Power, an essay on the film Chinatown

Essay by dubcity566High School, 11th gradeA+, May 2004

download word file, 4 pages 3.0


Sometimes people in a relationship do not grasp their powerlessness in comparison to

other parties . Often, in these cases, objective outsiders can see even though those involved

appear to be blind. In the Chinatown scene where Jake Gittes and Noah Cross have lunch

together, the director reveals for the viewer the balance of power between the two. Mr. Gittes is

a private investigator and therefore derives his power from uncovering the secrets of others. This

scene establishes Cross's power to the viewer while making Gittes feel he himself is empowered

because he feels he knows all of Mr. Cross's secrets.

Mr. Gittes feels he has the upper hand because he believes he knows all of Mr. Cross's

secrets. When Mr. Gittes tells Cross that Evelyn believes her husband was murdered, Mr. Cross

asks "Umm, how'd she get that idea?" The hesitation between the "Umm" and the rest of the

question is noticeable.

To Gittes, this hesitation makes Cross appear guilty leading him to suspect

Mr. Cross in the murder. When the topic of Mulwray's murder comes up, Mr. Cross becomes

inquisitive about the investigation. He wants to know what "the police say." He also wants to

know if the chief investigator, Lt. Escobar, is a "capable man." Both of these are questions about

the investigation, the answers to which could allow Mr. Cross to make a reasonable assessment as

to whether he may be caught. Mr. Cross then asks whether the Lt. is an honest man , implying

that Mr. Cross may be interested in paying him off, something that is certainly a possibility

because Mr. Cross is wealthy. Later in the conversation, Mr. Gittes asks Mr. Cross when was the

last time he (Mr. Cross) spoke with Mr. Mulwray. Mr. Cross pretends not to remember, and

thinking he has the upper hand, Mr. Gittes refreshes his memory, telling Mr. Cross he has

photographic evidence of their meeting. This is something that Mr. Cross wanted to keep from

Mr. Gittes, hence the lie. At this point in the conversation, Mr. Cross is standing up looking

outside with his back to Mr. Gittes who is sitting down behind him. The viewer sees Mr. Cross's

face and Mr. Gittes's back. When Mr. Gittes says that he knows yet one more of Mr. Cross's

secrets, the viewer cannot see Mr. Gittes's face. Initially, this might lead to the feeling that Mr.

Gittes is omnipotent: the all-knowing and all-powerful voice in the background.

This scene shows Noah Cross's power. When Mr. Gittes pulls up to Mr. Cross's

complex, there are a large group of people standing in front of his car with Mr. Cross in the

center. This group looks like a formidable posse and immediately makes Mr. Cross appear

powerful because he has control over this group of strong looking men. When Mr. Cross first

greets Mr. Gittes he says "Gids" instead of Gittes. He repeatedly makes the same mistake despite

being corrected by Mr. Gittes several times. Mr. Cross believes that he need not worry about a

puny investigator like Mr. Gittes. The fish that the two eat at lunch is served with the head

because "[Mr. Cross] believes it should be served with the head." Mr. Cross also hopes that

"[Mr. Gittes] don't mind" the way that the fish is being served. However, as he says this, the coy

smile on his face belies any concern for Gittes: the fish is being served the way Mr. Cross wants it

to be served, without any regard for Gittes's desires. Later in the conversation, Mr. Cross insults

Mr. Gittes so Mr. Gittes stands up as if to leave. However, Mr. Cross insists that he sit back

down. Mr. Gittes reluctantly does so after several requests by Mr. Cross. This is another

example of Mr. Cross's power over Gittes. While Mr. Gittes is standing, Mr. Cross makes a

remark to convince him to sit back down. According to Mr. Cross, "you [Mr. Gittes] may think

you know what you're dealing with, but believe me you don't." Mr. Cross says this with a lot of

gravity. This comment shows that Mr. Cross has complete control over Mr. Gittes. The only

thing that Mr. Gittes seems to have over Mr. Cross is knowledge. However, Mr. Gittes does not

even have that. After Mr. Gittes sits, the camera angle changes. Before, when they were both

sitting, the shot was right in the middle of the two characters showing both of them equally.

When Mr. Gittes sits back down the camera is situated almost behind Mr. Cross's chair so that

Mr. Cross is clearly in the foreground and therefore appears larger than Mr. Gittes. This change

in relative sizes shows a change in power, and now Mr. Cross has firmly established that he is in

control. Near the end of the scene after Mr. Cross has hired Mr. Gittes to find the girl, Mr. Gittes

wants to know why Mr. Cross wants the girl. All Mr. Cross will say is "[j]ust find the girl."

Knowledge makes Mr. Gittes feel powerful. By denying Gittes's desire for more knowledge, Mr.

Cross is weakening Mr. Gittes and strengthening himself. While saying this, Mr. Cross wears the

same coy smile he wore when the two were talking about the fish.

This is a mystery story. To draw the viewer into the story, the director must allow the

viewer to analyze the evidence. In this scene, the director gives plenty of material to analyze.

The conclusion the viewer reaches, in this case that Mr. Cross has the upper hand over Mr. Gittes

despite Mr. Gittes's limited knowledge, is encouraged by the design of the director but is not

completely revealed unless the plot is analyzed by the viewer.