Scenes That I Love: The Ending of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America


The final moments of Sergio Leone’s epic 1984 gangster film, Once Upon A Time in America, are filed with questions and mysteries.

In 1968, who did Noodles (played by Robert De Niro) see standing outside of Max’s mansion?  When the garbage truck pulled up, did the mysterious man get in the truck or was he thrown in by some unseen force?

Why, in 1968, did Noodles see a car from the 1920s, one that was full of people who appeared to be celebrating the end of prohibition?  Was the car really there, in 1968, or was it an element of Noodles’s past as a gangster suddenly popping into his mind?

When we then see a young Noodles in an opium den, are we flashing back to the 1920s?  Is Noodles remembering the past or is it possible that we’ve been in the 20s the whole time and all of the scenes set in 1968 were actually only a drug-induced dream?

Why, with men looking to kill him and all of his friends apparently dead, does Noodles suddenly smile at the end of the film?  Is that sudden smile a result of the drugs or is there something else going on?

Once Upon A Time In America was Sergio Leone’s final film.  It’s one that he spent decades trying to get made and, once it was finally produced, it was butchered and re-edited by a studio hacks who demanded that the film tell its story in a linear style.  Leone was reportedly heart-broken by how his film was treated.  Some have speculated that his disappointment may have even contributed to the heart attack that eventually killed him.  It was only after Leone passed that his version of Once Upon A Time In America became widely available in the U.S.  This enigmatic epic continues to spark debate.  One thing that can’t be denied is that it’s a brilliant film.

As today is Leone’s birthday, it only seems appropriate to share a scene that I love, the ending of Once Upon A Time In America.

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