Film Noir

The term “film noir” brings up connotations of darkness, or the unknown, or shadowed.  The lighting of these films are a reflection of the term.  These films, that originated in the 1930’s and 1940’s were lit to emphasize shadows and to give an aura of murkiness and uncertainty.

This murkiness is a reflection of the “uncertainty…built into noir’s central narrative organization” (Dyer, 1).  Richard Dyer posits that the central purpose of noir film is about finding out, that one cannot rely on appearances being an accurate depiction of what is going on.  The uncertainty, or question of deception lends itself to the subtext of questionable sexuality, which is why noir lends itself to a homosexual subtext so much better than other types of film.

Dyer refers to the tole of queers in noir film of villainy, uncertainty and unmasculinity.  The villanous focal point of the film, Brandon and Philip, while not necessarily having attributes that are ‘unmasculine’, have the trappings of what has customarily been attributed to queers in noir film: they are exceedingly well dressed and fastidious in their grooming.  The protagonists also carry an aura of uncertainty about them.  It is unclear what sort of bond the two have to one another.  The men have no girlfriends around, and it is revealed that one of them “used to have a girlfriend”, implying  bisexuality.

D.A. Miller also refers to “post coital nuances” of dialogue between Philip and Brandon that is part of the parcel of connotation and denotation that he describes as “the dominant signifying practice of homophobia (which) has the advantage of constructing an essentially insubstantial homosexuality” (119).  This dialogue can be interpreted as double entendre, or having more than one meaning.  These sort of devices were constructed in film as a way to circumvent the very strict Hays Moral Code that disallowed many overtly sexual messages in film, and did not allow any depictions of homosexuality whatsoever.  The challenge to film makers was to invent methods that outmaneuvered Hays censors.

The strictures left by the Hays code lent an air of exoticism to the hint of homosexuality that would not have been present if permission to blatantly state the obvious had been allowed.  The lure of the forbidden was an attractive element for film makers as well as film viewers.  To draw viewers into the world of Brandon and Philip, certainly well to do, hyper stylized and well kept, a world that most filmgoers were presumably unfamiliar with, has always been one of the goals of film in general.  The questionable sexuality of the protagonists merely adds an element of the unknown to the proceedings.  That these two men are unremorseful murderers allows the homosexual to fill in the role of a person(s) with little moral character with no regard for human life.  This allows the homophobia inherent in the general population to attach itself to these young men.  The viewing audience is able to watch in fascinated horror, the actions of these repugnant figures and to hope that they will eventually be punished for their horrible crime (homosexuality).

While not a noir film, Neil Marshall’s “The Descent”  ( August 4, 2006) owes a debt to some of the elements that have been established by noir film.  The shadows and lighting of black and white noir film has been given a literal translation in this color film.  The majority of the story is relayed in the dark depths of subterranean Earth, as a group of women embark on an expedition to mark and unclaimed cave as their own discovery.

As the effete men of noir have traditionally been employed in careers that are able to be viewed as questionable with regard to gender, the ladies in this film are indulging in a pastime that might be viewed as masculine.  There is definitely an element of questionable sexuality for the ladies in this film.  Although one is married, and another has had an affair with husband of this person, the bonding and interaction between all of these women can have connotations of lesbianism.  No longer held to the restrictions of the Hayes office, the decision to leave sexuality unanswered now becomes a conscious decision by the director.  There is even a point in the film, where the women are battling some un-named underground dweller and one rips off the creatures penis.

The isolation that the women are surrounded by, first in the cabin prior to their expedition, and then in the caverns below ground could be read as the isolation of homosexuality, and the battle with the un-named underground dwellers might be read as the battle within.


Miller, D. A. “Anal Rope.” Representations 32.1 (1990): 114-33. Print.

Benshoff, Harry M., and Sean Griffin. “Queer Noir.” Queer Cinema: The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004. N. pag. Print.

“The Descent.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.

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