23 Feb Chinatown Part 2
This post wraps up Chinatown, a private Detective movie and a true noir.
One of the reasons that Chinatown is a true noir is the ending. I initially, Chinatown was supposed to have a happy ending. As originally written by Robert Towne, Evelyn Mulwray would kill her father and rapist Noah Cross. Instead, it’s Evelyn who ends up dead, shot by the police and her daughter, who is Cross’s daughter and granddaughter, is taken away by Cross. It’s at this moment that Gittes, who has regarded himself as a worldly-wise cynic, realizes that the world is a far more evil place than he could ever comprehend. Even worse, evil is finally triumphant. Jake’s problem is that he isn’t cynical enough—he had an innate belief in justice. When Evelyn pulls a gun, Jake tells her to put it away and let the police handle it. Her response is that Noah Cross owns the police, an opinion that is quickly borne out.
The famous last line, uttered by one of Jake’s associates, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” means that it’s futile to fight against the essentially corrupt nature of the world.
He thinks he understands what’s going on but he doesn’t because his viewpoint is too restricted. Much of the movie is shot over Jake’s shoulder, so the viewer sees everything Jake sees. It’s not until the end, that, like Jake, we never understood what was happening.
Chinatown is also supremely fatalistic. When he was a police officer, Jake had tried to help a woman in Chinatown but, instead, caused her death. This story is repeated with the death of Evelyn Mulwray, who also dies thanks to Jake’s help. Jake was repeatedly warned to keep his nose out of things, but he obstinately continued his investigation. Even though he thinks he knows what’s going on, he doesn’t, and he can’t help but repeat the past.
Polanski fought the screenwriter Robert Towne, over the ending and, fortunately, won out. The ending is informed by Polanski’s WW II experiences as a ten-year-old orphan who escaped the Krakow Ghetto and managed to stay alive as he crossed war-torn Europe (at one point, Nazi soldiers used him for target practice).
In this respect, Polanski is similar the original noir directors, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, and Robert Siodmak, all of whom fled Nazi Germany. As with Polanski, they had seen the worst that humanity could do and knew that this world was no place for suckers.