Tag Archives: noir

Modern Noir and the Fluidity of Genre

At work last week, during one of the rambling intellectual discussions that tend to come up in our office, one of my coworkers dropped a bomb and said that “there’s no such thing as modern noir.” Said person then followed up with “I might go so far as to say that noir isn’t a genre, but rather an aesthetic” before walking out of the room, leaving me flabbergasted. In this person’s defense, there was a great follow-up conversation (mostly involving me and Russell explaining why this is quite wrong), but it’s not the first time I’ve heard this.

First, let’s get the second question cleared up: noir is a genre. Specifically, it is a genre of crime dramas, primarily in the 40s and 50s. Hollywood crime dramas from the time are more formally “films noir,” and literature in the genre is more often called either “hardboiled fiction” or “American detective fiction,” but such movies and literature can be correctly categorized as noir.

The first question, the existence of modern noir, is a bit trickier. In poking around, it seems the generally accepted term is actually neo-noir, and it’s loosely applied. Basically, if a movie or piece of literature has a detective, moral ambiguity, or even a dash of the stylistic tropes of noir, people try to classify it as neo-noir. This extends to, essentially, most fiction ever.1 I would personally require that a piece of fiction be a crime drama at core before there can even be a consideration of whether it qualifies as neo-noir or not (which is why I still think that Inception qualifies, although perhaps just barely), but the value of the label has certainly been diluted.

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  1. To be fair, I’ve been guilty of this as well, so I’m certainly not pointing fingers. Or rather, I am pointing fingers, but at one is pointed at me. Which is pretty painful, since my hand doesn’t bend that way.

Random Thoughts about Inception

First off: I do plan to talk about other things I learned from ARGfest, and how the concerns of transmedia reach out far beyond ARGs. But the “hot brunette” comment has attracted a lot of attention, and it’s been some interesting exploration for me, so I ran with it. And when I wasn’t working or ill over the weekend, some new thoughts have slammed into my brain about video games that I want to touch on at some point.

But right now, fuck all that. I just got back from watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and I want to nerd out over it for a while. For those who haven’t seen it, it might be best to read this after you’ve seen the movie, because I’ll likely step all over spoiler country.

Inception Isn’t About Dreams

Let’s start off with one of the lesser (but still awesome) observations I had about the movie – the writing was fantastic. I really appreciate spare, powerful writing, and this movie has it in spades. The characters are also really good examples of what I talked about in my last couple of posts – Ariadne is (sigh) a hot brunette, but she is not Superwoman, nor does she require rescuing, nor is she a love interest. But every character is interesting and engaging, even the ones that are only on screen for a scene or two. The link above is to the core team in the movie, and that’s intentional – many of them are overt stereotypes, but all are given an interesting twist. I’m almost glad I came to these conclusions beforehand, because now I can point to Inception and say “yes, that.”

Which leads to my first conclusion about the movie: it isn’t really about being able to walk in dreams. Rather, it’s all about the characters – the dreams are just a metaphor for literal character exploration. Nolan does a great job of setting up the premise (people can walk in dreams; there is technology that allows this; people can specialize in this new technology; corporations have developed security specialists against this technology) in a very short space, but doesn’t waste time actually telling you what it is or how long it’s been around or even what year the movie is set in. That’s because it doesn’t matter – it’s just a conceit to get the characters in front of the audience and make them start caring about them enough to go stomping around in their personalities for nearly three hours.

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