No more happy endings

The movie Chinatown (1974) directed by Roman Polanski offers a rare entity to the film world— an ending where the antagonist wins. My question is why does Polanski conclude his movie like this? The main plot of Chinatown encompasses the protagonist, Jake Gittes a private investigator, attempting to uncover an adultery case, but instead he gets caught up in a murder investigation, a conspiracy on water management, and state corruption. Noah Cross, the main antagonist, is the man causing corruption within the city of Los Angeles. He is also the father of the woman whose husband gets murdered. Noah appears amicable on the exterior, but hides his ruthless character inside. He says to Jake, “You may think you know what you’re dealing with. But believe me you don’t,” (Chinatown, 1974). This quote embodies the character that is Noah Cross, a deceitful man with disgusting tendencies to demoralize the city of Los Angeles. In the end, Noah gets the police to support him, steals his escaped child back, and Jake is left bewildered.

So, why does Polanski allow Noah to get away with this? One possible reason, often seen in the film industry, is to provide the movie with the base for a possible sequel.  Adding a suspenseful twist at the end allows for this framework. In fact, a sequel to Chinatown was created, however, it took the producers 16 years to make. Polanski could not have possibly been thinking this far in advance. Therefore, there must be another reason. One possible explanation is to provide a plot that may deter from the norms of the film industry and coincide more with reality. Today, one can see that society and politics are corrupt. It is usually the people with the most wealth and power that ultimately win. Polanski may have been attempting to expose this corruption within the 1930’s setting of Chinatown. Providing a twist at the end also leaves the viewer left with questions. These questions may be the ones that Polanski hoped would foster change in the world at the time. In this way, Chinatown becomes an indication for viewers to regain reality and open their eyes to what’s really happening around them. It is inevitable that life doesn’t always have happy endings, so why should this movie be an exception?

5 thoughts on “No more happy endings

  1. Kat, I think that you asked a great question. It is interesting to look at the significance of this film and why it was written this way. I agree with you and I think this film embodies the corruption that occurred when this movie was produced. It is a sad truth to see how money and power can get people ahead. I think that in most films there is a happy ending and the bad guy loses. Chinatown is a more accurate depiction of what happens in the real world. A good film will teach you something, and this one definitely does. Chinatown is eye opening to the harsh reality of corruption created by power and desire for money. I think it would be interesting to look at the issues shown in this film and how they are present now in the government.

  2. When I was watching the End of Chinatown, I had a lot of the same feelings. I felt almost cheated, like Polanski was just toying with viewers. However, he must’ve had a reason for presenting Noah Cross as the victor. Rarely in literature and film do we see the antagonist come out on top. Although, I think Gittes wasn’t really a loser. Things could’ve turned out much worse for him, as he was nearly killed and arrested. Therefore, although he was not able to expose the injustice and corruption of Noah Cross, Gittes’ fate could have been much worse. Now to answer your question: Why does Polanski choose to have Noah Cross come out on top?

    I agree with the points that you made in your response. I think by showing Noah Cross as victorious, Polanski was trying to warn viewers of the corruption that could be influencing their everyday lives. An example of this is when Noah Cross says to Gittes, “Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” This shows how anyone can be corruptible. Noah Cross is seen as a very respectable and positive individual, yet few know of his true intentions. Therefore, I think Polanski tried to question authority figures in America, and the dangers of corruption in politics/public officials. However, I think Polanski could have achieved the same idea even in Noah Cross had been defeated. For example, in The Swimming Pool, General Haruna was eventually ousted from his position as Minister of Water. Even though he was defeated, we as readers still recognized the corruption, and began to discuss the negative impact that he had on his community, as well as the social ramifications. In conclusion, I think Polanski chose to paint Noah Cross as the winner to point out corruption in American public service. This could have served as a wakeup call to some Americans who thought we were immune to this kind of corruption.

  3. Hi Kat,
    Roman Polanski is a Polish who experienced the Holocaust during the Second World War, and once his wife was killed by some sudden murders ( The two events left his life with trauma and depression, which when the job of movie director came to him, the style that he used to direct the movies was fulfilled with dark and thrilled mindset. Based on the point, we can find that his characteristics project to the film. The Holocaust can be similar to the framing up to the water engineer, as well as the prohibited protesting shepherds at the hall, where the governor made his mocking speech. The sudden, harrowing death of Polanski’s wife can be connected to the death of Murray in the latter part of the film, or the death of Evelyn at the end of the film. It is a natural thinking that the director creates work based on personal experience. At the same moment, the time when the movie was directed is 1974, a time during which some infamous political events happened in the U.S. which shocked the world, and the releasing of dissatisfaction from the youngsters, who wanted to uncover the corruption of the government and fight against the War of Vietnam via hippy movement and sexual liberation. The impulsive events happened in a series at that time, which propels the creation of a film with political allusion referring to the events in the 1930s Los Angeles.

    I agree with your point that the real world is fulfilled with the cruel but firm problems to solve. And, based on the question that why Roman Polanski directed an ending like this, I expand my thinking between the ending of the film and the topic Chinatown. There are several themes mentioned in the ending: powerlessness, vice, corruption, power, etc. These themes form the reality’s problems like the law cannot restrict the acting of vice, the wealth or power can buy the police’s right for justice, and the desire expands too much which brings no benefit for people. As the basic characteristics of Chinatown, the lower level people come from Asian countries to the U.S. for earning a living for them, forcing by the desire to chase for wealth in a foreign land. Not in their country, the people working in Chinatown learn how to build relationships with police or managers of the land, making their income valid and potential. Thus there are conflicts about power and wealth, expressed through fighting, commercial war or even vice, which assimilates the condensed tragic words said by the assistant: ‘Forget about it, Jake, it is Chinatown’ (02:08:25 – 02:08:30). The director creates a metaphor, concentrating all the themes in the movie, to tell people that the unsolved problems can be hard to eradicate, as what happened in the Chinatown.

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  5. وضع مصائد العث المصصمة خصيصاً لذلك في الخزانة حيث يعتمد مبدأ عملها على جذب العث ثمّ لصقه بها، كما يمكن استخدام مصيدة الصاعقة التي تجذب العث لها، وتصعقه، وهنالك طريقة يدوية لصنع مصيدة العث من خلال تعليق ورق خشن في الخزانة بعد دهنه بمقدار من هلام الصبار أو زيت السمك، لجذب العث والتصاقه بها.
    مكن استعمال كرات العث للتخلص من عث الملابس باتباع الإرشادات المرفقة مع المنتج لمعرفة كيفية الاستخدام والكمية المسموح بها، وبشكلٍ عام يجب عدم وضعها بطريقة عشوائية أو مبعثرة بل وضعها داخل أكياس بلاستيكية كبيرة داخل الحقائب أو الصناديق، ويجدر بالذكر إلى أنّ هذه الكرات تحتوي على مركبات متطايرة ضارة كالنفثالين، لذلك يفضل تجنّب استعمالها في الأماكن التي قد يصل لها الأطفال أو الحيوانات الأليفة.

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