Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Noir: Before and After the 40s and 50s

The style of film noir focuses on darkness, subdued tones and a lack of morality. While watching Double Indemnity, I couldn’t help, but think of the disturbing crime drama Se7en (1995). Se7en does not have all the characteristics of classic noir, such as the femme fatale, but it is completely dark, and almost mocks morality. The serial killer, John Doe, devises an evil plan to kill seven people that are guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. John Doe, played by Kevin Spacey, is trying to make a statement about the poor morality of the urban area, but in doing so he causes seven murders. The film also displays the inherent evil inside of everyone because detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) use corrupt methods such as bribery to catch the killer. The end to the movie is extremely dark. Detective Mills becomes the final deadly sin, wrath, when he kills John Doe over the murder of his wife. This was the ultimate plan of John Doe to prove that everyone has evil within them, even those who are fighting for good.

Se7en also quotes Ernest Hemmingway, who wrote literature and a noir-like style. Most of Hemmingway’s writings are very dark and depressing. My favorite is The Sun Also Rises (1926). The novel describes the lives of ex-patriots living in France after World War I. Although it was published before the film noir movement in America, it has similar themes that resulted from the devastation of war. The book displays a total disregard for morality with constant alcohol abuse and sexual deviancy. Lady Ashley or Brett is the perfect femme fatale. She is completely selfish and repeatedly hurts the main character Jake Barnes, along with several other men. The book is a perfect example of how the lack of optimism that rises in the years after the war leads to the style of noir.

It is difficult to consider whether these characters are cool or not. In Se7en, Detective Mills starts out cool by fighting crime in the most desolate urban situation, but by the end of the movie he falls into the trap John Doe and loses his cool. This is very similar to how the characters of Double Indemnity lose their cool by the end of the film. In The Sun Also Rises the characters may appear cool on the surface, by drinking lots of alcohol and having an ambiguous morality. It seems that as the dark secrets and problems are revealed the less cool all the characters become. I think that film noir is great at revealing true, inner evil that is not apparent on the surface. It is this disclosure that causes the characters of noir to not be cool.


  1. Se7en is a super-creepy movie! It is very noir-esque, though, isn't it? I never really thought about it until you said it!

    Good ole Earnest and his struggle with manhood--I'm glad you brought him up. His works are dark and morally questioning. I brought up dark literature from pre-noir days in my blog, too, so I'm glad we're on the same page.

    Ha! Page! Like a page in a book, and you discussed a book in your blog? Brilliant, I know.

  2. Eeee, I just get shivers even reading about Se7en! It sounds so creepy.

    It seems that movies like these never come out with a happy ending; either justice is twisted or non-existant. Would you say that this is a depiction of how things really are instead of those hopeful, happy endings? If it is normal, why do we find them so creepy?

  3. Yes! Awesome bringing in references to other media!

  4. Though I think the relationship to Hemingway is a bit strained (although you make a good case) I think you put a lot of good thought into this entry. An especially good eye for Se7en.

    I can understand the characters of noir not being cool, but is there something about them that we're all drawn to? Something we want to see in each of them, that perhaps we desire for ourselves?