Los Angeles as a Representation of the Biblical Land of Paradise and Temptation in the Film Chinatown by Roman Polanski

Los Angeles is truly a living example of the biblical Garden of Eden. It represents a city of both paradise and temptation. Chinatown seemingly represents this biblical land. Detective JJ Gittes battles a corrupt government and the evil businessman, Noah Cross. In many ways Chinatown acts as a 1970s noir film.

However, Chinatown is neo-noir. Director Roman Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne portray Los Angeles as a gorgeous but rotten city while using historical inaccuracies to create a neo-noir film that both represents and disavows traditional film noir.

Chinatown portrays Los Angeles as a gorgeous but sinful city. Throughout Chinatown we are treated to exquisite views of the city of Los Angeles. JJ Gittes travels throughout the city. He is not confined to an office or a house. Instead, JJ travels to the beautiful coasts of Los Angeles, the orange groves, the bland Hall of Public Records, and a nostalgic barber shop. All these areas transport us to the Los Angeles of the noir era and this allows us to feel part of the city.

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Polanski use of the landscape of noir Los Angeles is triumphant. However, Polanski juxtaposes these gorgeous landscapes with a dark and rotten core in the form of the actions of vile characters. The figure that symbolizes this rotten core is businessman Noah Cross a truly contemptuous character. Cross bribes the police department, and manipulates local government through bribes to enhance the value of his land.

Cross exemplifies the corrupt figures of Los Angeles history like Charlie Crawford, Guy McAfee, and Mickey Cohen.

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The fictional Cross is based on history but he is created a way to tell a narrative that fits the culture of the 1970s. Thus, rendering Polanski’s interpretation grounded on noir and the society he lived in. Historical inaccuracy, unfortunately is central to Chinatown. The Owen’s Valley Water Wars serves as the basis of the 1930’s set Chinatown. However, the Owens Valley Water Wars that is central to the narrative of Chinatown occurred in the early 20th century. Polanski and Towne double down to further manipulate history by modifying historical characters. The characters of JJ Gittes, Evelyn Mulwray, and Noah Cross are completely fictional. However, the character of Hollis Mulwray does have a historical counterpart—William Mullholland. Hollis Mulwray and William Mullholland both serve as officials in Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. However, after this similarity the characters diverge remarkably. Hollis Mul wray is a tragic hero. Mulwray acts to stop the building of a new reservoir, as it would benefit the corrupt Noah Cross at the expense of the citizens of Los Angeles.

Mulwray’s opposition leads to his murder at the hands of Cross. William Mullholland is no tragic hero like Mulwray. Mullholland did exactly what Noah Cross did in Chinatown. Mullholland conspired with Los Angeles Mayor Fred Eaton to purchase cheap land in the Owen Valley under the allusion the water would benefit Los Angeles’s residents. The scam created massive profits for Mullholland and Eaton. Polanski has a reason for including this contradiction—the creation of a narrative that fit 1970s America.

Polanski created a film that both represents and contrasts film noir. Polanski changes the date of the Owens Valley Water Wars to place Los Angeles in the noir era of the 1940s and 50s. JJ Gittes is the epitome of a noir protagonist. He is morally ambiguous, he smokes, drinks, fights, and is a notorious womanizer. A comparison to Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade is evident. Chinatown is also grounded on a mystery that has many layers which is center of many noir films. However, Chinatown begins to diverge greatly after this point. The use of color is particularly glaring. Noir lacked color and allowed for techniques like the venetian blind technique to flourish. However, I found the infusion of color into Chinatown to be fitting. The color allowed me to revel in the beauty of Los Angeles. I was amazed at the lavish coasts, and orange groves JJ took us to. This created a great juxtaposition of the corruption and beauty of Los Angeles. Evelyn Mulwray also disavows film noir. Mulwray is a tragic character. She is not a femme-fetale like Phyllis Dietrichson of Double Indemnity but instead she works with JJ to solve the murder of her husband.

This make Evelyn a more complex character. I believe that Evelyn complexity is based on the society that Polanski lived in of 1970s America. Elements of 1970s America creep into Chinatown to create its neo-noir feel. Evelyn’s complexity is based off the feminism movements of this period. The feminism movements of this period advocated for women to have more rights and roles. Polanski’s creation of Evelyn allows her to not be merely just a beautiful woman but an investigative partner to JJ Gittes. Evelyn is a product of Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan. The tone of noir fits 1970s American society. Noir represents pessimism and frustration. In Chinatown, the killer is not arrested and the government and police are corrupt. This idea mirrors the society of America at the time. An era that was characterized by the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Charles Manson. Polanski puts the frustrations of America into Chinatown as a way to express pessimism. Chinatown is a product of a pessimistic society. Polanski uses noir as a way to ground his film and portray American society as a whole. However, Polanski uses new techniques like complex female characters and color to refine noir. These innovations help create neo-noir which is basically refined noir and can be seen in the films of today.

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Los Angeles as a Representation of the Biblical Land of Paradise and Temptation in the Film Chinatown by Roman Polanski. (2022, May 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/los-angeles-as-a-representation-of-the-biblical-land-of-paradise-and-temptation-in-the-film-chinatown-by-roman-polanski-essay

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