Chinatown Question (Spoilers)

As you know, I prefer to see movies for the first time 34 years after release.

Every plot element has a purpose. Nothing much is by accident. So why was is written so that Evelyn Cross had an incestuous with her dad? Upon review I cannot see what purpose this plot twist had.
Your thoughts?

I don’t know. I know the movie was supposed to be a sort of revival of old P.I. noir(ish) movies, and I gather that in many of those movies, there was a scandalous secret to be revealed at the end. Maybe Chinatown was just being true to form–and had to have an especially scandalous scandal for the scandal to feel particularly importantly scandalous to (then-)contemporary audiences.


To motivate Evelyn to want to get away from her father and keep Christina from the same man. That’s why it is so horrible at the end that the old man takes the young girl away.

“Forget it, Paul in Saudi. It’s Chinatown.” :cool:

I’m not sure what you’re asking. Noah Cross is written as abnormally evil, selfish, twisted, beyond even Gittes’ power to imagine, which is why he’s so tough on Evelyn until he figures it out (with her unwilling help).

Actually Mr Cross is a remarkable bit of acting. The words on the page show him to be kind and polite. It is how those words were delivered that made him creepy as all get-out.

Thank you all.

For the sake of having the memorable “She’s my sister,” slap “She’s my daughter,” slap scene that everyone remembers forever.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Chinatown - my memory is fuzzy, but I am reviewing my hypothesis against the plot description over at Filmsite.

Wasn’t the incest the real reason behind the murder of Hollis Mulwray? Jake kept thinking that Hollis was murdered as part of some larger corruption taking place in the Water department, but he was incorrect throughout the entire movie: Hollis was more likely murdered because he found out about Noah/Evelyn-Katherine than because of his management of the Water department.

Jake kept getting it wrong - he developed a number of theories about the murder of Hollis, but could not put the pieces together accurately as he never really was all that good at his job. He was a schmoe who got in way over his head and made a horrible situation worse.

Did Hollis just find out, or did he know all along? Catherine was in the picture, and he spent time with her, so maybe he knew the whole backstory for years. I’m unaware that he had only recently learned about his wife’s incestuous relations with her father.

Which makes it a departure from traditional noir, in which (predominately guided by the Production Code) the villain is eventually punished, even if the hero has to go down with him or her (see Out of the Past as an example of this). In the case of Chinatown the villain gets away with murder, rape, kidnapping, fraud, conspiracy to commit same, and ultimately controls the fate of the city of Los Angeles. And the hero? He loses everything but his life, walking away with the knowledge that he has done no good for anyone; what secrets he knows don’t matter because no one will print them or enforce violations against Noah Cross. A brilliant piece of revisionist cinema, and Nicholson and Dunaway at their best before they both became scenery-chewing paycheck collectors.

Hollis knew; that was part of the split he had with Noah Cross. Hollis underestimated Cross’ lust for absolute power, through.


Did we ever find out what the “hell of a fight” in front of the Pig and Whistle that Hollis had with Noah Cross was all about?

Might be that Hollis knew all along, but I always felt his finding out is what precipitated the argument between Hollis and Noah that was photographed by Jakes’ assistant (the “hell of a fight” mentioned by PRR, above). Hollis probably threatened Noah with exposure/moving the family and Noah had him killed before Hollis could do anything.

None of the above is substantiated in the movie, but that’s my backstory.

Hollis figured out the scheme to dry up the Valley and then buy the property cheaply through dummies (the people in the retirement home). That’s why he was seen in the L.A. River and was checking reservoir levels.


And Evelyn and Catherine weren’t a part of it at all? It was sheer coincidence that the incest story came to Gittes’ attention at exactly that time, despite gestating (so to speak) for twenty years or so? And who sicced the phony Mrs. Mulway on Gittes anyway?

It’s amazing how much I can like a movie whose plot I don’t understand.

Naw, I thought about it some more and I’m pretty sure I’m right: that the precipitating cause of the argument (and, eventually, Hollis’ death) came because Hollis finally understood the “special relationship” between Evelyn and Noah.

After all, Noah and Hollis were “friends” early on (Jake looking at the photographs on Hollis’s wall) and they both built the water department together. It was only much later that the friendship (for want of a better word) cooled.

Exactly right, the tradiotion detective noir has the detective arriving in a state of confusion and outside the truth, but slowly the pieces come together for him and in the end he solves the crime. His cuynicsim is actually his m.o., it allows him to see more about people than just what they present. The riddle of the mystery is usualy only decipherable by this detective due to his cynical nature.

In Chinatown Nicholson starts out with what seems to be a fairly routine case that spirals beyond his control and comprehension. And even though he has the cyunicsm, he doesn’t have the imagination, as most people wouldn’t. As Stranger says, he has accomplished nothing by the end.

Whether it was meant to be or not, I considered Daniel Day-Lewis’s voice in *There Will Be Blood *to be an homage to Huston’s Noah Cross role. The similarity was uncanny to me.

And I guess it reflects the general theme (implied by Jake in the opening scene with the poor dumb cuckolded schmuck in his office) that the rules don’t apply if you’re rich and powerful enough. Cross simply takes whatever he wants, including his own daughter.

Think I’ll watch that movie again.

I have to pop in here and say how relieved I am to find out that there are lots of other people, smart people, who didn’t fully understand that movie either. I was frustrated and felt like an idiot when I saw it, because there was so much I couldn’t quite figure out. Since then I’ve found out it’s like that on purpose, and learned to better appreciate ambiguous, open-ended and inconclusive art in general, but I’ve never wanted to see Chinatown again, just because it made me so mad back then.

Chinatown is a movie that bears up well under repeated viewing and you will follow it a lot more if you watch it several times. I also recommend The Two Jakes. A flawed film that finally pays off in the final scene in a very subtle way.

Everyone noticed it, it was intentional. If you imagine Plainview as a young Noah Cross *There Will Be Blood *is a whole lot creepier.