Monday, July 18, 2005

Once Upon a Time in America

Sergio Leone's filmmaking career concluded with the film, Once Upon a Time in America, a film that's different from everything else I've seen by him, for a number of reasons, most notably the fact that this film isn't a Western. Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West was unquestionably a masterpiece, a film that took full advantage of the medium and featured images that just popped off the screen. It was a completely unique film, like nothing I've ever seen before.

The major problem I had with 'America' was that it felt like I'd seen this film before in a whole bunch of other films. The prohibition era child gangsters struggling to rule a town reminded me a lot of Godfather II, a bit too much. That part of the film, while well made and interesting to watch, just felt too much like something I'd seen before. That's my main problem with the whole film, it feels like a slight variation on stuff that had already been done flawlessly in The Godfather. The style of the two films are very similar, and they're both good, but The Godfather was released first, and I saw it first, so 'America' comes off as a bit of a retread.

But, stepping back a bit, the film is nearly four hours long, one of the longest mainstream movies ever made, and that means that you're forced to approach this movie in a different way than you would a normal length film. Because it's four hours, you get more the sense of going to a world than of watching one story. You see snippets from the life of Noodles, but the narrative is largely episodic, most of the tension comes from trying to figure out what Noodles mission in 1968 is, and seeing what caused the death of Noodles' gang.

The film was never boring, but considering how long it is, I expected a bit more to happen. I admire the creation of a world, that's one of the best things that film can do, but Noodles is a nonentity as a protagonist, and things just happen, there's not much dramatic tension. This is quite different from 'West,' where the tension built up about the Harmonica/Frank confrontation becomes almost unbearable and you're desperate for them to act. Here, you're watching stuff happen, but you don't feel that much stake in the narrative.

So, Leone moves away from a traditional narrative, and instead uses a film to show the life of Noodles as he and Max move from street level child gangsters to prohibition era bootlegging gods. The story of Noodles is a device to show us an overview of the way organized crime and the government have interacted over the course of American history. In the early days, blackmailing a cop can get you the run of the streets, in the 20s, intimidating the police can break up strikes and help gain favors from politications, and by the end of the film, Max has ascended from gangster to politician, not to mention presumed head of the 'legitimate' carting industry. So, as America grows up, its gangsters become its leaders.

But, Noodles never wanted to be anything more than a street level gangster, and that's why he's a powerless old man at the end of the film. He never saw more than the cash in his hands, while Max had vision, his alliances eventually landing him a government position. But, at the end of the film, it's Max who's unhappy, not the powerless Noodles. However, by refusing to kill Max, Noodles for once claims the authority in their relationship.

The film has some very cool visual moments. I loved the scene at the beginning of the film where we start in the 30s with Noodles buying a bus ticket, and then the song 'Yesterday' starts playing and we jump to the 60s in one cut. Really strong use of music. Reading reviews online, a lot has been made of the unique chronological structure. Now maybe at the time it was groundbreaking, but to me, it seemed fairly conventional. We've got a framing device, with the old Noodles, and then he flashes back to different points in his life. It's not particularly confusing, but again, this may be something that's become more popular in recent years, and at the time was very bold. I love multiple time line jumping around, as in a film like The Hours, so I wish the chronologies were a bit more mixed up than they are.

The most interesting relationship in the film was that between the young versions of Noodles and Deborah. There's the beautifully shot ballet scene, and their whole relationship is a sort of hesitant dance, both of them unafraid to express their feelings, something that's not helped by Noodles allegiance to the gang. Jennifer Connelly, of Requiem for a Dream fame, plays young Deborah, and she's great. Elizabeth McGovern, who plays the older version of Deborah is very weak in comparison.

That whole relationship goes awry in the 30s section of the film with a really odd rape scene. I get why it happens, but the reaction of Deborah to the event just feels off. It should be more traumatic than it is, and the lightness with which it's dealt is only magnified by the scene in which Noodles rapes Carol and she ends up liking it, and later dates him. I've never known anyone who's been raped, but if you consider what the act is, this film treats it as something not that bad, and I can't agree with that, especially when you compare it with a film like Irreversible, where the entire plot is about how bad rape is. Deborah seems pretty cool with Noodles in the 60s, and yes, time has passed, but I still think she forgives him too easily. I'm not saying the film has to give the characters legal or moral consequences about the act, but between each other, there should have been something to show that the act does have gravity.

From reading online, I've seen that a lot of people consider the whole film an opium fever dream or vision of the future, citing the 30s cars at Bailey's mansion and the bookending of the film with scenes of Noodles smoking opium. I'm not sure I agree, and even if this is true, does it really matter? When I watched the film, I assumed the 30s cars was just Noodles remembering his past, not as if he's seeing a vision of something from another time. The film could not be just a dream, because of the presence of the song 'Yesterday,' that song means that either he is legitimately seeing the future, or the time periods are just intercut, which is what I assumed after viewing the film. The film isn't shot in such a way that it couldn't all be real.

I think my biggest problem with this film is the same problem I have with The Godfather, Goodfellas and other 'Golden Age' gangster movies. These films all either outright glorify, or at least seem enamored of the ganster lifestyle the characters live, it's all a nostalgic look back. These films, while all masterfully constructed, don't feel particularly relevant to modern life, something that's made all the more apparent by watching the work that was designed as a reaction to these films, The Sopranos.

The Sopranos is all about destroying the gangster mythology and showing us the mob as violence prone extortionists, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. But, more importantly, the show gives us fully realized characters, who aren't just gangsters, they're ordinary people who just happen to make their living in an unordinary way. The best genre fiction is that which uses the genre as a way to make ordinary life seem more exciting, something exemplified by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which turns an ordinary breakup into a world threatening event. The Sopranos gives the conflict between work and family, and the difficulty of dealing with the mythical past of 'the greatest generation' added urgency by making the stakes life or death instead of just happy or unhappy.

Most importantly, The Sopranos creates characters not archetypes. Tony is one of the most complex characters ever created, he's more developed in the first one hour episode than Noodles is over this entire four hour film. But, perhaps Leone never intended to let us understand Noodles, we just observe him. Observation can work, but really caring about a character almost always produces a more interesting work. We want Tony to do good, and are disappointed in him when he doesn't. With Noodles, we don't really care, we're just watching to see the world that Leone created.

So, The Sopranos punctures the gangster mythology and creates real characters with mundane lives instead of mythic figures. This may be symptomatic of the difference between mediums. Film is designed to create icons, heroes who are unequivocably heroic, but with TV, you spend much more time with these people, so you can't have icons, you need to have people, and people are always more interesting than icons.

Seeing The Sopranos shows that you can have fully developed characters in genre fiction, and Leone doesn't pull that off here. That doesn't mean it's a bad film, it just means that you're more an observer than a participant in the film. It's a very interesting four hours, but there's no real tension, and that hurts the film. Still, you have to admire the fact that this guy can make a four hour film that doesn't really examine any characters and still keep an audience entertained throughout. That's a testament to the power of his images and to just how big the film's scope is.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick

I just saw Once Upon A Time in America at Film Forum and really enjoyed reading your insightful review. I reveled, voluptuously, in the beautiful imagery and sonics of the film but, like you, found the plot and character development lacking.

But it's the kind of film you like to talk about and share with others, so I was glad to find your thoughts about it online.

Patrick said...

Thanks, it's quite a film, and must have been great in the theater. I've been meaning to rewatch it for a while now, but it's a major commitment. I'll probably give another look to Once Upon a Time in the West first. And, after the Academy Awards, I'm a bit angry that OUATITW was left out of the Morricone montage.

Anonymous said...

Hey Patrick,

Can someone explain why exactly Max decides to fake his own death at the expense of letting his two friends die and Noodles thinking he killed him? Also, can you clarify for me whether or not Deborah had become lovers with Max/Bailey and if Max and Deborah had the son together?

Anonymous said...

Also, why does Max attack Noodles twice during the film when he calls him crazy? Why is this such a sensitive thing for Max?

Anonymous said...

I am glad someone agrees that the rape scenes were "taken lightly." They are far more serious than they were portrayed.
The movie had beautiful scenery and was very nostalgic but overall I was very dissapointed.

Patrick said...

The rape in this film was handled very poorly. As for the other questions, I can't remember exactly, but when I rewatch the film I'll post back here with how I saw it. It's not easy to go back in for the full four hours.

Mariano said...

Yeah, I was disturbed too about the rape treatment, but... I know it's al about perspective when watching a movie, but I really think that "oddness" and "naturality" about the rape, is part of Deborah's personality. I mean, it's more like a "dissapointment" with Noodles, after she confirms he'll never be more than a common thug.

I love this movie, I really do, and I think Noodles story is a very sad story, but treated in a more "adult" way. Not a lot of drama, just the life-and mistakes- as it is.

-Now, Deborah and Max WERE lovers... that's their kid there.
-Max let's them die, because he is convinced he'll never get anywhere "high" with them. Is the price he accepts in exchange of a new life, a rpice he pays every day until his death.
- Being "crazy" made Max crazy! He held his ideals (a luxurious, over the top life) over everything else... he couldn't, ever, let anyone show disrispect for the things he loved the most.

Nice critic Patrick. The film is lenghty, and of course very Godfatheresque, but the story, the melancholic yet visceral love story of Noodles.... gets me every time!

Gordon said...

An essential difference if you will... The Godfather is about family. OUATIA is about friendship. Big difference.

Barry Kelly said...

I find it curious that you point to Godfather / Sopranos for comparison. To me, OUATIA isn't about gangsters at all. It's about choices in life, the links between now and the past, unrequited love and most of all, that you don't know the meaning of what you do until much later. It doesn't remind me of Godfather in the least. The subject matter could have been the construction industry for all the difference it would have made to me, but I think it needed something more dramatic to attract an audience.

OUATIA profoundly affected me, more than any other movie I've ever watched. In some ways, it reminded me of "The Information" by Martin Amis, and in others "In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust.

It's a toss up between it and Coppola's "The Conversation" for my favourite movie. That's not to say that I think either is the best movie I've seen, but rather those that affected me most.

NickBungi said...

To be honest noddles is more of an anti hero in my eyes, his treatment of women can't make you warm to him, I think he just comes across as the lesser of two evils when it comes to him and max though.

Anonymous said...

I have to correct your synopsis above where you stated Noodles rapes Carol and Carol ends up dating Noodles. Carol ended up dating Max, not Noodles. Noodles and Carol never saw eye to eye. They despised each other.

I am glad it is mentioned how the rape scenes were dealt with poorly.

Simon said...

I also don't think it's anything like The Godfather. the themes are very different. America is about friendship and memories, loss and longing.

For more on this amazing film, check out the website:
http://www.onceuponatimeinamerica.net/

Anonymous said...

I respect your opinion but I'd like to say something.
A)The Godfather, as a movie, is very different from OUATIA. I think it's odd that you find both movies similar. The theme of each movie is quite different and only a shallow comprehension would make you think they are similar. Friendship, family and love. Different feelings, different movies.
B)Scarface was a gangster movie. The Godfather and OUATIA are movies whose characters are gangsters. A lot of people thought of Million Dollar Baby as a boxing movie but it was really a father/daughter movie. The same idea can be used with this movie.
C)I find it strange that you think of OUATIA as gangster glorifying movie. The Godfather, American Gangster and Scarface do glorify gangsters. But in OUATIA you never get the feeling that Noodles is going to be happy/fulfilled. When a glimpse of that thought gets to you , you are immediately transported to present time and forced to face the truth. Noodles is old and sad, and no money or glory will change that.
D)I think it's at least odd saying that there is no character development. The movie is four hours long and spans through an entire lifetime. The characters in this movie don't really need to talk to show us how they feel. Character development? Check. Cheap dialog and pointless arguing? No, thanks.
F) People talk a lot about the rape scene, of how poor it is. I find this absurd. It's a very important scene and (nowadays) you'd expect a very sentimental treatment. But Leone doesn't feed you crap: it's a rape and that's it. No apologies. Not only that but it's the movie's most terrifying moment: you discover that Noodles is not a good guy, he just doesn't know how to be one. Do you feel that every death scene in a movie should be in slow-mo? Why should everything get such a treatment? Like I said, this movie is not superficial.
G) I feel no need to discuss the ending because it will ultimately be just my opinion.
H) Also, you shouldn't post spoilers without any kind of warning.

Patrick said...

I don't have an issue with presenting a character who's unapologetic about committing a rape, my issue was with the fact that after a while, the woman seemed to enjoy it, and that's irresponsible. I don't think it's the kind of thing that would happen in real life, but beyond that, it took me out of the film.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I understand you. But I didn't feel that while I was watching the movie. I felt incredibly uncomfortable though, beuause it completely destroys the idea that this man could actually be good. It is possible that she could have enjoyed it, because after all, she did love him. She just wasn't ready. I do think the movie has flaws but I don't feel the need to compare it to the Godfather. I know a couple of people who feel the same way you do about this picture but I thought it was a unique experience.

Anonymous said...

This film is the best ever made.
Unlike the Godfather you see more character development, Leone makes you see what Noodles sees and feel what he feels. People say the rape scenes were treated unapropriatley, this is not so, they were not glamourised in any way but not made to look bad. This is because it is a crucial part of the film which makes you see that Noodles shows no remorse for it.

The flashbacks and fowards are very cleverly used from the time they were kids on the street to old men leading different lives, and are crucial.
What gets me in this film is the guy you think will make it in the world doesnt, and ends up a lonely old man, and brings a tear to my eye in the ending opium house scene, the music and acting makes you think back upon the film and what Noodles went through. A very emotional ending to a fantastic film.
Dan.

Anonymous said...

If you watch closely, you will realize one very important thing about the rape scene and it helps create the rest of the story... SHE WAS A MASOCHIST. She didn't want to be raped but the pain appealed to her masochistic tendencies. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:

Max and Deborah did not have the child David together.
In the dressing room scene, it is explained that Max had married a west coast heiress and had a son with her, but the heiress died.
So Deborah is a surrogate mother for, but not even stepmother to,
David.
At the end, on reflection, Deborah still cares for Noodles who has never stopped caring about her.
It is left in the air whether they
will eventually be reconciled on a permanent level.

Anonymous said...

what was with noodles big grin at the end, what does it refer to?

Eric VV said...

I appreciate your insights, your paragraph about Max and Noodles' interaction with the police was something I never thought through. I do disagree with you that this film along with Goodfellas glorifies the gangster lifestyle. Quite opposite in fact- the characters in the movie certainly do glorify that life, and the directors let you see the world through their eyes at times, but the movies are very clear about the misery and emptiness that comes from this type of lifestyle.

Also, it isn't really fair to compare character development in an ongoing T.V. series to 1 film.

Patrick said...

Yes, I'd agree it's not really fair to compare the character development in The Sopranos 80 hour show to this movie, but at the same time, as a viewer, I can't help but do so. After seeing the depth of someone like Tony, it's hard to engage on a narrative or character level with someone as oblique as Noodles. As such, the primary interest of the film is the visuals and the mysteries of the ambiguous finale.

Philippe said...

There is a sort of ecstatic time and infinite sadness floating around after viewing this movie. But, why Noodles is smiling so positively at the end, while everything has been so sad and went so wrong? It cannot be just the influence of opium, too simple!

In fact, a few clues are left by Leone along the tract. For example when Max attempts to enter the room where Noodle is tipping the police on the phone, he found the door closed. Probable that it never happened before, suggesting Noodles is doing something suspicious inside. Once in the room the camera insists on Max putting the phone back in place, suggesting Max found out Noodles was calling someone. Logically Max should ask who, but his silence suggests he knew Noodles was tipping the police.

Max has decided otherwise of his future, he is ‘crazy’, the prohibition is over, a new life is starting; he kills his friends without regrets, they represent the past, there are an obstacle to his ambition and also there is a price, one million dollar, enough for a gangster to kill.

When Deborah and Noddles are in the car, she is rather consenting at the start of the scene. Noddles is Deborah’s first love, she can’t forget and she has always been in love in some way, only the violent approach of Noddles, probably sequel of his youth passed in jail, creates an atmosphere of rape. Deborah does not want sex this way, not in a car, anyway it is over, she is leaving to accomplish her dreams.

When Noddles and Deborah meet again in 1968, she cannot tell him that a son, David, with his name, is born out of their union. Who would believe that story of Max’s son, and why this guy would appear in the movie at this time anyway, and why the camera is showing David so long!

Max got everything, money, Noodles’ love, his son, and a brilliant political carrier. Unfortunately, he must pay a price for his success (he is a gangster after all) and has no other solution than to die or disappear.

At the end of each time period of the movie, Noodles makes a terrible choice; he choose to avenge his friend and pays by passing his youth in jail, he choose to tip the police to avoid his friend going to jail and pays by going himself in exile; he finally refuses to kill his friend and the movie ends. He is the real true winner, Deborah will be back to him, he has a son, and one million dollars in cash!

Despite all appearances and troubling consequences of his choices, their dictation by love, friendship and respect gives the key to a truly successful life. And opium, in its ability to erase time barrier, reunites everything and tells us Noodles always knew that he was right.

Anonymous said...

I believe this plot was underdeveloped AND THE RELATIONSHIPS UNREALISTIC.
A waste of good talent and my time!
I was drawn to the similar scenes of previous viewed gangster films,and familiar actors but in the end left unsatisfied. It was like hearing the beginning of what seemed to be an interesting story and then left hanging without a believable conclusion! Rape is never found to be enjoyable or so easily accepted! Older Deborah didn't compare to the younger, and the brother had this loyalty which seemed unmerited!
I think I had more hope that something would tie it together, but I must be a glutton for punishment. After the first 2 hours and nothing was going anywhere I regretted in the end that I stuck it out!
I don't know if I am more dissatisfied with my decision to watch this movie or the movie itself! I went to google a review from anyone just to see if I was alone with this frustration. I'm not trying to hurt feelings , I am not perfect and certainly no expert. "Got Plot" if not smoke opium! Wasn't that the cure all! WOW finally to escape reality is an acceptable way to cope!

Anonymous said...

Carol was not raped the way I saw it. It was a rouse. Before the robbery, the fellow who set up the hit tells the gang to treat her rough or something to that effect and descibes having sex with her. Then, as the robbery occurs, she demands to be hit and appears to cooperate with the sex.

This instance stands in stark contrast with the rape of Deborah,

snwbrdr41493@aol.com said...

Patrick,
OUATIA is one of my top 30 favorite movies. However I simply need to know your take on the scene at the end of the movie with the garbage truck. What happened to the man who was walking beside the truck, and was it Max or someone else? Also, do you think that the entire future portion of the movie was an opium trip or not? Please, respond in an email to: snwbrdr41493@aol.com

Anonymous said...

Having just watched the movie a second time I keep concluding that Noodle's smile at the end of the movie is because he knew Max didn't die in the fire with the other two gang members. He smiled because he knew his best friend got away. In the 1968 scenes it explains why he is not angry or vengeful toward Max and refuses to kill him. He didn't know Bailey was Max but probably suspected as much especially when he saw the union man (Treat Williams) on the news caught up in the Bailey scandal. It also explains why he had a, for lack of a better word, puzzled look on his face when he viewed the bodies of his companions at the fire scene.

Anonymous said...

Everytime I watch the film it is like entering another world. However we are forgetting a very significant character or medium in the whole film which is Ennio Morricones music that gives Once Upon A Time In America its magical vibe. However I do not think it is anything like the godfather as the godfather is all about family where as America is all about friendship making it 2 totally different things.

Overall it is my favourite film of all time as I think it is pure perfection. Everyone has different opinions...

Melanie said...

Carol was definitely not raped. That was the whole point there. And it provided a stark contrast to Noodles' rape of Deborah.

Noodles rapes Deborah to obtain revenge on her. He has opened his heart to her, and she has stepped on it by telling him she's leaving for the west coast. It's the nail in the coffin of their ever being able to have a relationship. It's Noodles' direct attempt to turn against a relationship with Deborah and turn toward the crime life--something outlined in the beginning when Young Deborah tells Noodles he can not ever be her "beloved" unless he decides not to become a criminal.

I love period pieces, and I fully appreciated the creation of Noodles' "world" and was fascinated, but I didn't fall in love with any of the characters or was even very interested in what happened to any of them. (After all, one doesn't have to love a main character...but one must be intrigued.) Usually a good period piece starts you off fascinated with the time period, then abducts you by sweeping you into someone's *personal* world. You find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen to that person or to those people. I didn't get that feeling for any of the characters in this story.

Mr Ron said...

I have watched this movie over 5 times. Considering how long it is, you're probably saying something like-this person has too much time on their hands. Let me just say this- This is my all time favorite movie, and I've been going to bed early for the past 35 years. I'm amazed that no one else has focused on what I think is the central portion of the movie- Was this an opium dream in it's entirety, partial, or not at all? Here's my take- It was an opium dream in part, the other parts were the events that took place up until the time of that opiate dream. When were you watching the opiate dream, and when were you watching events? The answer is that only once in this movie does the music score go off to non music, and abrupt sound- this is when Noodles is in the opium den and about to make his get-away. Thing is, I don't think he ever got away. I think that is when he was caught by the police. The movie moves back and forth from the recantation of his opiate dream and past events. He likely completed the recantation 35 years later as he was getting out of prison. It explains the scene at the end, and the 1 major flaw which is how could Max have fallen off the radar undetected especially by Moe or Carol? It also explains the use of 1960's vehicles, and changes in technology present in 1968 but not in 1933, and a type of mish-mash of the 2.Let me know what you think-there is a lot of evidence to back what I'm saying, so if you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear them.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks that noodles stopped before actually raping Deborah? I always believed it gave his character so much more nobility-

Anonymous said...

no, he definitely raped her

Anonymous said...

Maybe he didn't rape her- the film leaves many unanwered questions- I say go with it- he didn't

Anonymous said...

The more I return to OUT-AM, I feel that Noodles simply lost all his friends and bailed out on his only remaining friend to escape by returning to the opium den. The mob in real life had overcome Max's gang and were still gunning for Noodles. They were defeated; Noodles was so overcome that his only means of escape was the result of smoking opium, which left him with a smile, that he somehow returned to kill the mobster watching over Fat Moe. Noodles seems to take the high road within the things that happen after he dreamily wakes up in 1960's New York. Maybe that's why Deborah always forgave him, and why the dollar bills he held in the suitcase were of a different era, and why the U.S. flag was a 50-star flag in the one scene in the 1930's, and why such a prominent politician in Sen. Bailey wasn't recognized by Noodles as his childhood friend. Apparently Sergio Leone even suggested the film was an opium dream in a 1987 interview.

Anonymous said...

when you consider the disgust of the chauffeur, who would not accept any payment from Noodles, then it seems evident that Noodles raped Deborah. I agree with the post that it was out of revenge, and is confirmation of his brutality. Ennio Morricone's score is pure genius in this film.
It's one of my favorite movies of all time.

Anonymous said...

Hey Patrick

I Loved the movie as a whole.. but of course like most people who like or didn't like movie there were some stranges parts..and they didn't really go into detail with some of the scenes but more than that..what was up with the ending? I was lost Lol

Anonymous said...

Couple of points.
The reason Max disliked being called crazy was because, as revealed by an older Caroll, his father was insane and ended up in the nut house. Hence he was determined not to go the same way and wouldn't even entertain the suggestion.
The rape of Caroll was completely different to that of Deborah. Carroll certainly asked for it, Deborah's rape was an act of revenge for her leaving for Hollywood.
Max stole the million dollars and orchestrated the death of his friends and then used his contacts to get into politics, all of which he regretted.
Noodles was someone, who for me, started off as a good kid, turned bad in his twenties and thirties and then turned good in his sixties. And let's be honest, that can be said of a hell of a lot of people!!!
Also, yes there were some questions over the placement of certain things in the wrong decade. Was this meant to show us it was all an opium induced fantasy?? Who cares! And also who knows! This is just a film and one day the director could say it is a fantasy and the next he could say it isn't! It's totally open to opinion but I certainly wouldn't let it detract from what was undoubtedly a beautifully shot movie.

TheFitness said...

First of all - superb review, full of detail and reason (even if I do not fully agree!).

I think the films works with us not really caring about the characters - just my view. It is truly enjoyable throughout, and like you say, making a 4 hour film and not being boring is something to be applauded.

My issue was with certain things not being fully explored, such as the relationship of Noodles with Eve and the build up to the deaths of the 3 friends. Although I understand cutting may have lead to this.

Overall, though, a great movie and great review.

Anonymous said...

Noodles had everything - money, power, friendship and respect. All acquired by being a thug, a gangster. One thing that eluded him was Deborah - an elusive, ephemeral character, pure and out of reach (that's what I read from the ballet scene). The rape scene is Noodles' final attempt to capture Deborah, by the only means he knows how - violence.

Oh Dear.. said...

Hi there,
After reading your review,It has confirmed to me that people who write reviews quite frankly dont see pass their ego opinionated self.

Thanks for teaching me never to read reviews again. :)

Rick said...

Anyone who believes that Noodles, Max and Deborah are not fully developed characters has no understanding of what constitutes "art." Art must be interpreted. If a character tells the audience " I am doing this because I believe this and I feel that way etc. " This is not art. The artist, be it writer or painter creates a world which can be interpreted. In OUATIA, I can easily understand and to some extent empathize with the leading characters. If you do not care about the characters, it is simply because you either don't have much imagination or you have led a very sheltered existence.
My conclusion: The script, acting, and music make this film the best from the 1980's. Who can deny this?

Anonymous said...

The movie is so open ended on purpose: Noodles is the audience, that's what all the talk about him being 'cut out' is about, why he is so passive in comparison to the other characters, always on the margins, a ghost. The whole movie is about illusion & fooling ourselves through dreaming to escape the actual reality, like through movies themselves

Anonymous said...

Remember, this is art, and art is never finished, only abandoned.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion to understand this film and accept its flaws, the viewer has to understand its creator and the history of his cinema. Perhaps the answer is in the film's title. Sergio Leone created fairy tales about the MYTH of America. His cinematic visions were fueled through the memories of an Italy consumed by fascism. American films provided a measure of escape from the horrors of war and malignant power for young Leone.

Cowboys and gangsters were in large part the myth that Leone escaped to and he in turn paid back his debt by making the myth and those characters the foundation of his cinema. But more than simply making westerns and gangster films, Leone re-imagined America's two greatest cinematic treasures and created his own cinematic language.

From the way his film looked, sounded and even moved, Sergio Leone's films are as uniquely his own as any fingerprint and I would argue more so than any other director, this is Genius. And so, to understand that, is to know that ALL his films were set "Once Upon a Time.....", and perhaps it is there that the final image of Noodles smile can be understood. And we, Leone's audience can share Noodles joy each time we re-watch one of Leone's films.

Perhaps last time an opium induced journey would take him to the dusty violent plains of an America that never existed or to the crime ridden streets of New York where love is never quite realized. Sadly, none of us will ever get to take that journey to the other great genre of America cinema, the war film. Ironic that Leone's greatest film, his imagining of Leningrad's 900 days of hell will live on like the the America he so loved, as a myth.

Anonymous said...

I loved the movie, however there was some ambiguity that required me to watch the movie several times before i really understood the story. For example, why was deborah so nervous when young David was at the door? That made tge viewer conclude inaccurately that perhaps David was Noodles child conceived after the rape. However after seeing David's face we know this is wrong because he looks exactly like young Max.

Sher said...

I've watched this movies countless times over the years and always find something new I havent noticed before that adds to my understanding.

As for the rape of Deborah, I think it was givin as much attention as it would have been at the current time of 1930. I'm sure womens rights werent established yet and acts of this nature were probably not a priority to men. I feel Noodles regret and heartbreak for his actions the following scene when he sees Deborah at the station as the train puts away she gets her "FU" in by pulling the shade down. She is a strong woman who will pervail inspite of this injustice.

Noodles physical appearance is so drastic from age to age, sometimes I swear they filmed this over 20 years.



Anonymous said...

there is supposed to be a blue ray coming out with even more extra footage. the extra scenes are already available online