Re: Once Upon a Time in America

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Monday, July 27, 1998 4:20 PM

b/r vinik wrote in message
>Would somebody please explain the ending of this great
>movie (i.e., James Woods and the garbage truck)?

The scene conveys that James Woods commits suicide by going into the back of the dump truck. As you may recall, in the previous scene, Woods had asked DeNiro to kill Woods, giving DeNiro the satisfaction of obtaining revenge for years of betrayal, at the same time precluding Woods from being killed shortly thereafter by the union thugs who don't want Woods to testify in the union-funds scandal. Woods had the authority to give orders that a truck be outside his home at an appointed time, inasmuch as he had begun a trucking syndicate at the end of Prohibition (using the trucks that had been used to haul booze).

Symbolically, we should take it that Woods -- or the filmmakers - - summarizes his life at its ends as being garbage. (Shortly thereafter, the film will offer a summarizing image of DeNiro's life, that it is one of narcotic-like delusion, of dissociated images.)

The scene at the back of the garbage truck apparently perplexed American preview audiences, and led to the only footage/sound substitution in the short theatrical version: when DeNiro leaves Woods's home in the short version, we hear the sound of a gunshot (not heard in the long version), indicating Woods's suicide by gunshot rather than (as in the other versions) by combining his innards with rubbish.

--David Hayes


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