Chinatown: A Greek Tragedy [Spoilers]



(You’ve had over forty years to watch Chinatown. If you still haven’t, this video essay will spoil the ending for you.)

Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic Chinatown is many things. It is a murder mystery. A family melodrama. It’s a film noir, a neo noir, a sunshine noir. But also: Chinatown is a Greek tragedy. In Greek tragedies, the protagonists are accomplices in their own downfall. They can’t escape their tragic fate, no matter what they try. The outcome is certain from the start.

The same goes for Chinatown. Its ending feels strangely familiar, almost like a déjà vu. That is no coincidence. All elements of the tragic ending were carefully set up. Screenwriter Robert Towne and director Polanski filled their film to the brim with premonitions of its own ending.

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