New Criticals

Nowhere is humane anguish better displayed than in Evelyn Mulwary's face.    Chinatown is a film that is itself the attempt to avoid a woman’s story, a film whose big reveal demonstrates that this has been a woman’s story all along.

Jake Gittes thinks he has a particular type of crime to solve—murder and corruption—and the film proceeds as though this were an ordinary noir (though set in a sun-drenched California).  But when Evelyn informs Jake—under his threats—of her deeply personal and deeply gendered secret, the film turns over and becomes a women’s film.  Here, Polanski does more than tell a story about a detective’s failure to do justice to a female victim; he exhibits this failure in the form of the telling itself, the very structure of the film is an avoidance of Evelyn.  Chinatown takes the logic of Polanski’s women’s films even further: while the other films are about the world’s failure to adequately respond to women and its infinite inventiveness in silencing them, Chinatown simply fails its female character, it simply silences her.  The film warrants dozens of screenings for many reasons, one of which is to see how Evelyn subtly and regularly calls out for acknowledgment and how consistently Jake, and we, refuse her. 

In the ending of Towne’s original script, Jake manages to secure Evelyn and Katherine’s safe getaway.  Paradoxically, by blotting out that possibility Polanski can bring Evelyn finally, properly into view.  Had she escaped, the film would have ended on the note of Jake’s heroic triumph; by killing her—and sending Katherine into the grasping arms of a groaning Noah Cross—Polanski brings belated attention to her unacknowledged presence.