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Sinners of Sin City: Film Noir Character Types in Sin City By Alex Davis

Roger Ebert says the following about the 2005 film, Sin City (Rodriguez) in his


review: "The movie is not about narrative but about style. It internalizes the harsh world of the Frank Miller "Sin City" comic books and processes it through computer effects, grotesque makeup, lurid costumes and dialogue that chops at the language of noir." (Ebert, 2005). In essence, he is saying that the film’s elements of mise en scene and the dialogue are the driving factors that make Sin City (Rodriguez, 2005), a neo-noir. I would have to argue against his assertions that the film is not about narrative because the characters are what drive the story, which is what creates the style. The mise en scene elements are products of the characters and what kinds of lives they live, therefore, the style is coming from the narrative meaning that the film is about narrative as much as it is about style. The narrative of each vignette of the film is driven by the characters and while the film is still visually driven, all of these characters exhibit film noir traits since each one of them can be attributed to the classic noir character types; the Femme Fatale, the good bad girl, the girl victim, the male victim, the noir psychopath, the maladjusted veteran, and the private eye, and so on. The two characters that stand out the most in terms of classical noir are Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Nancy (Jessica Alba). MARV One character that stands out above the rest though, is Marv (Rourke), because he is a classic noir male victim. According to Andrew Spicer the male victim van be explained as either a “middleclass professional” or a “working-class drifter” and can also be described as the following: “The figure is not admirable or innocent but morally weak, apparently helpless in the throes of desire and attempting to escape his frustrations of his existing life”, (Spicer, 85). This quote essentially sums up Marv because Marv’s story is


all about his desire and how he has such a frustrating life. Since his story is about how he slept with a hooker it is easy to see how the story turns him into a victim. Once he realizes that she has been killed and her sister asks him to help track down her killers, he is showing all the signs of a male victim because he is eagerly following commands in hopes to impress Goldie’s sister, in addition to the fact that he is avenging a dead girl, thus he is being used by two femme fatales at once and in the end he ends up losing by paying the ultimate price as do many male victims such as the case of Neff (Fred MacMurray), in Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944).

Marv and Goldie This shot is a perfect example of how the style revolves around the story. Marv is standing in a dark room and light peaks through the venetian blinds, which all revolve around Marv, a dark, loner character, who creates the mise en scene because the life he lives. He is unaware of the fact that she is a hooker, but that helps create the atmosphere. Her beauty is in the lighter part of the frame, while Marv’s disfigured and grotesque


appearance is the dark, thus the Chiaroscurro lighting is a reflection of Marv as a character. The style is wrapped up in the narrative because the photo is suggesting that Marv is drunk, (hence the bottle in his hand), and he is about to have sex with Goldie which is the inciting incident of his vignette.

Marv’s Injuries The above photo is another example of Sin City using narrative to dictate the neonoir style of the film. Again the Chiaroscurro lighting shows that Marv is now more deformed than before because of his injuries because of the hijinks he has gotten himself into. The lines on the wall are used to show foreshadowing of what is to come because the lines form what looks like a cage or a prison that clashes with the dark tile spaces in between the lines. Without the story, the imagery of this shot would not be nearly as powerful to suggest what is going to happen to Marv.


Marv in The Rain As in any film noir the element of rain add vertical lines.

Marv’s Battle Hungry Eyes This shot emphasizes the claustrophobic nature of film noir.


Marv the Sucker Marv is seen riding with Goldie’s sister who is brightly lit, while Marv is in the dark again speaking to the dichotomous nature of film noir as a style but also to their characters; Goldie’s sister, the femme fatale leading Marv to his defeat, and Marv, the victim that is going along with the plan.

Marv’s Execution This shot is just another reminder that in the end his character loses. The lighting


is used to show his dual emotions in that on the darker left-hand side of the frame he is almost smirking as if his darker side of his personality is welcoming death, while the left side in the light looks more serious.

NANCY Another character whose story dictates the style is Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) because she is a stripper in Sin City, yet she is good at heart thus she is a good-bad girl. Spicer says “The Good-bad girl combines the sexual stimulation of the femme fatale with the fundamental decency of a homebuilder and constitutes a central modern American type.” (Spicer, 92). Essentially, Nancy is obviously sexually stimulating because she is a stripper, however she is fundamentally good because she believes in the hero of her vignette, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), which is again summed up by Spicer when he says, “If she cannot actively help the hero, she can support him and believe in his innocence, or his ability to solve problems.” (Spicer, 93). She is similar to Gilda, (Rita Hayworth) in that both are a variety of burlesque performers and that when it comes down to it, neither one is a truly morally bad person. (Vidor, 1946).


Nancy the Temptress This shot is obviously one to show her sexual and provocative nature but she is does not have much of a smile on her face which is to prove the she is not enjoying what she is doing. The background is out of focus to represent her somewhat jaded and unhappy attitude towards the world around her while she is brightly lit because she is capturing the attention. Essentially everything in this shot revolves around her narrative and the style of the shot is the product of what kind of life she has chosen and how she feels about the world around her.


Hartigan Is Tempted This shot is another shot to show Nancy’s sexual provocativeness because she is showing how the sexual stimulation she has is distracting and tempting the hero, Hartigan. She is in the background of a shallow focus to show that Hartigan is trying to fight his desire for Nancy. She is being lit from behind which obscures her face and in essence, she looks much more like a sexual object in this perspective, yet Hartigan must remember that he is there to help her. Again all of the stylistic elements of this shot are all completely in the context of the narrative and the characters because the shot is about Hartigan’s sexual desires that he must fight because he loves her in a way that one loves their daughter and for him to love in any other way would be inappropriate.


Nancy and Hartigan Reunited Their strange relationship is rekindled and as usual, Nancy is in the light, and Hartigan, a man with a dark past, comes from the darkness.

The Yellow Bastard Tries To Make Nancy Scream The yellow bastard a sadistic, cruel, and clear noir psychopath, tries to intimidate Nancy, but she is brightly lit to represent her morality over a dark backdrop to show hope even in her darkest hour.


Nancy Entertains the Crowd This shot again shows Nancy, in the front and center as the main attraction to be ogled over.


Hartigan Saved Nancy This shot shows Nancy, the representation of innocence, in the light, and Hartigan is embracing her and coming from out of the darkness. The main argument I would like to state is that a film that has often been said to be almost entirely about style, has just as much substance. Although many scholars have debated me on this such as Geoffrey Mayer and Brian McDonnell who said that the film is not about thematic elements of film noir and that it pays tribute to the style. (Mayer and McDonnell, 380), but I beg to differ because Sin City is an urban film that is all about death, murder, sex, desire, and humanity which can be seen in all of the characters and their narratives.


Works Cited Ebert, Roger. "Sin City :: Rogerebert.com :: Reviews." RSS. Sun Times, 31 Mar. 2005. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. Mayer, Geoff, and Brian McDonnell. Encyclopedia of Film Noir. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007, print. Spicer, Andrew. Film Noir. Harlow, England: Longman, 2002. Print. Double Indemnity. Dir. Billy Wilder. Paramount, 1944. DVD. Gilda. Dir. Charles Vidor. Columbia Pictures Corp., 1946. DVD.


Sinners: Film Noir Character types in Sin City