After some recent reading on film noir, I am re-focusing my approach to film noir, and this re-appraisal will influence my coming film noir reviews.
If we go back to the hard-boiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, we find protagonists who are essentially outsiders with personas concerned not with redemption but with maintaining a stasis that is outside the mainstream in an existential sense. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are not concerned with money or status, conventional relationships, or necessarily following the letter of the law. These guys are loners. Independent men above banal striving and ambition, but loyal to a code that not only guides but defines them. While the PI works at the perimeter of convention, his realm goes beyond the dark sordid recesses of criminality to the rotten core of polite society. Death-in-life is their métier, and integrity their salvation. But this integrity and independence casts them adrift. They are of society but not anchored in it. Their alienation is knowing and desperate: capitulation is existential death. These guys are subversives as film noir is subversive: a losing battle against chaos. Nietzche was wrong: superman is a ‘loser’. The loser is outside society, his alienation is a positive reverse-psychosis, he maintains his sanity in a crazy urban nightmare only by his detachment, yet he despairs of it. Ambivalence and entrapment the cost.