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Film Noir And Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

1106 words - 4 pages

Film Noir, a term coined by the French to describe a style of film characterized by dark themes, storylines, and visuals, has been influencing cinematic industries since the 1940’s. With roots in German expressionistic films and Italian postwar documentaries, film noir has made its way into American film as well, particularly identified in mob and crime pictures. However, such settings are not exclusive to American film noir. One noteworthy example is Billy Wilder’s film Sunset Boulevard, which follows the foreboding tale of Joe Gillis, the desperate-for-success protagonist, who finds himself in the fatal grips of the disillusioned femme fatale Norma Desmond. Not only does the storyline’s heavy subject matter and typical character structure suggest the film noir style, but also Wilder’s techniques of photography and empty, worn-down settings make for a perfect backdrop for this dark approach at filmmaking.

Often, films made in the style of film noir present audiences with a rugged, cynical, and disillusioned protagonist. While Joe Gillis of Sunset Boulevard does not necessarily match up to this persona at the beginning of the film, the arc of his character eventually molds him into such traits through his hopeless situation and building encounter with Norma. At the start of his story, Joe is depicted by a desperation intense enough that he is willing to give up his own dignity and respect by first lying to bill collectors and fleeing them in his unpaid car, then proceeding to beg for a Hollywood producer to buy his trite stories, and upon the failure of that attempt, stoops so low as to ask this same producer for money. It is this series of actions which eventually lead Joe up to the doorstep of this film’s femme fatale—a frequent of film noir stories. The typical guise of this notorious part is often recognized by her deceptive qualities and manipulative tendencies, all made possible by her sexual appeal. Again, the audience is not presented with a perfect copy of such a personality in the character of Norma Desmond; her “appeal” is arguable, considering her hefty age of fifty, and her deception is not exclusive to her victim, but has cast a much heavier net upon herself. However, Norma is still manipulative in the sense that she uses the appeal of her wealth to keep Joe under her control. In this way, she strips him of his pride and manhood by taking him on as her dependent, and eventually into her “boy toy” (for lack of a better term) by inducing his guilt with her suicidal threats. Whether or not she deserves the audience’s pity is no matter—Norma fits her role as the femme fatale since she uses Joe entirely for her own purposes, and eventually brings him to his very literal demise.

As the audience knows well already since the very first scene, Sunset Boulevard does not have what one would call a “happy ending.” In this sense, the movie gives itself away as film noir considering the fact that all such works of cinema which fall in this...

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