My Sister, My Daughter…The Many Questions of Chinatown

Chinatown Poster

One of the first questions I asked myself upon watching this movie was whether I liked it or not. I still haven’t quite come up with an answer. I can say however, that despite it being a captivating film, I wouldn’t watch it again. I know that I, and quite a few others I talked to were left with many unanswered questions. Sure we know a woman died in Chinatown, but how? What were the circumstances of her death that caused such a deep effect on Jake Gittes?

There are questions about the characters as well. At first glance Jake may look like the hero, but is he really? He doesn’t always act in the most heroic of ways (ie. when he slaps Mrs. Mulwray), and yet he seems to be driven by his own convoluted moral code. Perhaps then he is an antihero. Who is the femme fatale? No neo-noir film is complete without one, and yet there is no one woman who fits perfectly into the mold. Ida Sessions, the fake Mrs. Mulwray seems at first like she could be as she is the one who gets Jake Gittes into the whole affair. But of course it is the real Mrs. Mulwray whom Jake gets involved with romantically, and while she does get him into quite a bit of drama, I wouldn’t say that she ultimately brings him “disaster”, as the definition of the femme fatale states. Noah Cross is perhaps the one character whose role is clearest, he is the villain. But his motives are not so clear. After all, we are never told or explained why he pulled off the elaborate scheme which resulted in multiple deaths. But why did he do it? He had plenty of money, it’s not as if he needed more. Did he just like to screw people over? Was the whole affair some elaborate way of finding his daughter/granddaughter again?

As for the minor characters, what was their role and motivation throughout the film? The slimy security chief gets the pleasure of beating up on Gittes, but is Noah Cross paying him extra for his help in the cover up? And what about Lieutenant Escobar? Is he “good” or merely ambivalent? He has Jake arrested, but then he has him released. And then he lets his men kill an innocent woman, while creepy Noah Cross walks away with his distraught daughter/granddaughter.

For a detective film, Chinatown left me with more questions than answers.