Research Paper: Film Noir Movement by Examining

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[. . .] The role of femme fatale is an integral characteristic of film noir especially for the detective film. The femme fatale is "mysterious, duplicitous, double-crossing, gorgeous, unloving, predatory, tough yet sweet, manipulative and desperate women" (Dirks 2). They are more than likely caught up in distressing situations where they are the victim of violence from their husbands or other family members. They have a legitimate reason for seeking the help of the hero which later become clearer as an ulterior motive to gain status or financially. They play on the fact the hero will feel sorry for them and want to help in some way. In detective films, they usually hire the services of the hero and this is where the mystery begins. In order to keep the mystery alive, they use their feminine beauty and sexual prowess as a means to manipulate men to get what they want. They are in control of the situation and they are leading the hero into the situation blind. By using sexual power, they are able to influence the hero's motivations behind solving the problem but also captivate his attention and lust. By using sex, she is able to talk him into doing things he would not normally do but because he is an outsider, it is easier for him to be comfortable in a downward spiral. Lust for this woman slowly destroys his life as he slowly suffocates from her intense innuendo. He only wants to satisfy his desires while she wants to satisfy hers as well of having her way. In this respect film noir "shows the dark inhumane side of human nature with cynicism and doomed love" (Dirks 2). The protagonist is seen as weak because they are driven by past experiences. They were unprepared for the femme fatale and meeting her needs. As a result, the audience does not feel much compassion for the femme fatale as they identify with the hero and this makes this type of female character, women we love to hate.

Neo-noir reflects changing attitudes of modern times pertaining to sex, family and relationships. Pushing the envelope to include every type of relationship not only appeals to the mass audiences but also reflects how American values have changed as the topic of sex has come out of the closet. In this respect neo-noir revisits the classic story but pushes further to reveal more of the underbelly than before. These films serve to shock and upset the public but to also put that reality into the culture.

The neo-noir story involves a mystery but with more of a twist sometimes permeated with a forbidden element including homosexuality like the relationship found in the movie Bound. The story returns to the aspect of unrequited love as a great turn on.

With this in mind, many story and character elements carry over to neo-noir. The hero is still unconventional, struggling for redemption and highly influenced by the person they find attractive, rather it be femme fatale or homme fatale. The hero may be a criminal; a murder, a hit man and the audience must buy in to liking them or the plot will not succeed. The person of their affection is usually unattainable, maybe the boss's wife or the relationship is seen at morally wrong such as the lesbian love affair seen in Bound. In this respect, neo-noir uncovers not only the underbelly of today's society but also finds new options in differing value systems. The hero is still in a downward spiral, struggling to remain in control of the situation but lead to a fatal end. Good examples of this are evident in the films Insomnia and Memento. The audience is cheering for the hero to make it out alive but also know a happy ending may not happen. Neo-noir continues to break the rules by making the hero a woman. This changes the whole relationship dynamic and appeals to the female moviegoer as the homme fatale is introduced. This story device can be found another Quentin Tarantino film series, Kill Bill I and Kill Bill II where Uma Thurman plays a thwarted woman in search of righting the wrong done to her by Bill. This puts her in the position of power as she exerts deadly force upon the people in her path. Once again the use of violence impact that is almost comical as the director uses samurai fighting in replace of gun slinging. Much of the action is almost poetic and one cannot help but be fascinated and shocked at the same time. Another example of the homme fatale can be found when neo-noir is blended with romantic comedy. Many of Whoopi Goldberg's movies from the 1980s employs her put in a position where she must solve a puzzle and not fall under the spell of a man. This can be seen in Jumping Jack Flash and Fatal Beauty. This device creates multi-faceted characters for not just female audience members to admire but for male audience members to lust over. In other words, Uma and Whoopi are not just tough they are also soft and feminine. Still love will prove to be the female hero's main downfall, as her action will tell. Love will act as a catalyst for destruction as the female hero seeks what they cannot attain. This happens to Kristen Thomas character in The English Patient as she continues the affair with the main character. Pursuing him, leads to her death in the desert. Still the need to attain this love is powerful, passionate and makes for great storytelling both verbally and visually.


Due to budgetary constraints during the 1930s and 1940s, the studio system utilized similar settings and production design for the film noir style but this only worked in its favor to define its cinematic worth. This production design style allowed the films to focus on the story and its elements. It allowed the films to focus on the drama and suspense of the situation. Borde and Chaumeton talk about the use of setting in The Maltese Falcon. They comment, "The film is shot almost entirely of interiors. In the stifling atmosphere of this closed world the imprecise nature of the motives plays an essential role" (35). It is not only the physical setting of the film that makes the movie dark and uncomfortable for the audience. The use of light and shadow foreshadows the drama as the decor of the environment is carefully and slowly revealed to the audience, therefore, building the suspense. By keeping certain aspects in the dark, leaves a feeling of uncertainty for the audience. Not everything is revealed right away and this also allows the audience to hope for a favorable outcome when the audience knows better from experience. Still it will not matter what happens to the hero, the mystery will be solved but not all questions will be answered. The director paints shadows across the faces of his cast to explore the differences between corrupt forces and the light of goodness. Much of how light is used in film noir can be seen as having symbolic significance. Mast concludes much of this crime dramas need to take place in the corrupt setting of the city or take place in "urban America as a symptom of other society's disease" (296). The use of the urban setting draws the line between the differences found in good and evil. Later on, directors would play with the idea of violence occur outside the city and in the safety of the upper crust suburbs. This juxtaposition between urban and suburban makes symbolism clearer to the audience. Dirks further elaborates "settings were often interiors with low-key lighting, Venetian-blinded windows and rooms, and dark claustrophobic, gloomy appearances" (3) while the exteriors were dark, wet alleyways, rain soaked mean streets with racy flashing neon signs or abandoned warehouses where light and shadow play mind games and tricks the audience into thinking they know something.


This paper explored the film noir movement by examining two films from the genre made at two different times within the movement. This meant looking at definitions of what classifies a film as noir and then looking at conventions of the movement such as: story, character and setting. This explored how production value expresses the story and acts as an important filmic tool. The first movie to be discussed is Double Indemnity; the second film will be Bound. There was also mention of other films where warranted to prove that noir in its new forms of neo-noir and independent story-telling still exists as a movement within American cinema.

Works Cited

Borde, Raymond, and Etienne Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941-1953. Ed. Paul Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2002.

Bound. Dir. Andy and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, 1996.

Burgwin, Kahlen. "Treacherous beauty portrayed in classic film." University Wire (Feb. 22,2005).

Butler, Jeremy G. "Miami Vice: The Legacy of Film Noir." Journal of Popular… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Film Noir Movement by Examining.  (2005, October 18).  Retrieved June 19, 2019, from

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"Film Noir Movement by Examining."  18 October 2005.  Web.  19 June 2019. <>.

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"Film Noir Movement by Examining."  October 18, 2005.  Accessed June 19, 2019.