Character and Theme-focused Screenplay Analysis

Great Films

Double Indemnity: A Screenplay Analysis

Posted by Jennine Lanouette on Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Double Indemnity Film


Although Billy Wilder claimed he only wanted to tell entertaining stories, his films are rich with thematic underpinnings and complex characters. Walter Neff is an all-American salesman; affable and independent. But he has an underside of latent criminality. With his confession at the beginning to his part in the murder of Mr. Dietrichson, the question is not, “Who did it?” Or, “Will he get caught?” It is, “How did this regular-guy insurance salesman come to be a murderer?” And then, “What brought him to confess?” Double Indemnity adheres to the dictates of Greek Tragedy in that Walter Neff sees his error before his demise. However, Greek Tragedy does not require that the protagonist compensate for his error through action. He must simply accept his fate. Yet this is what Neff is doing with his confession. He is making things right for Dietrichson’s daughter, Lola. This call for redemption through action has been handed down to us from the Medieval Morality Play. Wilder, along with his co-writer Dashiell Hammett, skillfully combines these two classic dramatic forms to create a tale of moral comeuppance that is resonant with human pathos.

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