Chinatown is set in 1937 LA, where the city is small (in its early stages), the desert is huge, and there’s nothing in the valley. I love how 1937 LA looks and feels.
J.J. Gittes is a private investigator specializing in exposing cheating spouses. He is hired by Evelyn Mulwray to find out if her husband is having an affair. What should have been a simple, run of the mill investigation leads to a shit ton of things in a shit ton of ways and a shit ton of consequences.
It’s a good crime/detective film, and it’s not a Hercule Poirot story with a straightforward ending.
Besides the location, the film sparked strong feelings of nostalgia in me through the style of camera work, the color, the old forgotten-to-time objects in the film, the music, and the costumes.
[Spoilers below. Please continue reading only if you have watched the film.]
The climax is what I loved the most about this film. Gittes has always been haunted by an incident that happened in Chinatown when he was a cop, before he turned to working as a private investigator – he was trying to protect a woman, but he “ended up making sure she got hurt.” This incident is reminded to him quite a few times in the film as the story progresses, by his partners, other characters, and by his own thoughts as well. And in the end that’s what happens to Evelyn – she gets killed, in Chinatown, and he is going to be haunted by it for the rest of his life. Again.
I hate happy endings (especially those that are overly cheesy and go out of their way to make sure every single thing has been accounted for and explained). Chinatown just leaves you hopeless. Everything Gittes worked for ends in a disaster. Evelyn is dead, Katherine probably ends up with her rapist father-grandfather, Hollis Mulwray, the poor nice bastard who was murdered gets no justice, the rich people get what they wanted, and Gittes is forever damaged.
The film then rolls the end credits, and very gracefully too. The way the camera zooms out and then you are left looking at an overhead view of that street in Chinatown – is so artful.
I have become wary of films and shows that portray incest and I usually end up hating them (incest has become this low-effort cheap trick that you can add – like a pizza topping – to make whatever you’re making look even more horrifying and up that faux wow factor to make the audience go “aaaaaaaaaaaa omg wtf wow this is such a fucked up film/show aaaaaaaaaaaa omg waaaaaaaaaaaa” because you can’t think of anything else), but not this one. This one’s different. Chinatown came out in 1974, and I doubt incest was an as easily accepted theme in film and TV back then. So this can pass as a thoughtful and bold move. I’m not sure though, I haven’t watched that many old films.
I couldn’t get past 1.5 episodes of Game of Thrones. It felt like they were desperately trying to get me hooked to it by dumping in every single heinous thing in the world that they could think of into their 40-ish minute long episodes. How Oldboy does it is fine, but not this shit.
While Roman Polanski is an asshole and a shitbag, I hate to say he knows how to make a good film. I am not that interested in watching his work if I can help it. I’ll probably watch The Pianist and call it a day.