This movie sucks. I know, heresy, but let me explain. My husband and I watched this movie because it’s the ‘definitive’ film Noir, and I kind of like film noir on occasion. The movie Brick was so good that we decided to see the movie that launched a genre. And we would really like our 130 minutes back. The whole movie was great, right up to the last ten minutes, when nothing that happened in the proceeding two hours mattered! We watched the plot twist and turn, clues revealed that only made the whole skein yet more tangled and it was great. Then the whole sordid mess was uncovered, the knot untangled, the pattern made plain. Hurrah! Our hero has unearthed everything and now the bad guys will be caught, our hero made a difference. The pain and effort was worth it! But alas no. It was a total and complete waste of his time in every way. Nothing changed except that more people were now dead than when he started. It could be argued that his involvement made the whole thing worse.
And I now need to take a shower, because I feel dirty. The whole movie is just one big waste of time. And I feel this way about so many ‘great’ movies. I don’t need them to have a happy ending, I’m okay with bittersweet, like Gladiator and Sucker Punch. I’m okay with main characters dying as long as they accomplish something with that death. I’m not okay with main characters getting the ever loving snot beaten out of them, their life put on the line and it not meaning a thing in the end. Maybe I just hate tragedy, and that is true, I’m not a fan of it. Romeo and Juliet strikes me as just one long exercise in failed communication and futility. But even in that story, their deaths ended the feud, so they did accomplish something. That didn’t happen in Chinatown. It was just sheer futility and pain, struggle for nothing, not even character growth. I don’t find that to be a story worth spending time with because it’s not a story, it’s just something that happened, but didn’t mean anything.
Yeah, that ending might be true to real life more often than not, but I don’t watch movies to relive all the times real life has kicked me in the face. I watch most movies to see somebody beat those odds. One of the many questions writers ask themselves when constructing a narrative is ‘why this character and why now?’ The point of that question is to make sure that we are telling an interesting story, that the story we are telling is a pivotal point in that character or the worlds history. That’s why when we look at history, we see the points of change like WWII, The eruption of Pompeii, Fall of Rome, etc. We don’t tell the story of a boy 10 years before the fall of Rome because nothing is happening there! Unless the story is about the boy himself, then you can do it, but if it’s about Rome, no one cares. The why is as important as the when. Why are we telling this story? Does someone in it triumph over their adversaries to meet a goal? Because if they don’t why are you writing it? What’s the point in the telling?
You can probably tell that I am not a fan of literature. I can respect some fiction because thrillers, suspense and mysteries mostly end with the hero solving the problem or living or whatever. I prefer to travel off planet for my fun, but that’s personal taste and not a problem of the story being broken. And Chinatown isn’t the only movie I’ve seen with this problem. Most of the movies coming out with Oscars tend to have this problem. The movie is great right up until they slit their own bellies at the end. I always walk away from those wondering what the writers or directer or producer were thinking. I wonder if they just couldn’t figure out what to do with the ending or if they all have prosaic sponsorships I don’t know about.
To be fair, Chinatown might be a classic because it’s the first Film Noir or maybe it’s an example of some filming technique I don’t know about. I’ve not been to film school, so I don’t know. But I am of the opinion that it isn’t fit for general consumption. I found very little to recommend it. If you did, more power to you, in at least that much, it’s still a free country.