The Philosophy of Neo-Noir (The Philosophy of Popular Culture)
Mark T. Conard
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Film noir is a classic genre characterized by visual elements such as tilted camera angles, skewed scene compositions, and an interplay between darkness and light. Common motifs include crime and punishment, the upheaval of traditional moral values, and a pessimistic stance on the meaning of life and on the place of humankind in the universe. Spanning the 1940s and 1950s, the classic film noir era saw the release of many of Hollywood’s best-loved studies of shady characters and shadowy underworlds, including Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil, and The Maltese Falcon. Neo-noir is a somewhat loosely defined genre of films produced after the classic noir era that display the visual or thematic hallmarks of the noir sensibility. The essays collected in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir explore the philosophical implications of neo-noir touchstones such as Blade Runner, Chinatown, Reservoir Dogs, Memento, and the films of the Coen brothers. Through the lens of philosophy, Mark T. Conard and the contributors examine previously obscure layers of meaning in these challenging films. The contributors also consider these neo-noir films as a means of addressing philosophical questions about guilt, redemption, the essence of human nature, and problems of knowledge, memory and identity. In the neo-noir universe, the lines between right and wrong and good and evil are blurred, and the detective and the criminal frequently mirror each other’s most debilitating personality traits. The neo-noir detective—more antihero than hero—is frequently a morally compromised and spiritually shaken individual whose pursuit of a criminal masks the search for lost or unattainable aspects of the self. Conard argues that the films discussed in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir convey ambiguity, disillusionment, and disorientation more effectively than even the most iconic films of the classic noir era. Able to self-consciously draw upon noir conventions and simultaneously subvert them, neo-noir directors push beyond the earlier genre’s limitations and open new paths of cinematic and philosophical exploration.
Hall, Philip Baker, 91 Jacobs, Jonathan A., 191, 200 Hammer, Jan, 187, 193 James, Brion, 24 Hammett, Dashiell, 14, 48, 146 Jameson, Fredric, 134, 156 Hannah, Daryl, 29 Jesus, 102–3 Hanson, Curtis, 1, 2 Johnson, Don, 186 happiness, 36, 69, 83, 86, 87, 89 Judaism, 143–44 Hard Eight, 91–100 Jurassic Park, 154 harmony, 83, 86–87, 89, 156, 158, 164 justice, 58, 67, 71, 78, 80, 83–90, 93, Hathaway, Henry, 91, 157 95, 99, 123, 139, 141, 147, 167, Hauer, Rutger, 27 172–74, 187 Hawks,
and, indeed, very o en do, succeed. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people (just like in real life!), which seems in line with noir’s cynicism and pessimism. Some examples of neo-noir movies include John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) from the 1960s, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) from the 1970s, Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981) and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) from the
seems to be the only plausible candi- date for a conception of personal identity. is is so even though there is no chronological constraint on any linear series of conscious memories. e second lesson is that any series of conscious memories can be fused with another, such that the result is a mix of two persons or a mix of the true and false. But, then, it follows that our personal identity is not really identity at all but, rather, a matter of survival, which, in turn, admits of degrees.
antiheroes. Typical noir male protagonists are weak, confused, unstable, and ine ectual, damaged men who su er from a range of psy- chological neuroses and who are unable to resolve the problems they face. Noir’s depiction of its male protagonists—what Frank Krutnik calls its “pervasive problematising of masculine identity”—is expressive of a funda- mentally existentialist view of life.1 As Robert Porfirio argues, noir’s “non- heroic hero” is such because he operates in a world “devoid of
marks this stage of the phenomenon as radically di erent from its classic phase. ese earlier films exist within the boundaries of an emerg- ing, if unorganized, group practice; neo-noir films, more o en than not, take that practice as their subject matter, as the “meaning” that they intend to express and deconstruct for a narrowly defined audience knowledge- able about, and fascinated by, Hollywood history, which such filmgoers are eager to see recognized and commented on. is is one of