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Chinatown




Throughout Roman Polanski’s enigmatic 1974 private eye masterpiece, “Chinatown”, moral corruption by unseen forces recur throughout the film. Set in the backdrop of 1930’s LA, Jake Gittes, portrayed by a young Jack Nicholson, is hired by Evelyn Mulwray to investigate her husband’s murder, ultimately confronting the facades and deceptions of her past. With a plot involving the sexual abuse of a teenage girl and a corrupt L.A. justice system, the bizarre correlation with director Roman Polanski’s numerous accusations of sexual misconduct with underage girls, most publicized being the 1977 rape charges against Polanski for 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, these facades and deceptions add another layer of darkness to the noir inspired mystery film.

Throughout the film’s biblical and artistic choices, the main antagonist, Noah Cross, is the embodiment of evil. In the innately biblical nature of the name Noah Cross, we’re already conditioned to view Cross through a certain light. Preferring the eyeballs to remain in his fish, Cross is immediately portrayed as odd and bizarre. He has little interest in Jake and continuously mispronounces his name as “Giddes”. His mispronunciation is vulgar and meant as an intimidation to Jake. His daughter’s name is Mulray distancing herself from him and initially deceiving Jake’s search for the connection between Hollis Mulwray and Noah Cross. Heading the city’s water department, Cross rapes the city of its’ water supply during the droughts of Southern California. Ultimately Evelyn admits to Jake, Cross raped her when she was fifteen resulting in the pregnancy of her daughter/sister. In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged in Los Angeles on five charges of rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. Borrowing Jack Nicholson's Mulholland Drive home, Polanki photographed Gailey in a series of photographs for Vogue Hommes, resulting in her assault. Polanski pleaded guilty to the least serious offense: unlawful sexual intercourse, completing court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and jail time. After being released on good behavior, Polanski learned would likely face imprisonment and fled to France before his sentencing benefiting from France's refusal to extradite their own citizens. Polanski’s perverse interest in young girls complicates our perception of the film. Like Cross, he escapes the justice system. In the final scene Evelyn Mulwray runs to escape her father’s grasp exclaiming, “He owns the police”. Betrayed by the justice system, Evelyn lands herself with bullet in her head. In the most grotesque moment of the movie, Noah Cross envelopes his granddaughter while we hear her screams in the distance. In “Chinatown” the bad guy wins.

The film concludes with Jake Gittes turning back in frustration being told, “Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown”. After making the conscious choice not to trust her and following the mystery, he still can't save her. Throughout the movie Jake does everything he can to piece together various parts of the mystery but at the climax, he learns that the only way to save her was to stop. Is Chinatown simply a place where the bad things happen and all you can do is wait for it and watch. After Evelyn dies, the crowds of people on the streets behold the great explosion that’s just occured. They clear the streets and everything goes back to normal. Or yet it’s not normal, because in a place like Chinatown we’re doomed to experience the romantic idea of mystery often ending in a loss. Jake connects clues and chases the mystery throughout the movie but in the last scene, he’s dumbstruck. Escobar claims. “Hey I’m doing you a favor”, and the hypocrisy of it all is painted all over Jake's face. Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score builds to a staggering ending and fills the silence as the screen pans out and the credits roll down the aftermath of another evening in Chinatown.

The question of how to separate the art from the artist is complicated. Watching a movie like “Chinatown”, it's hard not to be enchanted by the 1930’s decorations gracing the screen and nuanced undertones of a truly clever movie. Polanski’s indiscretions add another layer of consciousness to the character of Noah Cross. This was the final film Roman Polanski made in the United States. He paints the backdrop of a phony city that embodies the major themes of deceit and illusion. Polanski not only auteurs a  beautifully constructed and thoughtful film, but to prove his point he, himself, embodies the phoniness that is so brilliantly depicted in “Chinatown” and forces the viewers to confront the idea that everywhere is a bit like Chinatown.

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