Posts Tagged ‘Double Indemnity’

Narrative and conventions in Double Indemnity

November 4, 2013

Key ideas of narrative were introduced in the lesson, so that they could be applied in essays and exam answers.

Todorov suggested that narratives consist of three things: a situation, a disruption and a resolution. This formula can really be applied to any film. Take Jaws (1975) for example, the situation is that it is set in a holiday town, the disruption is the shark and the resolution is Brody killing the shark. This can equally be applied to Double Indemnity (DI): the situation is that Neff is an insurance salesman, the disruption is that he is seduced to murder by Phyllis, and the resolution comes in the fact that they both die. In this way, DI is unusual as a film as the resolution comes from the death of the protagonist. This idea relates to the production code in Hollywood in the 1940s when DI was made, and the Law of Compensating Values. This meant that if crime was shown in a film, the perpetrators had to be punished, the punishment coming in the deaths of Neff and Phyllis.

Propp discussed the idea of narrative functions and applied them to Russian folktales, although these functions can equally be applied to films and other stories as well. In Proppian terms, there is a hero function, a victim or princess function and a villain function. An important thing to note is that these functions should not be confused with character archetypes, as although they can be one and the same, they are not always. For example, in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), the villain is arguably not a character, but the weather. Todorov’s and Propp’s ideas can be applied in conjunction, with the hero function resolving the disruption, the victim suffers the disruption and the villain creates the disruption. In the case of DI; the victim is Neff as he is affected by disruption, which is caused by the villain, Phyllis. There is arguably no hero function in DI, as the only one who tries to resolve the disruption is Neff, but he fails.

Most of the characters in DI are seen to be unpleasant, with the exception of Keyes and Lola. Even the protagonist is arguably an unpleasant character, doing numerous unfavourable things, such as murder, framing someone for the murder, sleeping with a married woman. As the spectator, however, we are made to feel sympathy for and side with Neff. This is done in different ways, firstly through MacMurray’s performance, which is suitably charismatic and charming and thus makes Neff likeable, but also as confesses his crime and tries to make amends for his actions. He also takes Lola under his wing which makes his character more credible. What also makes him likeable is the fact that those who he wrongs, Dietrichson and Zachetti, are portrayed as nasty people so Neff’s actions appear more acceptable by comparison.

The second key scene (which starts at 21 minutes into the film) was also examined. The scene was determined to be of importance as it has Neff and Phyllis “consummating” their relationship, although this was not shown and only implied due to the production code not allowing for sex onscreen. We assume this has happened as Neff is seen straightening his tie and is laid down in a suggestive position, whilst Phyllis reapplies her makeup. The use of rain as pathetic fallacy and somewhat of an innuendo also achieves this. Shadow is a key fixture of the lighting of film noir; hence low key light is used in the scene. This is particularly effective when Neff walks from light and into shadow, creating a sense of entrapment. Gender roles are evident here as the character of Phyllis is a “femme fatal” as discussed in the previous lesson, and as such she is in control of the scene and wins the “poker game” dialogue as she walks away and Neff goes to her. And yet, she is still seen as somewhat subservient as she is told to get the glasses whilst Neff, as the male, pours the drinks. This shows the complexity of gender roles considering the 1940s context. Neff is also a typical film noir character of the “lone wolf”. This makes him a dangerous character as he has no ties to a family or wife, which makes him somewhat free and potentially reckless due to his lack of responsibility, which is seen as he is seduced to murder by Phyllis.

Double Indemnity

October 25, 2013

We were looking at the film Double Indemnity that we finished in class, which is about a woman who uses a man to help her murder her husband. In the ’40′s there was the Production Code and the law of compensating values regulations of  which a film had to contain no seen sexual content and the audience were not allowed to see violence. Barbara Stanwyck is seen as a strong mother figure which portrays her persona, however in Double Indemnity she plays a femme fatale in other words she was fatal and after watching the film we looked at the cinematography and the content of the film. And significant elements of the film we looked at how the

  • characters interacted with each other e.g Mrs Dietrichson and Walter Neff
  • How power is shown through Phyllis Dietrichson
  • the conventional representation of women e.g the idea of mothers, virgins or whores, Barbara Stanwyck played a character who slept around with 3 male characters Zycetti, Neff and her husband
  • how the narrative is shown through flashbacks and to the present between the characters Neff and Keyes
  • And the character Phyllis Dietrichson is perceived by the audience