Thursday, February 19, 2009

No Fairy Tale Endings

Last night we had the concept of film noir introduced to us. This was a foreign concept to me, until I watched Double Indemnity. I saw a lot of the characteristics that our reading, "Notes on Film Noir" by Paul Schrader, discussed. The lighting always hit the floor, walls, and characters in odd shapes. “Oblique lines tend to splinter a screen, making it restless and unstable. Light enters the dingy rooms of film noir in such odd shapes-jagged trapezoids, obtuse triangles, vertical slits—that one suspects the windows were cut out with a pen knife. No character can speak authoritatively from a space which is being continually cut into ribbons of light” (Schrader. 6). Not only was there very little lighting, but where there was, it was sharp and distinct—a nice contrast to the movie’s shady theme and characters.

The film also involved a lot of slinking around, whether by night or by day (I say “slinking” but it could even be described as slithering or creeping). Almost every interaction was shady, literally and figuratively. This particular film noir may not have had any gangsters, but that does not make a difference. The two main characters, Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson, might just as well have been gangsters. They had no conscious, no inhibitions, and certainly no regard for human life. Phyllis had killed the former Mrs. Dietrichson, then Mr. Dietrichson, and intended on knocking off Neff and Lola Dietrichson (the daughter). However, Neff was not without his own agenda. In the end, he masterminded the plan to kill Mr. Dietrichson and ended up shooting Phyllis. Wow. That is a lot of murders committed by just two people in only one film.

With all this evil packed into one film, the producers do, however, provide a few examples of wholesomeness. First, they give you Barton Keys. He is Neff’s boss and a man of innately accurate hunches. The “little man” inside of him always dances around when a jig is up (a.k.a. when someone is not being truthful). When Neff and Phyllis have killed Mr. Dietrichson, it is Keys that expects foul play. That little man inside of him is going haywire.

While we discussed Keys’ good qualities in class last night, I thought of another character that was also without any black marks: Lola Dietrichson. In the beginning of the movie, the viewer does not know much about her, but as the end nears, we are allowed to discover the trials she has endured. I believe that she, along with Keys, was provided as a contrast to Neff and Phyllis.

Over all, this was not one of my favorite movies. While I was very interested in the stylistic features of this film noir, I have to admit that I am a happy-ending kind of girl. The way the movie ended did not satisfy me. Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy if Phyllis and Neff had realized their wrongs, confessed their iniquities, and put themselves on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, that a little bit of a fairytale ending, and not suited to this style of film. Oh well.


  1. I am sure some films noir have happy endings... for at least some of the characters.

    That still from some Wayans brothers movie is kind of out of place.

  2. I think she was using it as an illustration for "little man," which is kind of a funny comparison photo for Keys.

    Do you really think Dietrichson and Neff are evil? Is that the insinuation?