Character and Theme-focused Screenplay Analysis

Great Films

Chinatown: A Screenplay Analysis

Posted by Jennine Lanouette on Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Chinatown Film Jack Nicholson


Chinatown is most often analyzed as a detective story, but overlooked in that approach is the lack of any meaningful outcome. By the time Jake Gittes figures out who killed Hollis Mulwray, it’s too late for anyone to be helped. Rather, his confrontation with Noah Cross leads to Evelyn Mulwray’s death. Neither does his solving of the crime serve justice, since Cross turns out to be too powerful to be brought down by Jake. The best way to understand the structure of Chinatown is to view it as a tragedy, not because Cross has gotten away with murder and duped the people of L.A., but because Evelyn Mulwray is killed and her daughter is left in the control of her sexually abusing father. Furthermore Jake, while trying to help Evelyn, only succeeds at repeating a past mistake, which leads to her demise. Thus, the key to unlocking the dramatic structure of this film is in Jake’s traumatic repetition as played out through his relationship with Evelyn.

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