Arts & Culture

Film Review: The Proud Misogyny of Polanski’s “Chinatown”

Michael Olderr, staff writer

“Chinatown” has been claimed to be an American classic. However, everything that the movie props up on a pedestal is disgusting regardless of execution. Director Roman Polanski might think the world is complacent in its own suffering, but he causes it with films like this one.

In the 40 years since its release, the ways in which we process and view films have changed drastically as has the way films are made. “Chinatown’s” downright misogyny and fetishization of women’s suffering would not fly today. The film’s ending is an attempt at brainwashing the audience into thinking that there is nothing they can do about these issues.

“Chinatown” is a 1974 noir-esque film that tells the story of the private investigator, Jake Gittes, looking into an adultery case that slowly becomes the biggest scandal in the history of Los Angeles. 

The mystery is set up well, but it is stifled with how Faye Dunaway’s character Evelyn is treated. “Chinatown” plays a back and forth with Evelyn’s guilt and role in the mystery, but that ends when the truth comes out after Evelyn is assaulted in what was considered to be a “powerful” scene at the time of the film’s release. 

Polanski’s hatred of women is on full display throughout this movie. Most if not all of the women are depicted as lying, manipulative, insane, people who deserve to be beaten and most of them are beaten. There are no excuses Polanski can come up with to justify this. It is nothing short of disgusting and leaves us with an upsetting ending that has aged poorly with time. 

A fairy tale ending where everyone rides off into the sunset does not fit every narrative; however, the ending of this film is sickening to its core. Not only is it completely unsatisfying (though it should be noted that was normal for Hollywood at the time), it is also gross and left me sick to my stomach for days. It is a cynical conclusion about how the cycle of abuse and power does not end and how no one can do anything to stop it.

While it is one thing to have an open-ended, bittersweet ending, having “Chinatown” end on such a hopeless and disheartening note is nothing short of infuriating. Polanski is telling the audience that he can get away with whatever he does. And considering he won three Oscars in 2003 despite fleeing the United States to avoid being arrested for crimes not too dissimilar from the crimes in his film, he solidified his own sick self-fulfilling prophecy.

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