Sopranos

How James Gandolfini And Tony Soprano Broke New Ground In Talking About Mental Health

HBO crime series The Sopranos remains a cult classic for so many different reasons, having revolutionised the gangster genre while also launching fistfuls of young actors' careers. Even its opening credits alone remain an iconic chunk of TV history.

How James Gandolfini And Tony Soprano Broke New Ground In Talking About Mental Health

But the way in which it has proved to be the most groundbreaking was, without doubt, its nuanced, melancholic lead character, Tony Soprano.

On what would have been the 57th birthday of James Gandolfini, it's worth looking at the messages of the show that aren't always remembered, and re-evaluating what was one of his finest hours as an actor.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

 

Tony Soprano, who resembles a big-bellied, brooding silverback gorilla, is not only the patriarch of his middle-class New Jersey family home, but also the head of a powerful and devious criminal organisation.

In season one, we meet Tony on the brink of a mid-life crisis, begrudgingly opening up to therapist Dr Melfi about family life, his childhood and, even more tentatively, his life of crime - which, of course, he must only allude to so as not to implicate his therapist.

Over the course of the show, the big boss reveals his secrets and tries to come to grips with the fact that despite his power, at times, he is powerless to control his own mind.

He keeps his psychotherapy sessions secret from many, including other men from within his crime family. There's a shame attached to it.

And it wasn't just Tony that helped break the mould for the toxic masculinity we've seen elsewhere.

 

During one memorable scene, Tony and his nephew Christopher discuss depression and suicide, in what has become one of the show's most poignant sequences.

In an awkward exchange, Chris opens up to Tony, sighing as he battles with understanding what the hell is going on in his mind.

"It's like the fucking regular-ness of life is too fucking hard for me or something," he says, explaining that sleeping it the 'only thing' he still enjoys.

Left to ruminate as Tony doesn't know what to say, Chris suggests that he thinks he has cancer - a physical disease that would at least explain the way he's been feeling.

"Something fucking horrible is going on inside my body, it's a physical change or something," he tells Tony.

Credit: HBO
Credit: HBO

But, of course, it's not cancer, it's depression, and the fact that Chris is unknowingly able to sum it up for so many able to actually sum it up for so many - 'the regular-ness of life is too fucking hard for me' - is truly groundbreaking stuff.

The conversation about mental health may have opened up a great deal since the early days of The Sopranos, but here's hoping the conversation continues to only build - making awkward exchanges like Tony and Chris' a thing of the past.

'U OK M8?' is an initiative from LADbible in partnership with a range of mental health charities which features a series of films and stories to raise awareness of mental health.

 

Explore more here and don't suffer in silence. Reach out. It's the brave thing to do.

MIND: 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans: 116 123.

CALM: Outside London 0808 802 5858, inside London 0800 58 58 58.

Mental Health Foundation

Featured Image Credit: HBO