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Why are dark, cynical, and murderous movies so attention grabbing? The style of film noir draws a viewer away from reality and into a world full dramatic lives and the chance to get away with violent crime. “Sin City” follows three intertwining storylines of dominant male narratives, antagonizers, and femme fatales as well as damsels in distress. The black and white film coined as neo-noir is crime ridden and graphic, but the two hour anthology film goes by quickly. Classical, feminist, white-collar, and social disorganization criminological theories are all present in “Sin City”, it merely depends on which particular storyline within the film.
Each theory explains the self-sought justice demonstrated in the film.
The main characters, more or less in order of appearance include, Dwight (Clive Owen), Shellie (Brittany Murphy), Gail (Rosario Dawson), Marv (Mickey Rourke), Goldie (Jaime King), Nancy (Jessica Alba), and John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). The four main villians in the entire film include Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer), and Roark Jr.
(Nick Stahl). The following film summary will analyze specific storylines as they are presented in the film and draw on criminological theory to connect to the course.
Jackie Boy shows up to Shellie’s home after she spent the evening with Dwight, Jackie Boy is intoxicated and eager to demonstrate masculinity in front of his peers as well as Shellie. After he is rejected, Jackie Boy and his crew leave for Old Town, Dwight follows. In Old Town, a group of women are in charge, including Gail, together they control the crime in Old Town and perform their own collective efficacy.
When Jackie Boy and his gang harass one of the girls too much, they are killed by one of the women who manages Old Town. Dwight realizes Jackie Boy was a police officer and the women panic. There is a truce between the women of Old Town and police, the police provide protection from mobs and they can move freely in Old Town without being harmed and the women maintain control over their territory. With Jackie Boy dead, the truce ceases to exist, Dwight volunteers to dump the body quickly and quietly. After the death of Jackie Boy is discovered, Dwight and the women of Old Town defeat a mob set out to take over Old Town. The women regain control over Old Town and the first short film in the movie ends.
The theory that stuck out the most for the first section of the film, subtitled “The Big Fat Kill”, is feminist theory. The women who ran Old Town maintained their power over the patriarchy by taking charge of their territory. Although it could be viewed that the men in charge within Sin City allowed the women to maintain control over Old Town, the women were able to commit crimes to maintain their collective efficacy. Men who disrespected the women of Old Town, like Jackie Boy, were dealt with and most likely through violent crime. Marxist feminism can be applied when looking at the capitalism within the city, the women of Old Town are a subordinate group that are compelled to commit survival crimes. If woman’s shift in self image and desire for equality is ignored, “…then we would expect that one of the major by-products of the women’s movement will be a high proportion of women who pursue careers in crime” (Simon 1975 as cited in Cullen, Agnew, and Wilcox 2018:271). The time period of the film is not precise, but the women of Old Town could have been rejected by the workforce industry, they needed to figure out a way to survive and running a community provided power and safety in numbers.
The next subsection of the film was titled “The Hard Goodbye”, it opens up with a man finding the woman he slept next to murdered. Marv, figured out it was a set up and vouched to avenge the woman, Goldie, from her cruel demise. Marv kills his way to finding out who decided to murder Goldie. In Sin City, where just about everyone will cave into corruption, there is a sense of self-seeking justice if there is going to be any justice at all. The police are corrupt, the politicians are corrupt, and the community might do just about anything if it meant financial gain. When Marv discovers Cardinal Roark is behind Goldie’s murder, he kills the Cardinal. Marv’s story ends when he is caught and charged with murder, he is sentenced to death. Marv is at peace with his fate because he sought and found retribution for Goldie’s murder. Classical theory applies to Marv’s deviant decisions because for him, the benefits outweighed the crimes he needed to commit. The punishment did not matter, he needed to punish others.
The final major storyline is titled “That Yellow Bastard” and is narrated by John Hartigan. Hartigan is an honest cop, however, he is also aware of the corruption surrounding him. He is on a mission to rescue a young Nancy from a kidnapper, who turns out to be Roark Jr., Senator Roark’s son. When Hartigan finds Roark Jr., he brutally rescues Nancy from her assailant. But, Hartigan is injured and passes out before he can obtain justice. When he awakes in a hospital, he has to tell Nancy to not return to him for her own safety and he is told by Senator Roark he will be framed for Roark Jr’s crimes in order to protect the Roark name. Hartigen goes to jail for the crimes he did not commit and receives letters from Nancy. Eventually the letters stop and Hartigan realises Nancy is in danger again, he confesses to the crimes he did not commit in order to receive parole and find Nancy before it is too late. A yellow man begins to follow Hartigan shortly after he is released. After Nancy and Hartigan find each other, the yellow man appears and identifies himself as Roark Jr. His appearance has altered because of the state Hartigan left him in years ago. Although Hartigan finally kills Roark Jr., he knows that Nancy will not be safe from Senator Roark until he is dead. Hartigan justifies his death knowing Nancy’s life will be safe from harm. Hartigan kills himself after killing Roark Jr.
The presence of corruption and white-collar crime is highly apparent in John Hartigan’s story. Senator Roark kept his son out of the criminal justice system merely for reputation. Police officers are paid off with white-collar briberies from Senator Roark to protect his son and his legacy. The reasoning for Senator Roark’s deviance is own self-image and it seems as though his corruption does not bother him like it would for others. There is a lack of justification or techniques of neutralization from Senator Roark. Bribery and threats are rational choices that Senator Roark has the agency to make. Those with money and power in “Sin City”, have the free will to make their own decisions unlike the majority of the city’s residents.
The timeline of “Sin City” can be confusing but overall the film is interesting to follow and beautifully created in a graphic and dark sort of way. The deterioration of the city and the depressed community demonstrate a broad sense of social disorganization. The key to understanding crime in the city does not lie within the individuals, it is the conditions of the community (Cullen, Agnew, and Wilcox 2018). That being said, as much free will as Dwight, Marv, John, and the other characters have, the structure created their deviance. The women of Old Town may not have been the women of Old Town if they were respected on an institutional level. Marv could have gone to the police when Goldie was killed and her murder could have been solved if the police force was not corrupt. In a society where politicians do not pay off law enforcement, Roark Jr. would have been arrested during his first crime spree and not free to commit later in life. Because the city is a deviant and deteriorating community with corruption and sin, none of these “what if” scenarios played out, the structure made the crime. If other options were available to the free willed individual, they were not the best options in order to obtain self-sought justice. Justice is what “Sin City” was all about, the theories and explanations exist to justify the deviance.
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