5 Life Lessons To Take Away From “The Sopranos”

We’re grieving in our household because we’ve just completed the final series of The Sopranos.

Cover of "The Sopranos" boxset available at www.amazon.com.au
The Sopranos boxset available at Amazon.

But before any hardcore Sopranos fans jump in with an “I told you so” assumption that our grief is linked to THAT final episode – trust me, it’s not. The old man loved the ending, and while I’ll admit that it finished a little too abruptly for my liking – because I’m one of those sad fucks that likes a happy or at least a conclusive ending and I was desperate to see T say sorry to Carm, JUST ONCE – even I was good with it.

No, we’re grieving because the series was just SO BLOODY GOOD!

Admittedly, when the old man first suggested it, I poo pooed it as not my kind of television – because, frankly, there are enough murders of women in real life and the Mafia is hardly known for its work on human rights or equality. But you know what marriage is like, with its galling expectation to fucking compromise all of the time. So I agreed.

And when it comes to violence, let me confirm that The Sopranos doesn’t disappoint. The drama is horrifically violent in parts – in my opinion, often gratuitously so – which is why it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For example, I can honestly say that the realism of Dr Melfi’s rape is one of the most harrowingly brutal scenes I’ve ever watched.

BUT…and it’s a mega BUT… there is just so much to learn from the series about the human condition. It was just so ahead of its time. But before I go into detail about what I took from it, here’s a quick synopsis for those of you yet to watch it:

In a nutshell, the story is about the life (work and family) of Tony Soprano, a sociopath, and the boss of a Mafia family in New Jersey. When he starts to have panic attacks – due in part to PTSD (caused by the toxicity of his own family), and in part (we suspect), to some level of social conscience about his work – we watch how he continues to justify the shocking decisions he has to make in the name of male pride, his family, (and HIS FAMILY) through social change and the ageing process.

So, what do the shocking truths of Tony’s life teach us about our own:

  1. To start with, the time period in which the series is set makes you realise just how far we’ve come in terms of political correctness. Homosexuality is demonised by the Mafia, as is the idea of not being a “real” man and even putting family ahead of “THE FAMILY”. Then there is the vigorous disapproval of seeking help for mental health issues, and the way that women are abused and subjugated. If ever there was a story that highlights toxic masculinity, this is it.
  2. We are also given an insight into PTSD caused by toxic parenting and how the cycle of abuse may continue. This comes to light during the therapy sessions between Tony and Dr Melfi and then evidenced in the relationship between Tony and his son, AJ.
  3. As we watch Tony’s struggles to evolve and raise his kids in this new, modern world – one in which their views are respected – we find ourselves identifying with his plight as the parent of teenagers. Many times, I found myself identifying with his frustration with AJ (his entitled son), and Meadow, his daughter, who dare to argue with their father about what they want to do with their lives, in spite of their parents’ expectations and power.
  4. Watching Tony’s evolution from husband and serial adulterer into a middle-aged man with guilt issues, is at times tragic, funny, deeply moving, and always mesmerising. The old-fashioned power and behaviours of the patriarchy are evident throughout, but the wind is starting to blow in the other direction and there are signs of their demolition as the female characters become more empowered.
  5. It is a lesson about relationships. In spite of the fact that Tony can’t keep it in his trousers, you know that he still loves Carmela deeply. However, trust is one of the main themes of the series. We know that successful relationships are built on trust, whereas groups such as the Mafia build them on loyalty. Relationships become vulnerable as people grow, and those that rely on nothing greater than lip-service don’t tend to last. Tony works hard on relationships that are meaningful to him – i.e. his blood family’s – but he remains deeply untrusting with outsiders, leaving him isolated, in spite of his seeming position of power.

These lessons, and so many more, is why The Sopranos is such addictive viewing. James Gandolfini’s portrait of Tony Soprano is enthralling to watch. He was highly acclaimed for the interpretation of this chilling, yet charismatic character, which makes the tragedy that his own life was cut so short, somehow all the more poignant. I miss that smile, already.

In Australia, you can watch The Sopranos on Foxtel or buy the boxset from www.amazon.com.au

Maudie, Self-Care and The Simplicity of Love

One pearl of wisdom you finally discover in middle age is the answer to that all-consuming question of “what the fuck is it all about?”.  And that it is “love”, of course.

heart-462873_1920

 

And trust me, you couldn’t find a better demonstration of that than the movie I saw yesterday when Louisa-No-Mates dragged herself along to the movies by herself for some TLS, or tender, loving self-care.

 

The rediscovery of simple things you enjoyed doing in the past is a little tip I picked up in the most recent self-help book I have read on self-love, and as it had been a while since I was brave enough to admit publicly that I have no friends, left the house or got dressed, I decided a trip to the movies would be a good starting point.

 

I rarely to the movies these days, probably due to my warped penchant for sad movies -something that is not shared by anyone else in the family… or anyone really. NC, the logician of the family, can’t bear to watch any movie that attempts to locate her heart strings, doesn’t have dragons, robots or star troopers, while Kurt and the old man – stereotypes for emotionally under-developed males – barely stray from violence or superhero nonsense.

 

Conversely, I like to give my mind and heart a full workout during a movie, and I am drawn to those thought-provoking little gems that usually have fuck-all budget. I like to see characters bare their souls and evolve in stories of personal triumph over tragedy. 

 

Maudie, the movie I saw yesterday, is based on the true story of Canadian artist, Maude Lewis, and her husband Everett. It is set in Nova Scotia, on the edge of a small town that has the appeal and climate extremes of all seven kingdoms of the Game of Thrones combined, and is the story of Maude, a woman physically disabled by arthritis and rejected by her family, who is left no other choice than to work as a housemaid for Everett, who is, in the words of Bridget Jones’ mother, ‘a very cruel man.’

 

In truth, the meat of this story is not the amazing tale of  Maude’s rise to fame to become a successful folk painter, but rather the simple and unlikely romance that develops between her and Everett, a man also starved of love as a child, and the way in which she successfully unlocks his unyielding heart.

 

‘The world didn’t give this woman much, but then, not much was required to make her happy.’ (Bob Mondello)

 

For while her painting fulfills her need for creative expression, Maude’s main goal in life is to be loved and to achieve happiness. Her poor start has made her more determined to find someone to love her, and although Everett is hardly Romeo material, (nor very much of a talker), when he demonstrates his developing love for her through small acts of kindness – albeit without grace – these are enough to give Maude the hope she needs to stay with him. 

 

‘I have been loved,’ Maude tells him when the light globe of Everett’s emotional intelligence finally switches on and he comprehends what she truly means to him.

 

‘It’s a story of pain and difficulty and cold, and also of happiness.’ (Glenn Kenny)

 

It is a story about the fabric of life and love.