Even though it was made decades after the golden age of film noir, “Chinatown” is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, example of the genre. Much has been written about the film’s adherence to the rules of film noir. In fact, Robert Towne’s masterfully plotted screenplay, considered to be one of the best in film history, is usually the first script that film students are asked to study when dissecting the noir style and formula. But like many other masterpieces, “Chinatown” works in various layers, and it’s as much of a perfectly telegraphed and surprisingly typical Greek tragedy as it is a prototypical film noir. It turns out that Towne and director Roman Polanski’s influences for the story go a couple of millennia further back from the 1940s.
Perhaps since the classical tragedy angle of “Chinatown” is not mentioned as much as its command of noir, the good folks at Filmscalpel have created a five-minute video essay about the film’s connections to the dramas of western antiquity. The first and the most obvious link is of the tragedy “Oedipus the King,” from which Towne basically switched out the genders in order to inject an extra “ick” factor to the age-old tale. Another connection that Filmscalpel makes, oriented around a specific and subtle form of visual foreshadowing, will blow your mind. I know that’s a clickbaity suggestion, but this is one of those rare occasions where the hype should actually pay off, since even hardcore fans of the film more than likely missed some of the visual clues Polanski laid on us before we get to the iconic finale. You can watch the video essay below: