Double Indemnity

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“Double Indemnity” is a film that not only explores the mindset of Walter Neff, but also the mindset of the United States in the 1940s. Both are punctuated by a dejected, pessimistic outlook, and both feel victim to factors beyond their control: Walter’s a victim of Phyllis, and the U.S. was a victim of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Billy Wilder explores these themes in “Double Indemnity” through a variety of tools, one of which is the film technique of voice-over.

First of all, the use of voice-over allows for the movie to be told primarily as a flashback. The movie, essentially, starts at the end: the beginning involves Walter confessing to the crime we are about to see him commit. This enforces a theme central to the film noir genre: fatalism. Before the majority of plot begins, Walter has already lost to fate. No matter what we see in the flashback, we know that he’s going to be revealed as a criminal. This sense of loss to fate reflects the despondent tone of both Walter and of American culture at that time in our history. If the movie had started from the beginning of the plot, not using the voiceover technique, we would not have this sense of preconceived resignation.

Secondly, the voice-over allows us to understand Walter’s thoughts at different points throughout the movie. This is important because our purpose in watching the movie is to evaluate Walter’s psyche. We already know he committed the murder right from the beginning, so our primary concern is then to understand why he committed the murder. We get glimpses of his reasoning through his voice-over. For example, Walter walks out on Phyllis after she originally suggests that they commit the murder together. This makes it seem as though he is not interested in conspiring with her. His thoughts, however, reveal his actual expectations. This is what he states in a voiceover: “And right then it came over me that I hadn't walked out on anything at all, that the hook was too strong,...
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