This essay examines the mise-en-scene in this closing sequence.
The closing sequence of Chinatown begins with Jack Gittes (Jack Nicholson) conversing with Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). The two characters are featured in a medium close-up, with their bodies cut-off. While the film’s plot is highly complex and entangled, at its core it is a strong character piece. The minimalist mise-en-scene of this conversation, with the two characters featured alone in the foreground highlights the film’s strong character-centered nature. It’s also notable that Jack retains the bandage from earlier in the film, as this is symbolic of his ultimate fallibility in comparison to Mulwray almost angelic quality.
This minimalist conversation scene cuts to a montage of shots of Chinatown. The city is depicted through neon lights that shine brightly in an all-dark background. The effect is powerful as the neon lights take on a sort of Las Vegas like feel where the outward brightness seems to conceal a sinister interior. The film’s nighttime setting further accentuates its neo-noir conventions. Indeed, this becomes a predominant thematic element as the final film sequence unravels. Not only is the scene shrouded entirely in darkness, but so are the characters. Only on brief occasions does director Polanski allow the street lights to shine on their faces. When Evelyn Mulwray appears she is also featured in black. The only character in white is Noah Cross. In these regards, the film’s mise-en-scene is playing with the noir notion of morality; the two protagonists are shrouded in black, and Cross, the antagonist, is featured in white. This leads the viewer to question the film’s moral center and further destabilizes the viewer. This moral ambiguity is mirrored in the plot as Jack is handcuffed to the car even while attempting to reveal to the police that Cross is the murderer and villain. Ultimately, the