Sight and Knowledge in Chinatown

Essay by btransformerUniversity, Bachelor'sC, May 2008

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In this essay I will examine the links between sight and knowledge, and discuss how they can manipulate the truth. I will look at specific moments in the films scenes which reveal how sight and knowledge can affect the audience and the characters. I will talk about the techniques used in relation to theme. Parts that have been analysed are appearances, ignorance, truth Vs manipulation, audience’s perspective, main protagonist perspective, how the truth unfolds along with the plot and deception. The entire essay is based around the films portrayal of sight and knowledge and how it intertwines with the corruption of the American Dream and the dishonesty and deceit of the human condition. Also I will discuss the irony behind the films depiction of sight and knowledge.

Sight and Knowledge in ChinatownIn Roman Polanski’s classic 1974 film Chinatown, set in the 1930’s through the character of Private investigator J.J. (Jake) Gittes, played by Academy Award Winner Jack Nicholson, it is demonstrated that there is a clear link between sight and knowledge.

Gittes, as the protagonist of this complex storyline, is a character whose job relies on uncovering the truth, by way of visual clues and understanding the true character of those who he comes into contact with. Although his investigation (which is initially to discover the accused infidelities of wealthy Hollis Mulwray) aims to uncover the truth, it is revealed later on in the film that Gittes himself has been manipulated in a way that he does not see or understand, until it is too late. Thus, key themes in the film rely on the corruption of the American Dream and the dishonesty and deceit of the human condition.

Throughout the film Gittes makes numerous misidentifications, based on what he believes to have seen or heard. Gittes incapability to see...