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Once Upon A Time In America Ending Explained: Did Max Die In The End?

Once Upon A Time In America Ending Explained
Once Upon A Time In America

Once Upon a Time in America is one of the classic gangster films that is still imprinted in the minds of the audience. However, the film ending left too many answered questions for viewers. The film’s ambiguity made it a riddle-like mystery story. Once Upon a Time in America is the story of a Jewish gangster who was rose to the sky during the prohibition era returns to the Lower Eastside of Manhattan after 35 years. Now he must face the shadows and remorse of his old life. Each scene of the film brings different themes of childhood friendship, lust, love, greed, deception, destruction, and shattered relationships in sync rise of American mobsters.

The 1984’s legend film Once Upon a Time in American is directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone and produced by Arnon Milchan. It stars Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, and Treat Williams. The film is based on the novel ‘The Hoods’ by Harry Grey. It shows chronicles of two best friends’ lives, David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson and Maximillian’ Max’ Bercovicz, as they lead a group of youngsters who rise to fame as Jewish Gangsters in the world of organized crime. The film has artistically exhibited different shades of gangster life, leaving you in a land of uncertainty and enigma.

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Once Upon A Time In America Ending Explained- How Does Mr. Bailey Character Emerge?

By the end of Once Upon a Time in America, we see a twist that turns the audience’s mind into a ball of confusion, and that is Secretary/Mr. Bailey. It turns out that Secretary Bailey is Max. Most of us believed that Max was killed by police. However, that does not seem the case as at the ending; Noodles encounters him at Bailey’s Party. Noodles learn that Max faked his death with the help of corrupt policemen so he could steal the gang’s money, his woman (Deborah), and ran away in order to establish a new life with a new identity, which he successfully did.

Mr. Bailey appears to be a weakening immigrant who married an affluent woman who died in childbirth. That child turns out to be David, a young man who Noodle sees with Deborah. Max turned out to be Mr. Bailey is one of the major twists of Once Upon a Time in America.

Why Does Deborah Choose Mr. Bailey In The End?

Another mainly asked question is about Deborah choosing Mr. Bailey, aka Max. It made the audience perplexed about what she was thinking. In 1968 Noodles discovers that Deborah has become a successful actress. She has been living with this Mr. Bailey guy who is none other than Max. There is no definite answer been found why Deborah decided to be with Max when she loved Noodles. Also, Deborah loving Max seems to be out of the question. There are various assumptions but no definite answer. However, it seems she craves success, freedom, fame, and wealth after going through a rough patch because of Noodles. Her love for Noodles seems to end when he raped her. In order to get out of her previous miserable life, Max has given her a better option- Mr. Bailey, the man of status, wealth. Maybe she needed that more than anything in life. As we get older, we prefer stability and security, and that is what she was after all when she chose Max.

Once Upon A Time In America Ending Explained

Max finally meets Deborah

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Did Mr. Bailey Die In Once Upon A Time In America? 

The ending scene made the audience wonder about Mr. Bailey’s death. The scene does not show whether he really died or not. We see that by the time he meets Noodles, Max’s current life as Mr. Bailey’s has turned upside down completely. He is now in big trouble because of the teamsters’ union. Thus, Max asks Noodles to kill him, but he refuses immediately, not want to become part of his scheme once again. Because for Noodles, Max has already died with the gang, and Mr. Bailey has nothing to do with him.

Once Upon A Time In America Ending Explained

In the last scene where Max comes out and disappears

In the end, Noodles leaves the estate but hears a garbage truck start when a man comes out. Before they can meet, the garbage truck passes between them. He then all sees is no one standing there anyone. There is a high possibility that Max was assassinated there because there is no possibility that he committed suicide since there is no blood, grotesque or bone-crushing scene. Also, not possible that Max throws himself in its auger because it clearly shows that he was walking toward Noodles. So the last possible left is Max being assassinated. Even the director Sergio Leone wanted to leave that scene open to the audience’s imagination.

What Is The Meaning Of Noodles’ Grin At Ending Of Once Upon A Time In America? 

The strangest thing that made the audience wonder about is Noodles’ grin at the end of Once Upon a Time in America. Again, there is no definite or right answer to this question. His grin could have multiple meanings, such as he has lost sanity because of remorse and betrayal he endured, he reminisces his old days with his friends and his love, or finally understands the master plan of Max to escape from the miserable gangster life, etc. But the assumption that matches with the plot would be the first and the last one, which is either he has lost his sanity or understand Max’s plan.

Once Upon A Time In America Ending Explained

Noodles grinning scene

It shows that Noodles has gone through Deborah and Max’s betrayal for years, and before that, he mourned and blamed himself for years for the same Max. It will not be surprising if that affects his mentality. Maybe he just wants to forget everything and imagine nothing has happened, such as his old days, the gang’s death, reunion later with the betrayal, etc. That could make him feel empty. Therefore, because of this emptiness, he still feels hopeless. He does not know how his future will be because of what he has been suffered for years. This scene left various room for possibilities and vagueness. But that is what made the film Once Upon a Time in America a beauty worth watching. If you want to rewatch the film, it is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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Written By

Annyong, Harshali here. I write entertainment and K-drama articles. I like to spend my time reading mangas, webtoons, novels, watching Asian dramas, and sketching. Take every challenge as a tool for upgrading myself.

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