Christopher Moltisanti’s screenplay Cleaver becomes inexorably woven into The Sopranos narrative as his self-proclaimed magnum-opus evolves across the show’s 6 seasons. Michael Imperioli’s Moltisanti cuts a frustrating figure, with his rich promise as a family capo often undermined by his addictive personality and subsequent substance abuse issues. Christopher’s nadir in The Sopranos coincides with Cleaver‘s doomed premiere, where he is killed shortly after by an increasingly irked Anthony Soprano.
HBO’s The Sopranos is one of the greatest shows of all time, in part due to the intricacy of its numerous subplots, with Christopher Moltisanti’s creation of Cleaver being one such thread. Cleaver‘s inception begins in season 1, where Chris teases his screenplay ideas to much chagrin from his fellow gangsters. However, the Cleaver idea incubates across The Sopranos, becoming fully realized in the final two seasons as newly crowned capo Christopher finds the confidence and means to make his Saw movie rip-off a reality.
The Sopranos‘ Cleaver represents far more than just a failure of a direct-to-DVD slasher film taking its ham-fisted cues from Saw and Academy Award winner The Godfather. The metafictional Cleaver‘s development stems from Christopher’s experiences in the family, making the Cleaver script an emotional amalgam of confidential mob information and personal grievances that represent Moltisanti’s thinly veiled subconscious. Cleaver‘s source material is also a crucial plot element in the final series of The Sopranos, with the Cleaver premiere playing a big hand in Chris’ ultimate demise.
Despite failed attempts by Chris at bringing Ben Kingsley on board for the starring role of mob boss Sally Boy, the final Cleaver production is unveiled to remain true to Christopher’s original vision. Chris states several times that the film will be “a story about a young man who goes to pieces and then manages to pull himself together again,” which is eventually stated to be better than “Saw meets The Godfather part 2.” However, the supernatural elements of Cleaver, which are used to explain the main character’s reanimation, are the only fantastical element in what is otherwise a scathing indictment of Christopher’s time as a “made man.” All scenes unveiled from Cleaver across The Sopranos are either direct links to Chris’ experiences within the DiMeo crime family or poorly masked examples of vendettas he harbors towards other mob members. The starkest of these is the rumor of an affair between Tony Soprano and Christopher’s at-the-time fiancée Adriana La Cerva, which in reality did not happen. Despite pretending to make peace with Tony, Christopher holds onto this perceived slight until the Sopranos series ended, as evidenced in the final scene of Cleaver, where the character based entirely on Tony (Sally) says, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine.”
Cleaver‘s imitation of real life goes beyond Christopher’s one-dimensional characters, with his film also containing numerous scenes that often depict clandestine mob events. The titular main character’s dismemberment and displacement is eerily reminiscent of Richie Aprile’s murder and disposal in season 2, episode 12, “The Knight in White Satin Armor.“ Christopher subconsciously utilizing murders he was involved in as the basis of Cleaver‘s plot is a long-foreshadowed issue that finally comes to a head towards the end of The Sopranos when Tony attends the Cleaver premiere. Tony is forced to watch scarily accurate enactments of murders he had considered buried in the DiMeo consciousness, as well as a disparaging representation of his own character. The Cleaver premiere confirms, in Tony’s mind, that Chris is no longer fit to be a capo in the family and sets in motion the series of events that lead to Chris driving under the influence before Tony suffocates him. In this way, Cleaver is a representation of Christopher’s hubris and ideologies in The Sopranos and acts as a vehicle for his character development, which culminates in his death. Cleaver may well be a sub-par hack of a (fictional) movie, but the gradual rise of its significance makes it one of the most intriguing subplots in the entire The Sopranos series right to the blackout finale.