Desire in noir


In a noir film the narrator’s identity largely decides the path that the rest of the film will take. The major options are cop (C) and private eye (P), which are concurrent to this day. There is no reason one should entirely replace another since they have respective contexts of operation. Of course these two categories are vulnerable to subversions. Essentially, the C represents law, or at least justice; the P operates on a code that he knows instinctively. If both of them can be regarded as aggressive male individual out there, the degree in which they repress their sexual desire is different. Bounded by his official identity, just like the sheriff in Western, the cop detective is prevented from an ultimate fulfillment of his sexual desire. The P detective, conversely, is luckier. Whenever he returns to his office, unlike his cop counterpart, who has nothing but the typewriter waiting there, there is always a mysterious woman waiting for our private investigator. In this sense, the office that he needs to return so frequently becomes an erotic rendezvous, a convenient locus for tryst. Our private eye does not fare far from a gangster: in both genres desire is regulated by moral code. Yet in the case of the gangster, the ultimate goal is to possess, or to destroy, whereas the private detective always survives.


Laura achieves a maximum externalization of a cop’s desire; it also achieves its maximum repression. The fact that McPherson lingers in Laura’s apartment day and night, probing into her diary and personal correspondence, staring at her portrait (I guess Vertigo picks this bit up), pouring drinks from her cabinet—I am sure he uses her bathroom after all those drinks, but that verges on obscenity—is most unusual for a Detective Lieutenant. His burning desire is ruthlessly pointed out by Waldo, who made it clear that he needs to kill Laura because he cannot tolerate a dirty cop kissing her. On the other hand, Carpenter, such a vulgar figure, represents virtually no threat for him. One wonders why McPherson is such a threat to Waldo—we know he and Laura are unlikely to get together; Carpenter, in contrast, is engaged to Laura—and why McPherson, on his part, takes rather Carpenter as his enemy. But when he finally kisses her on the lip I understand the difference: Waldo competes for the intensity of desire whereas McPherson is concerned with physical possession.

Annex - Tierney, Gene (Laura)_09

As a genre Noir develops from the gangster and the detective genre. But in regards to the role women play it mostly inherits from the latter. Whereas in gangster movies woman are mostly feminine decorations, trophies of a masculine aggressiveness, in detective genre the woman’s role is constantly under transformation—the desire itself keeps changing forms. It is hard to say which comes first, whether the role change triggers the form of desire, or vice versa. Our male protagonist is not infallible, in fact he is doomed to fall, to get involved, and to become a part of the mess he is investigating. But he will survive because he know when to detach himself, to relinquish his desire, which is obscure from the very beginning, in contrast to the gangster’s explicit one. In Maltese Falcon Bogart says, I won’t because all of me want it and you count on it. Thus the detective exemplifies an ordinary man who resists his own wishes, and refuses to be manipulated.

Annex - Mitchum, Robert (Out of the Past)_04

In Kiss Me Deadly Mike takes as his responsibility to rescue young women, not because he needs to gather intelligence from them, but also because that is part of his perception of the world. The film indulges us with this Fellinistic perception, but it does give us glimpses of an alternative, which is promptly named “feline perception”. Think about Christina, her hysterical laugh; and when she calms down, what does she do? She swallows a locker key in the toilet of a gas station and writes a letter to our protagonist which reads, “Remember me”. This note creates initially a confusion—although Mike quickly figures it out, to my amazement—because what we usually associate with remembrance is not physiological but psychological qualities. It is as if Christina was talking about remembrance in the Egyptian’s sense—embodied by a mummy. Moreover, when she talks about body, she does not mean the surface of her body, but the interior, the bowels. Note in cases of male fantasy, a female’s aura is focused on the surface of her body—nobody would fall in love with the inside of a woman, albeit ironically the ultimate purpose is to attain this inside.

Kiss Me Deadly[(149458)02-11-31]

Therefore, what is striking about the male fantasy depicted in this film is that not only it shows a male-centered world where women either work for him or want to seduce him, but also an anxiety that underlines this male complacency. Kiss Me Deadly is a sublime instance of castration anxiety visualized. This anxiety turns true when the Lily Carver character transforms into Gabrielle—a Pandora figure, as Dr. Soberin kindly reminds an obtuse audience—under the auspices of curiosity and greed; she becomes an empowered monster who is momentarily invincible, but as the Hollywood myth has it, sprints to its total destruction; monsters never rule happily thereafter.


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