Book Excerpt: Sopranos Psychology

There are homages to other films throughout The Sopranos. Christopher shoots a bakery clerk in the foot, recollecting a similar incident in GoodFellas, when Michael Imperioli played a waiter in a tavern who himself was shot in the foot by Joe Pesci's character. The bakery clerk screams, "You shot my foot!" As he walks out the door, Christopher says, "It happens," a sly reference to his character in GoodFellas. Tony seeks out further therapy with a male therapist decked out in blue jeans, Western tie and cowboy boots. Tony uses a pseudonym to avoid recognition, but Dr. Hopalong is not fooled: "Mr. Spears … I watch the news like everyone else. I know who you are. And I saw Analyze This. I don't need the ramifications that could arise from treating someone like yourself." Tony pleads with him: "Analyze This? Come on, it's a f------- comedy!" The writers of The Sopranos know that life imitates art and vice versa, and they use this device with great flair.

In The Sopranos, art also imitates life. The nicknames "Big P----" and "Little P----" were taken from actual gangsters from the 1940s. Jerry Adler's character, Hesh, was based on a Jewish record producer in the 1950s who was reported to have had connections with the Gambino family. The blowing up of Artie's restaurant, Vesuvio's, paralleled a mob incident in Providence, Rhode Island. A hit was planned at the Providence establishment, so the restaurant was torched to avoid adverse publicity.

The writers are particularly fascinated with the role that film plays in how the mobsters form their identities. Christopher is a frustrated screenwriter, and the more he learns about screenwriting, the more he senses that his life falls short of the mobsters he sees in the movies. Over and over again he laments that while every character in the narrative of a film has "an arc," he himself has no arc.

During the second season, Christopher becomes obsessed with a film Jon Favreau is making on the streets of New Jersey and serves as a de facto consultant after he shows up on the set and advises the director on the proper use of indigenous slang for female genitalia. Favreau and his assistant Amy (Alicia Witt) listen intently to Christopher as he tells about a colleague of his who was getting a blow job from a gorgeous woman, only to discover the "she" is a "he." Amy chimes in: "Crying Game." Favreau corrects her sternly: "It's a true story." Although life is like a film in some ways, it's not the same thing. Christopher's stint as technical advisor is less than auspicious, however, and he returns to his humdrum existence as a foot soldier in Tony Soprano's army.

In one of the more amusing scenes, we see Dr. Melfi at home with her parents and her son, Jason. For reasons that are not clear, her ex-husband is also present at the dinner table. She has let slip that she is treating a Mafia don, and her ex-husband gets on his soapbox about the stigma attached to being Italian American. He tells her that five thousand Mafia members give a bad name to twenty million Italian Americans. To his surprise, his son Jason jumps to the defense of the stereotype, pointing out that Italian mobster movies are classic American cinema like Westerns, giving iconic and mythic status to Italian gangsters. Jennifer's father agrees with his grandson.

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