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Polanski’s use of the thematic device of the counter narrative in Chinatown Essay Example

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Polanski’s use of the thematic device of the counter narrative

In his essay «The Dark Sublimity,” Richard Gilmore describes counter-narrative as a parallel explanation, or a tale that portrays the opposite to what is commonly understood and acceptable in a society (Gilmore 1). For instance, a common understanding of the American Dream is that ordinary people who move to America get to transform their lives and become prosperous and happier. Indeed, this is the perception most “Hollywood” films have promoted. However, Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir film “Chinatown” presents a contradictory narration.

In the film, Polanski shows how people corrupt the ideals of the American dream by stealing from the common people who struggle to realise the dream. Hence, the common people are pushed into poverty and frustration, which contradicts the notion of the American dream. Chinatown narrates the story of Cross whose creativity in using irrigation has enabled him to transform Los Angeles from a desert into a prosperous city. However, he frustrates and kills the common people (such as Hollis) who attempt to frustrate his hunger for wealth. He further steals resources from the poor farmers, leading them to abject poverty. Ultimately, the film shows how the promise of the American dream to the common people is betrayed by the selfishness of the corrupt people.

Unlike most ‘Hollywood’ films that tend to show that in realising American dream, common people find meaningful existence, Polanski shows the opposite. Chinatown is the hub of criminal organisations and where law is not respected and hopes and aspirations lost. Corruption prevails and good people such as Lieutenant Escobar are willing to accept that corruption as normal. Civic leaders such as Russ Yelburton also engage in corrupt practices to get richer, while the most influential people such as Cross are viewed to be above the law. Hence, unlike in most films where true leaders are trustworthy and honest, Polanski shows that this is a myth.

Works Cited

Gilmore, Richard. «The Dark Sublimity of Chinatown,» n.d. 14 Feb 2015, <http://faculty.cua.edu/johnsong/crime/pages/gilmore-chinatown.html>