The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep is a true mystery—nothing is as it seems in this classic Film Noir. A simple investigation turns into a vast murder plot with legs in black mail, explicit images, and a missing wife. The women in The Big Sleep—and there are many—facilitate this confusing plot as a device to further confuse the audience. Carmen begins the film as a sweet, confused, child when she attempts to creepily seduce Marlowe in the first scene of the film. She then quickly transitions to a drugged, sexed-up women who is being used for her body. Even more quickly, we see her as a dark femme fatale: ready to shoot if necessary to defend her own honor—fully autonomous and separate from the child in that first scene.

Vivian undergoes a similar transition in The Big Sleep—from daddy’s good little girl who just wants the best for her father to singing in some sort of jazz club full of men. She then becomes a gambling wizard, unwilling to take no for an answer. This shiny daddy’s girl transitions to a scheming woman who plays a part in an intense black mail scheme, though it is revealed in the end that she herself was being blackmailed.

Even the peripheral women in this film serve to subvert traditional ideas of womanhood and confuse the audience. The bookshop woman goes from dowdy librarian to sexy, independent young woman with the simple removal of her glasses. The taxi driver, already an unusual job for a female, tells Marlowe that she’s his girl—“You can use me again sometime… night’s better, I work during the day.” This woman’s real job is not even driving her taxi, she does something else during the day—insinuating that her taxi services may go beyond that of just driving handsome young men around.

The film’s end tells us that women are weak, are to be used and seduced to uncover this mysterious plot. Each of these women need fixing and protecting in the name of the great American patriarchy—weather it was protecting their honor or making them into beautiful creatures. The film’s final lines speak to this thesis: Marlowe asks Vivian what’s wrong with her and she succinctly replies: “nothing you can’t fix.”

The Killing

After the successful robbery, the radio describes it as a job by “a lone bandit wearing a mask.”

The Killing and the Dark Knight may appear to be disparate at face value—their plots, narrative structures, and characters differ wildly—but their thesis on American capitalism rings similar. Both films speak to a question of masks, the saviorism of wealth, and the foundation, or lack thereof, of American capitalism.

In their get-rich-quick scheme, this incongruent group of men could not be more American. Gambling—as we’ve discussed in this class—is already a typical American attempt to quickly gain wealth without the hard work, a way to live the American Dream without working for it. Here, these criminals plan to then rob a gambling house: a get-richer-quicker scheme within an existing get-rich-quick scheme.

Johnny describes the group by saying that “none of these guys are criminals in the normal sense.” Because this is American capitalism, where we are all everyday criminals, we are all stealing from someone else to get ahead. The White men all look the same—like an average White man—with character arcs that mirror each other, helpless wife at home, in need of quick cash, etc. As Johnny introduces the men, the audience relives the same scene over and over again.

The fact that the scheme is an inside job with the police force further underscores the Dark Knight’s similar thesis, reminding us of the Joker’s own infiltration of the Gotham Police Force. Just as in the Dark Knight, we wonder if we can trust the government to truly protect us if one of their own is willing to rob, steal, and kill to get ahead in this dark America.

The post-war society that Nolan reveals in The Dark Knight mirrors that of the society in The Killing—perhaps due to the United State’s recent decision to go to war with Vietnam and World War II’s revelation about the lengths our government would go to defend themselves. The narrator explains that “Johnny had no choice but to save himself and the money.” But only in this patriarchal, capitalist, American world does Johnny have no choice but to save himself and the money. He does indeed have a choice—just like we all do—but he choses to not sacrifice himself and not become the heroic exception.

The film ends with a scene eerily similar to one in the Dark Knight—so much so that it is obvious Nolan takes cues from The Killing—as Jonny’s millions fly away into the darkness of the night, we are reminded of the Joker’s epic burning of millions and millions of dollars. Money, the film says, literally means nothing. The foundation of capitalism and of our vast economic powerhouse of a country is an empty promise of a better life.

The Dark Knight

Nolan’s The Dark Knight instigates a prolonged attack on the police state in Gotham City. Though the Joker’s ultimate foil is Batman himself, his battle against the police and the larger government takes up much of the plot. In watching this caricatured clown take down a democracy, Nolan reveals to the audience that the state and the government will fail to protect its citizens.  

 Midway through the film, the audience believes that Capitan Gordon has died at the hands of the Joker. The villain literally hides among the police officers in this hyperactive scene. We—the audience—come to understand that evil could be, and is, everywhere. Once the Joker has been jailed, Gordon comes back in an ultimate scene of what we believe to be triumph. But this neo-noir manipulates us again, even Gordon cannot save us from the psychosis of the Joker as he places a bomb into the stomach cavity of a fellow prisoner.

 Nolan and the Joker’s ultimate subversion of the police state and the government comes through the transformation of District Attorney Harvey Dent. The joker drives Dent to darkness—from a great white knight to a great dark villain. As Dent begins his crusade against the Gotham police force for failing to protect Rachel, another critical reminder of the police force’s failure to protect us, he finds solace within his heads vs. tails morality. The Joker tells Batman in his own final scene: “I took Gotham’s white knight and brought him down to our level.”

 The Dark Knight depicts the consequences of anarchy, of a state without government or police or institutions. It tells us that we cannot trust the government, yet we cannot survive without it either.

The biggest question remains at large at the end of the film: is humanity ultimately good? Is the Dark Knight hopeful about humankind? In the boat scene that seems like a psychology experiment gone wrong, Nolan keeps us in suspense about the state of humanity. He makes the audience think about what we would do—weather we could push the button and kill another to save ourselves. Yes, this scene reads as ultimately hopeful, as neither boat kills the other.

 But the film ends with Dent as the last villain standing as he hunts down Commissioner Gordon’s family. Dent’s transformation is particularly pessimistic about humanity—it shows us how very easy it is to be swayed by the dark. The Dark Knight may be hopeful about collective humanity, but it tells a much darker story about each of our own personal humanities. The film reveals a darkness within all of us. It is ultimately asking: who would touch the button? And within all of us, the film reveals an urge to do just that.

*It is critical to note that this film is obviously written by a White man and reveals fears primarily to a White audience. The police state and the government were literally designed to oppress—not to protect—people of color and particularly Black people in the United States. In this light, Nolan’s thesis, and my own analysis, read as frankly ridiculous. It is only White people who would need a film by a White man to tell them that the government does not protect its people, instead of listening to the very people themselves.

After-Class Analysis

McGowan’s analysis speaks to superheroes’ positioning outside of the law; they become an exception to the law in order to differentiate themselves from evil—”In the context of legal order, the hero’s activity would become criminality, and there would be no way to differentiate it from evil.” The superhero undermines legal order in its very existence even while it attempts to support the law. He uses this framework to explain Batman’s decision in allowing Dent to die a hero and Batman himself to be branded as evil: “When he agrees to appear as a criminal at the end of the film, Batman avows simultaneously the need for the heroic exception and the need for this exception to appear as criminality.” Batman understands that without defining his exception as criminal, the multiplication of Batmans will only continue. That in a way, the very existence of Batman—of this exception to law and order—created the Joker.

A History of Violence

Cronenberg’s A History of Violence centers children from its very first scene. As we take in the bloody aftermath of a murder, a young girl escapes from a side room with cries of despair. Just as we take in the death of her mother—and the fact that she heard that death firsthand—the little girl herself is murdered. Cronenberg then deftly transitions from the violent death of this anonymous young girl to Sarah’s screams in the dark. With this tight transition, we are told that this will be a coming-of-age story, a story of how children go from screaming about monsters in the dark to becoming monsters themselves.

This obsession with childhood continues in a History of Violence, most obviously in a scene between Edie and Tom. Edie dons her high school cheerleading outfit in order to seduce her husband—role playing a teenage girl hiding her sexual escapades from her parents. An American obsession with youth is obvious in this scene, and Cronenberg aptly connects this obsession with youth to a female desire to feel sexual and be sexualized. Yet the film makes clear that this desire is much more sinister—it is ultimately an obsession with innocence (both sexual and otherwise). We yearn to return to the simplicity of American childhood in suburbia.

A History of Violence can be framed as a coming-of-age story for Jack specifically. He goes from a young boy cracking witty jokes to one who beats his bullies to a pulp to an outright killer; we watch as Jack losses his innocence and becomes a “man.” In this light, the film’s obsession with childhood is really an obsession with life before violence and monsters. It is an obsession with identity before the turmoil between our inner and outer selves existed.  

Cronenberg uses Sarah as a foil to her brother—she is the innocent to counteract his tarnish. The film’s ending solidifies this reading. As Joey returns home after killing upwards of five people, including his own brother, Sarah is the character who welcomes him home and who offers forgiveness. The young child invites him to the table—getting up and creating a place setting for him. Only a child could save the family and truly offer Joey retribution, because only she has the hope in humanity to believe that Joey—in her eyes Tom—is anything but a monster.

Post-Class Analysis

Alioff discusses the setting of the film, Millbrook, Indiana, at length, explaining that the film “induces you to believe in its elegiac depiction of Millbrook and its inhabitants.” He touches on the all-American town and the even more all-American diner that Tom runs—an unsophisticated, straightforward life in an unsophisticated, straightforward town. He speaks to a phenomena that many viewers would have felt but may not have understood (me included!), that “even before things go bad in the film, certain scenes imply that Millbrook might be too good to be true.” He argues that Tom and Edie’s relationship comes across as slightly too perfect at times and that their sex scene near the beginning of the film verges on play-acting. He argues that that feeling—the Millbrook is a little too perfect—comes too from the scene where Jack’s bully simply backs off after the crack of a joke. To Alioff, all of these scenes add up to a Millbrook that reads as a version of Our Town.

Lost Highway

Lynch’s Lost Highway is full of neo-noir ideas, metaphors, and symbols. Yet I’m interested in one element it lost: sound. The film is ripe with silences, minutes long stretches where no character fills the air. Instead of telling us what to understand in a film, the audience is asked to analyze, to understand in our own heads. In filling the film with silence, the use of music and score is then made to be more impactful.

In the first three minutes of the film, the only words we hear on screen are “Dick Laurent is dead” across the intercom. We watch Fred pace his house—losing himself in the anxiety of his own mind—without any real idea of what is happening. Without a narrator or protagonist to guide our thoughts, the audience, like Fred, lose ourselves in the anxious state of our mind. This silence is eventually filled with a short conversation between Fred and Renee, though even then they continue to whisper. This scene cuts sharply to the cacophonous sounds of the jazz club. By ending this silent scene with jazz, Lynch accentuates how truly quiet the scene before it was.

The night that Renee dies, Fred stalks the house in silence. Again, the audience is forced to return to our own minds to understand what is happening on screen, there is no assistance from Fred or Renee. When Renee finally dies, we again see a sharp cut to a loud, cacophonous scene: the detective yelling in Fred’s face “KILLER!” The silence of Renee’s death is underscored by the detective’s loudness.

This pattern of silence is everywhere in the film—from the scene where Pete’s parents pick him up from jail and do not say a word to both Renee’s and Alice’s whispered phones calls. In those particular scenes, Lynch asks us to pay attention to the women’s speech with close-up shots of their lips and then continues to lean on this anxious, quiet speech.

We watch both Fred and Pete lose their minds and, in the silence, we, the audience, lose our minds along with them. The silence makes you question everything, invokes insecurity and anxiety in even the most mundane actions. Fundamentally, Lost Highway is then a film about anxiety and the power of the human mind. In his silence, Lynch allows the audience to fill these gaps with any and every thought we have, and in doing so Lynch highlights both human fear and how truly easy it is for our feeble minds to lose control.

Post-Class Analysis

McKenzie’s examination of Lost Highway takes my own one step further: she includes both the sparse soundtrack and the sparse set as mechanisms Lynch uses to “build a sense of unease.” Their home is without character in its blank walls, vague, modernist furniture, and lack of personal details. Just as the soundtrack is eerily silent, so is Renee and Fred’s home. We are not just asked to understand the film within our own mind, we are forced to fill the silences with our own imagination and our own anxiety. Finally, Mckenzie connects this silence to the history of Film Noir–quoting James Ellroy in The Big Nowhere–reminding us that this is a film noir about film noirs, a film anatomizing the very misreading of the genre.

Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress weaponizes and criminalizes Black female sexuality. In the first true sex scene we’ve seen in a Film Noir, or a Neo Noir for that matter, Coretta James seduces Easy in a sinister manner. She gazes at him across her compact, refusing to make eye contact as she finally reveals that she does indeed know Daphne, reminding viewers of Medusa and her mirror. The film says that to gaze directly into the eyes of the Black female is to darken oneself, to submit to this world of sinister sexuality.

This first sex scene is then marred in moral corruption as Coretta sleeps with Easy as her partner sleeps in the next room. The director makes this moral uneasiness explicit in a cut where we see the sleeping man and only hear the grunts and groans of intercourse. The sex is sweaty, loud at times—it seems animalistic and almost primal—an intentional word choice with historical connotations to the oppression of Black people. And then, Coretta is dead; sex for a Black woman, especially sex that she is in control of, that she seduced or manipulated, is deadly in Devil in a Blue Dress.

The film then differentiates—or so we think—Daphne from Coretta. Daphne too weaponizes sex in an iconic scene where Easy asks what weapon she prefers and she seductively answers, “search me and find out.” Yet, Daphne’s Whiteness seems to be a barrier, a protection of sorts, from the consequences of female sexual weaponization.

But Daphne is not White—she does not have that layer of protection. Her Blackness—really her power as a Black woman—is instead equated to that of mayoral candidate Terrell’s crimes. He is a pedophile, an abuser of the innocent children that he so kindly adopted, while she is simply a Black woman trying to make her life a little better. Yet these two pieces of information are used against each other, are equated by the film in their deceit.

Devil in a Blue Dress portrays a dark side of American culture and society—one which relegates Black woman to have little power or autonomy. Black women attempting to circumvent their situations—attempting to become anything more than the label “Black woman”—are criminalized, punished, and equated to pedophilic White men by the film.

After Class Analysis

Bastiaans claims that A Devil in a Blue Dress relies on the audience’s desire to perceive racial difference, that the viewers must become detectives in order to solidify racial difference in the film. By establishing the cultural context of the film, problem pictures, a noir revival, and the Black film wave, Bastiaans confirms that much of the film was familiar for viewers of the time. He then uses specific scenes to unearth the audience-as-detective lens, such as the scene when Easy first meets Albright. Albright says to Easy, “See, Daphne has a predilection for the company of Negroes. She likes jazz, pig’s feet, and dark meat, know what I mean?” Here the film both teases viewers with clues we do not understand while also depending on the viewers to detect racialized tropes—that jazz, pig’s feet, and dark meat are coded language for Black culture or sexual difference. Critically Bastiaans explains that “by relying upon the viewer to supply the double meaning, the film asks the viewer to participate in the reification of such differences.”

Odds Against Tomorrow

A masterful narrative sequence in Odds Against Tomorrow captures the film’s thesis on race; the film sharply cuts from Earle’s dark statement—“you didn’t say nothing about the third man being a n*****”—to Johnny singing in a bar. Johnny’s words are critical here, he sings “what’s the matter pretty baby? Tell me what your daddy’s done. Won’t you tell me pretty momma, what your daddy’s done?”

This scene is shortly followed by Johnny’s face off with his boss in a private office in the bar. The boss casually mentions his eldest daughter’s 16th birthday, showing off the shiny white pearls he plans to gift her. Odds Against Tomorrow is undulated with references to children—both visual and metaphorical like in this scene. We see Earle pass a crowd of children as he enters Burke’s building in the very first scene, a similar crowd of kids gathers outside the drug store directly before the robbery, and many characters have children themselves.

Johnny’s song—that asks what your daddy’s done—can be seen from a new light in combination with these prolific references to children. Especially when the bar scenes ends with Johnny’s drunken tantrum—he interrupts the Black female’s song and bangs about on his xylophone—reminding the viewer of a young child. The Black female singer ends the scene by saying, “that little boy is in big trouble,” like she’s a mother who will have to punish her son.  

Burke clutches Johnny’s face in celebration of his genius idea–a pose reminiscent of a father with his son.

These narrative sequences that connect Johnny as a Black man to a child communicate the film’s thesis on race: that black people are children, not meant to truly live in society. That they should be seen and not heard—a harsh connection made by a quick cut from Johnny’s face to a dead baby doll in a river in the last several minutes of the film.

The white men in the film seem to be the only adults in the room. Yet, critically the last scene communicates just how false that notion is. They beguile the robbery and fail to be the great heist men they dream of. We understand then that the white men only believe themselves to be the only adults in the room—the reality is that we’re all children in the end. The blind are leading the blind, equal in our ignorant belief in hope.

After-Class Analysis

Wagner’s essay underscores the importance of score in Odds Against Tomorrow–confirming my own analysis of Johnny’s regression back to childhood via the score. In the club sequence, the score communicates Johnny’s fall from grace and his forced descent into criminality. Johnny transitions from singing like Belafonte to flailing at his instrument in an off-key, out-of-synch song. Here, Johnny’s “music reverts to childhood and he bangs out simple chord progressions as if playing a child’s toy piano.” This cacophonous moment of score speaks to the character’s desperate state, having just realized that he will be forced to take part in the heist in order to pay his debts.

Touch of Evil

The women in Touch of Evil are distinctly different from the typical femme fatales found in the noir genre. Instead of a film that orbits around a woman–or at the very least gives significant importance to–the women of Touch of Evil orbit around the men. They become side characters, used only as props to tell the stories of men, and particularly in the case of Hank Quinlan, to humanize and contextualize his dark mortality.

When we first meet Susie Vargas, she appears to be a femme fatale: masculine, aggressive, and equally beautiful. As the gangsters attempt to use her to call off her husband’s narcotic investigation, she jokes with the gangsters—calling one pancho—and yells at them when she is frustrated, saying “yeah, yeah, yeah!” right in the face of Uncle Joe Grandi. She then tells him, “If you’re trying to scare me into calling him off, let me tell you something Mr. Grandi, I may be scared but he won’t be.” This is a critical inversion—while as a noir viewer, we still believe this may be a good girl act to cover up darker motives—by the end of the film, we recognize that this is the true Susie Vargas: one who admits that she is fearful and openly requires her husband’s protection.

A second inversion occurs during her time at the motel. In the first scene of Susie on the phone, she’s sexed up in a tight white bodice as she lies furtively on her bed talking to her husband–there’s a sense of power in the overt sexuality displayed in this scene. Yet in the scene that follows, we see her in a sweet, covered up baby doll dress. The viewers learn in this scene that the Grandis have captured her motel, unbeknownst to Susie, and are preparing to kidnap her. Visually, Susie is weakened in this scene, transitioning from a sexy woman to a scared little girl.

A femme fatale is slowly revealed to be stronger, smarter, and more deadly than the viewer once believed in noir films. Instead, Susie is slowly weakened by the plot of Touch of Evil. Going from a woman who yelled at gangsters to one who hides in a motel room while the entire plot happens outside her room. There is no retribution for Susie in the end of the film, no gotcha-I-actually-placed-the-bomb moment. We desperately wish her to establish some autonomy, to be the epic, beautiful femme fatale, but instead she becomes a typical damsel in distress—saved by her dear husband, driving happily into the sunset.

“It’s all over Susie, I’m taking you home.”

There is an ample argument to be made that any femme fatale in a noir film lacks true autonomy, that as films about patriarchy, each and every film orbits the world of the man. That may be true, but there is at the very least attempts at subverting the distressed women trope in these films. Instead, Susie—even in her very name—is a typical, weak, all-American house wife.

Post-Class Analysis

Welles uses specific flying shots of trash in Touch of Evil as both a visual and aural motif–in the rear of a club as Quinlan and his crew first investigate the murder or the final scene of Quinlan slowing dying in a garbage dump. Garbage becomes “a reflection of the human condition and the material embodiment of the evil we live with.” It is so very American in its magnitude of waste–a seedy commentary on American capitalism and wealth–made even more poignant by its location on the border. In America, in Welles’ eyes, we waste much and then quickly push the waste toward others, in this case across the border, so that we can consume more. As Eric Kruger says in his paper, “If border towns do bring out the worst in countries, perhaps, then, they are metaphors for what those countries really are.” Welles is saying then that we are a country full of both waste and evil–almost as if he predicts the plastic and consumer revolution that would come largely in the 1960s and make America into the truly consumerist, capitalist country we are so proud to be today.

Kiss Me Deadly

Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly opens with a woman—whom we later know by the name Christina—running on a highway, desperately attempting to convince any car to pick her up. She is lit well against the dark highway as the sound of her rough breath becomes meditative. Eventually, she runs into the highway, forcing Mike Hammer to abruptly brake and save her from an unknown monster. The film then cuts to the credits and all the audience hears is the sound of Christina’s breath. Her breath modulates between sounds of deep fear and crying to what almost sounds like sexual pleasure. It becomes impossible to distinguish the tone of her breath: one of pleasure or one of pain. From the outset therefore, Aldrich links sex and fear in Kiss Me Deadly.

This connection sets the tone for the film’s weaponization of sex. Hammer is described soon after this scene as a “bedroom dick:” a private investigator who pits husbands and wives against each other by setting up extramarital affairs. Hammer seduces the wife and Velda—his sectary of sorts—seduces the husband. This seduction, and potential sex, for money could be classified as prostitution, even pornography if cameras are used to ‘catch’ the affairs in action which they hint to in the film. In Kiss Me Deadly, sex is a weapon characters use to manipulate, seduce, and destroy—just like any other weapon.

Hammer later goes to the grand mansion of the gangster Carl Evello, the elusive villain referred to as “they” throughout the film, in search of answers about Christina’s death and this box of fortunes. As he pulls up to the grand home, Evello’s sister greets him in the driveway. A bombshell beauty, the sister and Hammer have a seduction face off of sorts. Both are seducing each other—both are weaponizing sex—as the blonde immediately embraces Hammer, asking him, “Are you sure we haven’t met before?” Hammer seems to win in the end and convinces the sister to take him to the pool and meet Carl Evello. But as the sister agrees, she does so in a voice dripping with sex, saying: “Sure. Just get all wet.”

A deeper analysis of this primitive invocation of sex and fear in the film would connect this weaponization to the Freudian subconscious. I do not have the space or knowledge about Freud to eloquently make that argument, but I would be remiss to avoid even the mention of Freud. Near the end of the film, the gangsters use a “truth serum” to place Hammer in a fitful sleep, hoping his subconscious would reveal truths that his conscious did not. There’s a layer of dream-like—or nightmare like—element to the entire film, including the weaponization of sex. Sex and fear both live in our subconscious—Freudian feelings that Kiss Me Deadly forces viewers to recognize and further identify with.

The film ends with a final scene of sexual manipulation—Lilly Carver / Gabrielle demands that Mike kiss her with a gun in her hand. Aldrich binds Gabrielle’s kiss to her gun: communicating that one is synonymous with the other. Hammer fears Carver’s kiss just as much as he fears her gun, both have become the ultimate weapons of the subconscious.  

Post-Class Analysis

From the Jazz Mike Hammer plays as he picks up the crazed Christina to the classic radio playing as Hammer searches the now dead Christina’s room to the fight broadcasted while Evello and Sugar Smallhouse are killed, sound creates an evasive undercurrent in Kiss Me Deadly. These sounds provide textual contrast–the playful, sexy jazz in tension with the harried sounds of Christina’s breath or Evello’s gasp as he is killed in contrast with the all-American game in the background. Silver explains that while the sounds can be appreciated as textual noise, they are also “conscious metaphors and puns.” Think of the Christiana Rossetti Poem or the fight manager explaining that “they said they’d let me breathe.” The sound of Evello’s gasp suddenly seems like a critical statement on mortality and power in that light, especially when compared to the “hiss of the car jack in Nick’s murder.” By creating such palpable tension, sounds in Kiss Me Deadly reveal much deeper tensions: that between the everyday man and a fear of communism, the red scare and Hollywood, between our great American democracy and our great American invention–the atomic bomb.

The Third Man

The Third Man separates from several typical themes we’ve seen in the noir genre thus far—largely the anti-American setting and the lack of a traditional femme fatale. These differences center a critical analysis of the work: Holly Martins as an atypical protagonist, a protagonist who himself is left in the dark.

Set in Vienna, much of the film takes place in German, a language most Americans do not understand and feel an apprehension towards in a post-WWII world. We in the audience have no one to trust as the plots forms around us with side characters continually speaking this cacophonous language. Both the audience and Martins must depend on strange translators’ honesty to follow the plot of the film. Critically too then, Martins is unaware of the literal role he plays in many of these German scenes—in one standout scene, he speaks German lines as Anna practices for her next performance. For much of the film, Martins is playing a part he fails to understand.

Anna reacts to Martins terrible German lines.

While in most film noirs, the protagonist is physically left in the dark and shrouded in shadows, Martins is literally left in the dark in The Third Man. Detached from typical noir themes, Martins does not unearth the mystery of the film—instead, it is told to him by the international police and later Lime himself.

The Third Man is further divorced from traditional noir themes by the presence of a child and child-like symbols. A child lives in Harry Lime’s building—periodically appearing with his bouncy ball, often during climatic scenes. Carol Reed connects this child and Martins: unable to speak German or trust anyone around him, Martins—and thus the audience—is made to be a child. Confused, without answers, surrounded by shouting adults, we feel like children desperate for an answer. This connection is only furthered by Martins and Lime’s meeting place at the end of the film: a Ferris wheel.

This link between Martins and the child turns The Third Man into a coming-of-a-story. Like so many children and teenagers, Martins discovers just how dark and dangerous the world is in The Third Man. He learns that the adults around him cannot be trusted, that evils really do exist, and that maybe, these evils exist within himself too.

Post-Class Analysis

Brown argues–quite obviously–that the tone of the great world war and its subsequent guilt looms over the film. In his discussion of guilt, I was reminded of the classic Nazi defense, “we were just taking orders,” before Brown himself connects the defense and Lime’s own racket. He explains that “his [Lime’s] subordinates felt almost respectable in taking and following orders, and if there was guilt, the leaders bore the guilt.” The Third Man forces the audience to confront the guilt–or lack thereof–of the man who was giving those orders. It then further suggests that the Third Man is the Every Man: it could be you, Jane Doe, or anyone.

Brown’s discussion of Vienna’s position during and after the war was also compelling. He gives historical context on the failure to resolve (formally) any Austrian guilt in their relationship to The Third Reich and their treatment of Jews within Vienna; he describes Vienna’s present as “guilty calm.” The very idea that one could remove the guilt of such atrocities suddenly seems absurd in the light of the film and Brown’s words. How does a memorial or museum or plaque bring back the dots that forever disappeared because of the Holocaust and the atomic bomb. The film tells us that it is impossible–this murky layer between guilt and innocence is forever a part of the human condition.