Once Upon A Time in America: The Use of the Mirror

Essay by Lollygagers15High School, 10th gradeA-, November 2004

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Directed by Sergio Leone, Once Upon a Time in America is a film that is placed as one of the top mobster movies ever assembled. The epic film chronicles the lives and loves of a band of Jewish mobsters from Brooklyn. Beginning with their boyhood in the 1920's, the film covers the story from the point of view of the aging troupe's clever ringleader, Noodles. He recounts the tale of a life filled with brutality, violence, betrayal, and love. Also in Once Upon A Time In America we find trails of this expressive subtlety in the treatment of an element repeated in this Leone's films: the own image which is demonstrated through the use of mirrors in this film.

The first mirror of the movie is that of the already commented sequence of the bus station which Noodles sees his face of an old man reflected on to the sound of Yesterday (from which Morricone conveniently eliminates the lyrics with the exception of the first word: Yesterday, in order to make us recall the song and recognize that we don't remember the lyrics anymore) ;in a first moment the spectator could interpret the look of Robert De Niro as nostalgia of a lost youth, something that the music contributes to, nevertheless a repeated vision of the film allows us to interpret his gaze as a remembrance of the words the child Deborah told him fifty years back, but forward in the film, in front of a mirror like this: "Look at yourself in the mirror, Noodles" obliging him cruelly to face his reality, hitting him with her superiority as an unreachable beauty and as a person who will be able to succeed.

The bitter gaze of this teenager Noodles in the second mirror is, in fact, the same gaze...