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Chinatown’ by Roman Polanski Film Analysis Essay


Roman Polanski’s neo-noir film Chinatown can be viewed as a good illustration of the existentialist worldview which was explored by Friedrich Nietzsche. In particular, this movie depicts people, who no longer accept religious narratives as valuable tools for understanding human life. More importantly, they reject the traditional concepts of absolute truth or justice. The film-makers use different themes and stylistic elements in order to highlight this post-Nietzschean worldview. These are the main questions that should be examined in greater detail.

Much attention should be paid to the disorientation of the viewers who do not know how the plot can evolve (Gilmore 124). At the beginning, Jake Gittes has to investigate a fairly simple case of marital infidelity, but very soon he discovers that his clients have hidden motives that cannot be easily explained (Chinatown). Moreover, the viewers do not know whether they can take sides with any of the characters who confront Gittes. Additionally, the protagonist frequently misidentifies the characters. For instance, she believes that Evelyn is the main suspect, but it eventually becomes clear to him that this woman is only the victim attempting to protect her daughter. This development of the plot increases the sense of disorientation which is important for describing people who no longer have a clear conception of absolute truth. Jake Gittes is forced to accept this worldview, even though it is alien to him.

Moreover, it is important to speak about the inversion or even complete rejection of traditional moral values. For instance, one can mention Lieutenant Escobar who lets the chief criminal escape and asks the protagonists to forget about the case. The activities of Noah Cross, who is guilty of several murders, are not even investigated by the police. In this way, the film-makers try to depict the world devoid of traditional notions of justice. In turn, Jake Gittes cannot understand why people easily dismiss many of the moral values which seem to be the pillars of the society.

Additionally, films representing neo-noir genre often explore such social phenomena as crime (Schuler and Murray 170). In many cases, the authors attempt to highlight the flaws of the community. As a rule, evil deeds are punished by the protagonist. However, Jake Gittes turns out be helpless in the face of evil. This feeling of helplessness is also an inseparable part of the existentialist and Nietzschean worldviews. Thus, one can argue that Roman Polanski’s movie enables viewers to understand the disappointment of the main character.

Apart from that, one should examine the stylistic device employed by the authors. For instance, it is possible to mention the opposition of light and shadow. This technique is applied to depict the encounter between the protagonist Gittes and Lieutenant Escobar. In particular, Escobar’s face is in shadow, and this cinematographic method is often applied to portray a negative character in noir films. It later turns out that Escobar has rejected the ideals of justice. Thus, the cinematographic characteristics can be viewed as one of the tools used to highlight the inner qualities of a person. Apart from that, it is possible to refer to the use of oblique camera angles. Such shots are usually necessary for showing that that a character is disoriented due to some reasons (Gorrigan 66). These cinematographic elements are important for understanding this movie.

Moreover, it is critical to focus on very complex plot lines. The most eloquent example is Jake Gittes’ quest. This character attempts to unravel a complex mystery that puzzles him as well as the audience. To some degree, this complexity of the narrative is important for creating the sense of disorientation. Overall, the plot of this film makes the viewers question their ability to understand the logic of other people’s behavior or their moral reasoning.

Furthermore, the movie incorporates characters whose actions cannot be accurately explained. This attribute is a typical characteristic of many noir films. The most eloquent example is Evelyn. The viewers believe that her behavior is driven by jealousy or vindictiveness. Only at the end, the audience eventually understands the horrible mystery underlying her conflict with Noah Cross. This character is necessary for questioning the stereotypes that many people may have. For instance, at the beginning, Gittes assumes that she kills her husband out of jealousy. Nevertheless, it turns out that the protagonist’s suspicions are unfounded. In turn, the presence of such a character challenges the viewers’ notions of truth.

On the whole, this discussion shows that Roman Polanski’s film illustrates the world in which people feel extremely disillusioned because they cannot accept the validity of such concepts of justice and truth. The main character believes that he bring the criminals to justice; however, his expectations are bitterly disappointed. Much attention should be paid to the use of such themes as the inversion of traditional moral values, sense of disorientation, and the acceptance of crime as the social phenomenon because they are helpful for depicting the post-Nietzschean world. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.

Works Cited

Chinatown. Ex. Prod. Robert Evans. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures, 1974. DVD.

Gilmore, Richard. “The Dark Sublimity of Chinatown.” The Philosophy of Neo-Noir.

Ed. Mark Conard. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. 119-137. Print.

Gorrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film, New York: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.

Schuler, Jeanne, and Patrick Murray. “‘Anything Is Possible Here’: Capitalism, Neo-Noir, and Chinatown,” The Philosophy of Neo-Noir. Ed. Mark Conard. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. 167-181. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 18). Chinatown' by Roman Polanski Film Analysis. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/chinatown-by-roman-polanski-film-analysis-essay/

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"Chinatown' by Roman Polanski Film Analysis." IvyPanda, 18 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/chinatown-by-roman-polanski-film-analysis-essay/.

1. IvyPanda. "Chinatown' by Roman Polanski Film Analysis." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/chinatown-by-roman-polanski-film-analysis-essay/.


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IvyPanda. "Chinatown' by Roman Polanski Film Analysis." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/chinatown-by-roman-polanski-film-analysis-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Chinatown' by Roman Polanski Film Analysis." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/chinatown-by-roman-polanski-film-analysis-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Chinatown' by Roman Polanski Film Analysis'. 18 May.

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