Good Example Of Genre And Neo- Noir: Chinatown Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Cinema, Film, Noir, Literature, Genre, God, Nietzsche, Death

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/02/22

What is the first thing a person who is familiar with Noir thinks of? They think of Dark alleys, private eyes, a mysterious woman or femme fatale at the heart of the story and a dark mystery to be solved. But is there something more to the concept of Noir? Mark T. Conrad illustrates these using philosophical concepts of Nietzsche. In it, he uses terms such as ‘Flux Metaphysics’ and ‘Death of God’ as a juxtaposition of how Nietzsche saw the world as it was, a dreary place for humanity to dwell. In his article, he goes through the various reasons as how to define Noir as genres as there are those in the film community those don’t see it in that regard. But films like Chinatown seek a way to redefine as a form of Neo Noir.
In his essay on Noir filmmaking, Conrad seeks to differentiate between the different thoughts on the Noir. There are those who feel it is a genre whilst others think the opposite of that. For those who classify Film Noir as a genre, it is seen as films dealing with criminal activity with a bleak and dissolute setting. The main character/protagonist is lured by a femme fatale in a world of intrigue and mystery. There is a dark cynicism within the narrative with a distinct visual style of moody and dark lighting, brooding music filled with tension and a character haunted by the revelations of his findings.
The flip side to this argument is that Film Noir is not a genre. There are some who believe it was the result of several critics and filmmakers continuing to speak about the subject over a long period of time thus resulting in a false realization. The doubters also try to point out film noir requires looking at the world in an oblique way without leaving any room to maneuver around this idea. They believe that crime, private eyes, psychopaths are really motifs which do not hold up as a genre as they can be easily seen in other genres at a different level. The bleak outlook at life serves as a disservice thus alienating this genre.
The third aspect to Noir is that it can be explained in simple broad strokes. These critics seem to argue that the genre is transgeneric. There are no clear boundaries or characteristics that can establish it as a genre. This type of film uses metaphor and imaginative forms that have developed over time. According to Conrad, “In other words, our concepts are not discrete categories, but are rather networks of ideas in complex relationships and associations, which we form with experience. Consequently, “categories form complex radial structures with vague boundaries and a core of influential members at the center” (par. 5). With no defined way of getting to the core of the truth, this led to Conrad using Neitzsche to capture the essence and meaning of Film Noir.
As mentioned earlier, Conrad seeks to define film noir through the eyes of Nietzsche under the concepts of ‘Flux Metaphysics’ and ‘Death of God.’ According to Conrad, Niezsche used Flux Meaphysics to see an ever changing world caught in constant flux. Nietzsche, in this philosophy, describes God as to not actually exist but rather a fictional character in the real world. With regards to ‘Death of God’, Nietzsche believed that God is dead. In regards to film noir and using this idea to define it, Conrad believes that Noir is essentially the result of the death of this divine influence on mankind. Noir is an American artistic response to the moving plates from around the world that change on the dime. This explains the common traits that have occurred over the years in these films. For American audience, God represents American idealism. Film Noir, in this context, is also about the concept of truth and problems in willing to accept it. It is impossible to define but with god’s death, it offers some semblance of meaning to the genre.
Film Noir has evolved over the years to form Neo-Noir. While there are issues as to how to clearly define it, it’s really about films that goes beyond what is there on the screen. Take Chinatown. It was released in 1974 and directed by Roman Polanski. The film revolves around private investigator J. J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) who is hired by Ida Sessions, calling herself Evelyn, (Diane Ladd) to keep a watchful eye on her husband Hollis I. Mulwray (Darell Zwerling) whom she suspects of having an affair. Holis is also the chief engineer of L.A. department of water and power. On the face of it, it seems to be a routine surveillance case. When Gittes returns to his office, he is met by a beautiful woman named Evelyn (Faye Dunaway). She claims to be the real Evelyn and wife of Holis. Mr. Mulwray dies unexpectedly which opens a tangled web of deceit and corruption. Evelyn’s father, Noah Cross (Jack Huston) becomes a suspect in the case. As per the rules of film noir, there is a beautiful woman, a mystery to be solved, dubious characters and murder. But this film chose to add more to the intrigue of the genre. It added a very dark family secret and corruption into the mix. Keep in the mind that the film is set in 1940’s Los Angeles and corruption is a byproduct of that era as lawlessness prevailed. According to GoodyKootz and Jacobs, “Broken down into its individual parts, Chinatown can be viewed as a noir-inspired mystery of the classic form. But seen as a whole, it works to become much more” (Par. 20, Ch. 4). The big dark secret of the film is that Evelyn and her father have an ongoing sexual relationship. These dark tales of intrauge are what elevates the film to neo-noir status. It is that it’s willingness to go againt the norm. Unlike most Hollywood films, this film’s ending is in stark contrast to most Hollywood ending. The wrong people die at the end of the film. That is, to say, that good guys don’t win all the time. Being made in 1974, this was the height of the Nixon era and Watergate would happen a mere 2 years away. Distrust with government and corrupt officials are also themes that inform the narrative and elevate it. Like Nietsche’s idea of the death of God, it is seen as the death of American idealism where if you work hard and play by the rules, you will always win and persevere against the odds. Chinatown stands in stark contrast to these ideals as the director delves underneath layers of lies to tell a very intriguing story of incest, murder and corruption.
This type of storytelling would go on to influence other films that not perscribed the same kind of pulp hardboiled detective story. It was to influence other films like Blade Runner (1982) and Basic Instinct (1992). But Nolan’s Batman films were able to meld neo-noir into comic book superhero action adventure storytelling. In Batman Begins (2005), while using the idea of the Hero’s journey to tell the story of Bruce Wayne, It is portions that are set in Gotham that are heavily influenced by the tropes of corrupt officials, lone crusaders and a decaying city. In The Dark Knight (2008), it is use of exposition though dialogue that leans most towards the idea of revelation upon revelation resulting in tragedy. Drawing again from Nietzsche, it is the shifting parts of Gotham that informs the film noir genre. As film noir through eyes of Nietzsche, as God dies, so does the rest of the world.

Works Cited

Conrad, Mark. "Nietzsche and the Meaning and Definition of Noir." Mark T Conard. 28 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <>.
GoodyKoontz, Bill. In FIlm: From Watching to Seeing. Print.
Chinatown. Perf. Jack Nicholson, John Houston. Paramount Pictures -, 1974. DVD.

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