Existentialism and Film Noir

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Existentialism and Film Noir

Existentialism and its worldview are believed to have derived from Nietzsche’s provocative and controversial statement “God is dead”. The underlying meaning to Nietzsche’s controversial statement is that empirical natural science has replaced metaphysical explanations of the world. As a result of this, according to Nietzsche we no longer have any sense of who and what we are as human beings. He concludes that no foundation exists anymore for the meaning and value of things. Nietzsche’s philosophy shines light on what film noir is. That is, an artistic response to, or recognition of, this alteration in our understanding of the world. To emphasize the existentialist attitude in film noir, various stylistic and thematic techniques are used. Common techniques or characteristics of film noir that we see in both The Maltese Falcon and The Killers include: unconventional or non-classical narrative patterns, opposition of light and shadow, disorientation of the viewer, incoherent plot lines, inversion of traditional values and its corresponding moral ambivalence, non-chronological ordering of events, and characters whose actions are not motivated or understandable in any rational way. The similarities of characteristics between existentialism and film noir are prominent; for example, Siodmak and Huston distinguish the alienation and disorientation of a post-Nietzschean world, one without transcendent meaning or value.

The constant opposition of light and shadow as seen in The Maltese Falcon and The Killers, helps communicate the dark characteristics of a post-Nietzschean world. For instance, when the swede peacefully awaits his assassins, we get a sense of estrangement and lack of sense and meaning. This lack of sense and meaning is further emphasized when the room goes dark and you see him from the neck down in light, but the face is in total shadow. A sense of despair is created through this camera technique by showing that no one...
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