela who – earlier during the final season – feared these two options like a piano hanging over their heads? It was also Carmela who asked Tony in the episode ‘Sopranos Home Movies’ (during the opening scène of the final season, that should not be overlooked): ‘Is this it?’, referring to the FBI ringing the doorbell.

David Chase has said about the ending: ‘There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clean trend on view – a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela’s future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn’t really matter.’

It is interesting that Chase uses the word ‘it’. This could refer to Tony’s death, but it might as well be referring to Tony’s arrest. Both options would have a significant impact on Tony and Carmela’s (lack of) future. That is the explanation for the ending right there. There is a sense of impending doom, but by the time the screen goes black, nothing has happened yet, unless a bullet has entered Tony’s brain at that point, ending his life immediately. And there are certainly reasons to think that, but it remains only one out of several bleak options for Tony’s future.

The ending is just simply showing us how Tony’s life is at this point. What has the show been about in the first place? In simple terms: a mobster in therapy. The ending shows us that Tony has made his choices. He had the opportunity to change his ways, but didn’t. So the consequences are his and are very likely going to be severe, like the monks told him in his coma dream in the episode ‘Join the Club’. A very significant scene earlier in the season was a conversation Tony had with Little Carmine Lupertazzi in which Lupertazzi (who was generally considered an idiot in mob circles) told Tony he had quit the gangster life in order to spend more time with his family in peace and happiness. If only Tony had made the same decision he could have perhaps avoided the only two endings of the mob life. Now it’s definitely too late.

That is the point the final scene makes. Death could come knocking at any time and for any reason. An indictment could come at any time as well. With Carlo in the hands of the feds, it is only a matter of time before they come for Tony….

We have witnessed the life of Tony for eight years. We have seen him steal, scheme, cheat and murder. He also reaped the benefits of his criminal life: woman, luxury, respect, money. But off course a price has to be paid. The mobster’s life is destructive, as we have seen many times during the series…

Most of Tony’s mob friends, who lived the same type of life, are now dead or in the can (but mostly dead) or in a coma. For Tony, who was always a little luckier and smarter, the consequences come a little later. David Chase didn’t want to show that crime doesn’t pay, but he also didn’t want to show that crime does pay. The ending gives us exactly that; a mosaic of possibilities, limited down to the overall negative. Logical consequences of a life in crime, but nowhere moralistic. The ending in that sense is crystal clear, but to explain it would be to diminish it. And that’s what Chase meant with: ‘there is no mystery’ and ‘I’m not trying to be coy’.

The major point is to not look at the ending as storytelling, but more in terms of the overall themes that the show was covering. David Chase has said he was inspired by ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in creating the final scene. What did Kubrick say about that ending? “They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded.”

This 2001-influence was very palpable. For example when Tony enters the restaurant, he looks at a seat and then suddenly… he is sitting there without having crossed the space in between! That is quantum-weirdness going on… Chase is telling us: this is an experience, not straightforward storytelling. Chase has also said many times that he was inspired by David Lynch in making ‘The Sopranos’. Nobody ever claimed to fully understand a David Lynch film. They are moving paintings. There are always possible interpretations, but never convey one definite meaning or truth.

Chase is making a philosophical statement about the nature of life and death rather than showing death itself. It often arrives suddenly and you’re not necessarily ready or prepared. In the case of a Mafia member it is even worse. Murders usually happen from behind, so that makes for a shitty death experience. Ironically, sudden death came for James Gandolfini, one of the greatest actors ever who made Tony Soprano such an unforgettable character.

But it doesn’t have to be a murder that ends the mobster, there is prison too. What is the point of mentioning Carlo if the scene is only about the supposed hit on Tony? Another consequence of the life of the mobster is that you can get busted at any moment, and since a made member has certainly committed crimes that can get him into prison for life (like Johnny Sack who died in prison earlier this season), he is constantly facing the end. Tony and Carmella both knew this. What a way to live…

And since death comes suddenly, it is important to enjoy the good times with your family, exactly like A.J. reminds his father to do. David Chase has confirmed the above open interpretation in an interview with The Directors Guild of America. He states:

“I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed … Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.”

He continues: “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.”

Conclusion
This is the end. It might not be the epic conclusion some were hoping for, but it’s a unique scene nevertheless. Chase makes an almost cosmic experience out of something ordinary like eating onion rings in an American diner. Like he said, there is nothing definite about what happened, but we do get a clean trend on view on what Tony and Carmela’s future looks like. ‘The Sopranos’ was never the show to tie up everything neatly anyway. In that sense, there is quite a lot of closure in the final season. Therefore, the ending is as fitting an ending as it can be with loads of stuff to analyze for the fans even 10 years later. Salute.