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An Interpretation Of Dreams In ‘The Sopranos’

sopranos dreams

HBO

Life is but a dream, as the song says. The act of dreaming is one of the most fascinating and mysterious parts of being alive – and that’s why it makes such compelling subject matter for storytelling. From Shakespeare to David Lynch, storytellers have exploited the almost infinite narrative and thematic possibilities of dreams. Let’s take a closer look at The Sopranos dreams.

The creative team behind The Sopranos were masterful in their portrayal of dreams. Dream sequences on The Sopranos often seem to capture what the actual experience of dreaming is really like. It’s hard to make dreams on film look authentically dreamlike, so you notice when it’s done well.

Surrealism in The Sopranos Dreams

The Sopranos achieves authenticity in its dream sequences by deploying heavy doses of surrealism achieved with simple effects. In Tony’s dreams, fish can talk, significant people in his life switch roles, and real life plays out on television. He is frequently visited by the deceased, who complain about the afterlife, or beckon from beyond. The dead might walk around with a gory bullet hole on their forehead. This gruesome approach to dead visitors in Tony’s dreams is reminiscent of the effects in the movie An American Werewolf in London – where the protagonist is visited by a slowly decaying specter of a friend.

Another Sopranos dream element that feels authentic is that sometimes Tony’s dreams burst with poignant symbolism, and other times they’re just nonsense. The symbolism often revolves around his therapist Dr. Melfi, who becomes a conduit for Tony’s feelings or a surrogate for other characters. Melfi is merged with Tony’s mother in one dream and replaced by his lover in another. This also reflects Tony’s complex feelings for the doctor who analyses him and who he desires.

Sopranos Dreams: Analyzing ‘Funhouse’

The show’s most famous dream episode is titled ‘Funhouse,’ and Tony’s surreal dreams in this episode do feel like he’s seeing his life reflected back at him in a distorted funhouse mirror. Let’s analyze this episode, which is the finale of Season 2. The episode delivers narrative payoff to a slow-burning storyline involving the mob captain Big Pussy, who Tony’s crew will execute for singing to the FBI.

Ingenious effects are used to create a surreal atmosphere in Tony’s dreams. He walks past things that are moving at different speeds than him, and we hear exaggerated squeaking sounds that could be the creaky boardwalk under his feet or surreal seagull squawks. Reality bleeds in and out of Tony’s dreams; such as when a dream version of Christopher hands Tony a roll of toilet paper because Tony has been shitting his brains out in real life. All of these dream details feel realistic to what actual dreams look and feel like.

‘Funhouse’ has an oceanic theme, which is bolstered throughout by references to fish and the sea. In one of the first scenes, the camera lingers on a large fish being delivered to a table at restaurant where Tony is eating. Tony soon comes down with a nasty case of food poisoning, and his friend Artie Bucco says he’s “green around the gills.” When Tony becomes delirious with sickness, he sings the theme song to ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ His fever dreams take place at the boardwalk next to the sea, and he dreams of fish. The last shot of the episode is a shot of crashing waves.

This ocean theme has several purposes. The narrative purpose is that Pussy’s body will be dumped into the sea by the end of the episode. The symbolic purpose is that the ocean symbolizes the subconscious, where Tony’s thoughts and emotions reside beneath the surface of his waking mind. Tony’s subconscious literally speaks to him in his dreams.

This pivotal narrative moment occurs when Tony sees his friend Big Pussy manifested as a talking fish at a seafood stand. The fish version of pussy tells Tony, “You know I’ve been working with the government, right Ton? … C’mon, Ton. Sooner or later you gotta face facts.” When Tony wakes up, he immediately puts a plan in motion to kill Pussy. The revelation in his dream has caused him to take action in real life.

This moment works because the revelation about Pussy’s betrayal is not new information – it’s simply Tony’s subconscious forcing him to admit something that he has suspected for a long time. As Pussy says, Tony is facing the facts in his dream.

The fish in Tony Soprano’s dream accomplishes so many things at once. It propels the story’s narrative by providing information that will put Tony in action when he wakes up. It illustrates the ocean theme of the episode. Finally, it’s a reference to The Godfather. This episode was written by David Chase and Todd Kessler, and these two guys really got a lot of mileage out of that fish.

If you enjoyed this analysis of The Sopranos dreams, you’ll love the rest of our Sopranos coverage:

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