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Chinatown - A Film Noir Analysis

Updated on June 16, 2008

Chinatown - Classic FIlm Noir

Film noir is generally associated with a ‘dark’ type of film in the era following WWII. Film’s that are categorized in this genre are marked by a style that generally contains certain distinguishing elements – dark rooms with Venetian blinds, dark alleys, rain-slicked streets, dark offices and low key lighting. The plot usually deals with the dark aspects of humanity-greed, murder, deceit and paranoia. There are also distinguishing characters, the main character a detective or an investigator usually portrayed as a loner; a beautiful sensual femme-fatale who will use and eventually destroy the main character seducing him into crime.

Although classic film noir generally is in reference to a style of film from the 40’s and 50’s, film noir form and style can be found in some contemporary films. One of those being Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

Although Chinatown breaks certain rules of film noir – it was filmed in 1974 and is in COLOR (black and white film is a traditional element of Film Noir) it models itself with formal elements of Film Noir genre including the sexy femme-fatale (with a twist), a protagonist main character seeking truth, and the plot laced with deceit, murder and greed.

The film uses many shadows and dark and light contrasts. The low key soft lighting keeps the scenes dark and gloomy and projects the air of suspense. The viewer is told the story through the central character, Gittes, a hard-nosed detective in 1930’s LA, after he takes a case investigating adultery gets caught up in the middle of murder, lies and conspiracy- entangled into the dark side of humanity. When he meets the ‘real’ Evelyn, who comes across as mysterious, sensual and troubled, Gittes falls further into this web of corruption and complication as well as falling for Evelyn.

The films keep the rhythm and pace slow seducing the viewer deep into the story. As in classic film noir Chinatown has a confrontational ending but with Chinatown there are surprising twists. We find the femme fatale has been a victim and is again a victim as she is shot. Gittes revelation that he has been wrong about Evelyn’s deceit also loses ending up with nothing. He loses the girl, and the crimes go unpunished. As the movie referenced ...”Its Chinatown…”



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      Classic-movie 6 years ago

      Very intresting article !

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    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 6 years ago from The Bay

      I've always wanted to see this, but I keep forgetting. Now I won't.

    • LaurelB profile image

      LaurelB 6 years ago from Paducah, Kentucky

      I love this movie. It'd be interesting to see an even more detailed analysis of how it fits into film noir.

    • Gilbert Smith profile image

      Gilbert Smith 7 years ago from New Mexico

      Not a fan of Polanski, but a huge fan of this movie. I usually find the director to be uh, way too slow, but here, the slower pace allows the nastiness of the plot to really sink its teeth in.